Bye Bye Books: The Catalog Goes
This spring is the first in Oberlin’s history that the print course catalog, that hefty tome so long characteristic of the course selection process, will be entirely replaced by an electronic course catalog.
Instead of flipping through catalog pages and highlighting, students will go online to catalog.oberlin.edu where they will be able to search, cross-reference and compile a “portfolio.”
Why the switch to digital?
“A couple of the main driving forces would be that we needed something that would keep more up-to-date as courses changed,” said Associate Dean of the College Nicholas Jones, “and a much better indexing system than a print catalog would provide.” Jones explained that the print catalog goes to the publisher in mid-February, before new hires are confirmed and new courses are added.
With the online catalog, dog-earing and post-it noting individual catalog pages will be replaced by searching for words that appear in the course title or description. However, Jones believes that even this innovative feature can be improved.
“My goal is to amplify that so we have keyword searching,” he said, referring to a feature that would allow a student to look up courses with a word that may be related to the course but does not appear in the title or description.
Jones would also like to solve the current difficulty students are having pulling up details on multiple courses at once, as each one produces its own pop-up window. In addition, the windows do not include meeting time and place of the course.
Both of these problems are ones that Al Borroni, the director of the Oberlin Center for Technologically Enhanced Teaching, is working to address.
“We had heard rumors that when students go to register there are three, four windows open - so the goal was to consolidate that,” he said. “That goal hasn’t been reached yet because times and places aren’t listed.”
When asked if he worries that the less technologically savvy will be left behind in the switch to a purely online catalog, he responded, “Yes, I do. [But] I believe there’s something in the system to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
For the true luddites out there, a printable PDF version of the catalog will be available on the Office of the Registrar’s website.
Moving the course catalog to cyberspace is part of a larger goal for Oberlin’s online environment. The idea is to create a dynamic, constantly updated site that could funnel into other sites, such as each department’s webpage, so that information would not have to be duplicated.
The Acalog software supporting the online catalog uses PHP and MySQL. It was designed by a company called Digital Architecture, and its hosting is outsourced to that company so that no additional strain is placed on the school’s servers. It is a separate site from PRESTO, but is in communication with that software. It has yet to be seen if it will burden Oberlin’s bandwidth.
As Borroni put it, “The line where technophobe is drawn has
shifted.” As the paper catalog appears to have gone the way of the library
card catalog, this shift seems evident.