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New online ‘compass’ a hit with freshmen

Cardinal Compass, a new online tool for freshmen released by the office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education (VPUE), reached 17,000 page views since its launch on Aug. 1 despite some freshmen arguing that the site’s offerings are too broad.

“With the recent changes in undergraduate education, the Class of 2016 will have fewer required courses than previous years and more room to explore,” Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education Harry Elam wrote in an email to The Daily.

“Cardinal Compass is designed to help freshmen navigate the many first-year courses available to them and delve into the connections and interests that they develop here at Stanford,” he added.

The online tool breaks down many of the freshman-oriented classes at Stanford, detailing in particular the new Thinking Matters courses.

It also organizes the many Thinking Matters, Program in Writing and Rhetoric (PWR) and Introductory Seminars into different tags, allowing freshmen to filter and search through catalogues based on their interests.

These tags are referred to as a “subject,” which corresponds to themes such as art, environment, and medicine, and “approaches,” which categorizes courses according to the critical activities and skills exercised in the classes, such as collaborative, experimental and sociological skills.

Based on the number of current page views on the tool, Tegan Bradford, director of communications and strategic initiatives for VPUE, said that Cardinal Compass is effectively serving the freshman class.

“With the Cardinal Compass audience being Stanford freshmen, a group of 1768 this year, we take that as a good sign that students are exploring multiple pages across the tool and see the Cardinal Compass as a resource they can come back to,” Bradford said.

Annie Phan ’16 does not use the website because she says the overwhelming flow of information does not allow her to focus on specific questions.

“I prefer working on a person-to-person level especially when it comes to something as important as our future,” Phan said. “There are so many nuts and bolts to it that you can’t put it all on a website.”

Erica McDowell ’16 sympathizes with Phan. She believes the site is lacking at providing details for someone who already has a plan set out.

“Because I already have an idea of where I’m heading in engineering I didn’t find that I got a lot of new information out of it,” McDowell said. “It seemed more useful for someone who had no clue what they were going to do next.”

She did add that it was helpful to see numerous academic opportunities on campus in case her academic plan changed along the way.

Kirsti Copeland, director of residentially-based advising, said that while the site is intended as a resource, it is not intended to take students away from other resources on campus.

“We do not intend for freshmen to use this electronic tool as a substitute for seeking advice from their pre-major advisor, academic director or academic advisor for student-athletes, but rather as a starting point for a more informed conversation,” Copeland said.

Haley Kong ’15 said that it introduces students to a variety of courses in a relatively efficient way.

“They can search for a subject but then they can learn about the other classes that would otherwise be outranked in the bulletin. I think it’s really hard to find those specialized seminars,” Kong said. “I kind of wish I had something like that.”

According to Bradford, new student tools like Cardinal Compass may be on the way to address more needs.

“As we hear from students about what they find most useful about the Cardinal Compass and what features they would like to see us add, we hope to build an even more robust tool in future years,” Bradford said.

About Catherine Zaw

Catherine Zaw is the Managing Editor of News at The Stanford Daily. She is a junior from Miami, FL, double majoring in biology and linguistics. To contact her, please email czaw13@stanford.edu.