Students petition to maintain Carta’s access to student data

Sept. 11, 2020, 9:33 a.m.

Students working on Carta have raised alarm in a petition that Carta is at risk of losing access to crucial student data. Students said the Stanford’s Registrar’s Office informed the Carta team over the summer that they would need to have all data they use be approved by a “data committee.” 

In May, the University removed Carta’s access to student grade distributions.  

“The University is withholding information from students during a period of incredible uncertainty and stress,” students wrote in the petition. “These data were originally produced by students, and now the University is shirking their responsibility to provide it back to the students.”

A University spokesperson declined to confirm whether Carta was at risk of losing access to data or comment on the criticisms raised in the petition, pointing The Daily to a statement written on Tuesday by Johanna Metzgar, associate vice provost of student and academic services.

“Stanford continues to support Carta to ensure that students are receiving the information they need to plan their schedules and chart their academic journey,” Metzgar wrote. “This includes renewing the data agreement and providing a senior staff developer who meets regularly with the Carta team to provide guidance on data, campus systems and continuing success of the program.”

The student-facing product Carta, a popular course-planning website where students can read course reviews and create schedules, began in 2016 as part of a research project under CartaLab. In 2018, a student-led team decided to create Carta V2, a product designed specifically for students’ ease of use.

Carta V1 will shut down in November due to loss of University funding, according to Akshay Srivatsan ’21, the student lead on the Carta V2 engineering team, leaving Carta V2 as the only product available to students. 

Additionally, the Carta V2 team has been converted into a student project, no longer under CartaLab or with the lab’s funding, according to Srivatsan. Graduate School of Education professor Mitchell Stevens, who is the faculty co-lead of CartaLab, wrote in a statement to The Daily that “questions of necessary funding” for Carta V2 in the future are open.

A University spokesperson declined to confirm the alleged funding cuts and Carta V2’s conversion to a student project.

According to Srivatsan, Stanford has not told the CartaV2 team who will be a part of this data committee and how they will make their decisions. Stevens wrote that he is not aware of anyone who will be appointed to the committee, although he noted that “The lab has a very strong and positive working relationship with the Registrar’s Office, which continues to provide fully de-identified data to support our research.”  

A University spokesperson declined to confirm that the University had not communicated information about the data committee to students working on Carta.. 

Srivatsan said that the Carta team was informed of “more and more pieces of data that we should expect not to have in the future,” including grade distributions, course evaluations and enrollment histories.

Carta draws heavily from Explore Courses, which lists course information including the quarters in which classes are offered, the professor for each course and the time and location of each class meeting.

“Even the basic information that we show is the course information from Explore Courses,” Srivatsan said. “And we asked about that and they said, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t rely on Explore Courses. It’ll be going away soon.’”

Metzgar wrote that the University has further commissioned Power of Design Services, a UX services company, to help “understand what students want, and to explore options for rethinking the online student experience across multiple student systems platforms.”

As of Thursday night, the petition had garnered over 800 signatures.

Contact Ashlee Kupor at akupor ‘at’

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