Carta does more than just help confused freshmen plan out their class schedules. Created by a team of three professors, a graduate student and six undergraduates, the website is a running research project that combines sociology, computer science and education.
Launched in the summer of 2016, Carta is a course-planning site where users can search classes and create their schedules for each quarter. It takes data from the users and the registrar’s office on how Stanford students plan their undergraduate journey.
On course pages, users can see grade distributions, hours students spend per week on course work, number of drops, when and why students took the course and faculty evaluations.
“We know a lot about what happens before college, and we know a lot about what happens after college, but there’s not a lot of knowledge in between,” said Tum Chaturapruek, a Ph.D. student working on the project. “The goal of Carta is to [create a] link between the two.”
The Stanford registrar collects data on when students take classes, and in what order, but Carta can go further and collect data on what type of classes students are planning. By tracking the pinning feature, the website can identify which classes students are considering for each quarter.
On top of sequential data, the site also collects information on the factors behind commitment to taking a class, such as the grade curve, expected workload or professor reviews. The ultimate purpose of the research project is to analyze how previously taken classes and grades affect future course decisions.
The project is still in its preliminary stage so there is not enough data on course pathways to draw conclusions on how previously taken classes affect future decisions. The team would like to collect demographic information from its users, such as gender and socioeconomic status, and is working on gaining access to that information.
“In the future, we hope to be able to observe that there are relationships between those types of identities or status, like gender and socioeconomic status,” said Mitchell Stevens, an associate professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Education and one of the faculty researchers on the team. “We know from research that those characteristics can be influential in how students move through college.”
The site has been helpful for learning about the history of classes and the expected workload, according to a few members of the freshman class.
“I am a huge fan of the metrics that can supplement the course descriptions, such as the grade distribution and student feedback from multiple quarters,” Foster Docherty ’20 said.
One criticism of the platform is the inability to personalize the calendar on the site or see what discussion or lab sections are available.
“I don’t like that you can’t add discussions [or] sections to the schedule,” Kelsie Wysong ’20 said. “It makes it a lot harder to see how your week would actually look.”
The research team hopes to run the study over an extended period to analyze trends that relate college to career and to continue improving the user experience, according to Chaturapruek.
“There are still many directions we are thinking of going,” Chaturapruek said. “One prominent one is to collect with longitudinal data, like career. The goal is not just to understand what happens inside college, but go beyond what happens after Stanford and link it to pathways in Stanford.”