As shopping period comes to a close, a new resource is helping some Yale undergraduate students make final decisions about their courses this semester.
Created by two Yale College graduates, Dan Loewenherz ’09 and Zach Dewitt ’09, gradifi.com provides information to students beyond the basic course evaluations available on the “Online Course Selection” (OCS) Web site.
Mainly popular for its ability to predict academic performance, Gradifi (pronounced “gratify”) was initially launched during shopping period last September but was shortly taken down because the site was not complete. And while the founders said that this year’s version — which was re-launched on Sept. 2 — will include several updated features, most notably the ability to directly upload transcripts, many students are hesitant to leave the familiar blue and beige template of OCS for a start-up Web site.
Loewenherz, who is currently living in Los Angeles and working on Gradifi full time, and DeWitt, who is working in finance in New York City, came up with the idea for Gradifi in the spring of 2008 when they were sitting in their common room during shopping period.
“We were mostly curious about how kids did in the class and how students like us did in the class,” said DeWitt, who was an economics major. “We would look at Kagan’s courses and of course the evaluations would be great. But a great comment is different if you’re a philosophy major as opposed to an engineering major.”
Although Yale’s existing resources could answer most of their questions, DeWitt said they still spent a lot of time talking to friends and older students to get more information about classes.
Loewenherz, who studied applied mathematics, said he developed an algorithm that churns out a grade prediction for a particular class by looking for commonalities between an individual’s grades and other students’ grades in similar courses. In addition to this unique feature, Gradifi offers grade distributions for courses and will include a course review feature as early as this weekend — much like the OCS Web site.
These similarities account for why, many students interviewed said, there is little incentive to switch to the new site.
“I have browsed the Web site, but because only a few people have added their information, it does not give a very accurate picture of what to expect in a class,” Tara Reisbig ’11 said, adding that she does, however, think the Web site is a great idea as long as a large number of students post their scores.
The success of the grade prediction feature on Gradifi, after all, is proportional to the number of transcript inputs it receives.
“We really need people from all different majors to enter their grades,” DeWitt said, explaining that a larger sample of grades will improve the accuracy of the site by increasing the number of comparisons the algorithm can produce. But since logging into Facebook through the Gradifi Web site is a necessary step to confirm a student’s graduation year and enrollment at Yale, uploading transcripts — while logged on — makes some would-be users uneasy.
Six students interviewed said that while they had heard of Gradifi, they were uncomfortable with copy-pasting their transcripts or allowing the site to access their Facebook accounts. Skepticism was the pervading sentiment among many students who simply have not visited the site.
“I worried it was a scam or the like, so I didn’t submit my transcript,” Rachael Styer ’12 said.
“Does that actually work?” Gabriella Tortorello ’11 asked.
But the founders insisted that Gradifi is safe, citing the password protection feature and servers that are “top-notch secure.” “No one but you is going to know what your grades are,” Loewenherz said.
But for the more critical shoppers that have logged on, Gradifi is one resource among many to find the ideal combination of class size and projected grade. Many of the features promised — including reviews of teaching assistants, a note sharing tool and an option to request more information on unlisted classes — are not yet available.
“There wasn’t a lot of information, especially for smaller seminars,” Deniz Yildiz ’11 said. “But I used it for Stat. 102—there are a bunch of different sections you can pick from. So I saw which one had the highest grades and picked that.”
And while Gradifi is currently unaffiliated with the University, DeWitt said they hope to work with the administration once the site is more developed.
“We’ll certainly try to reach out,” he said. “We’re being careful not to step on anyone’s toes.”
Professors interviewed expressed reservations about the site, stating that learning should take precedence over grades at a place like Yale.
English professor Leslie Brisman, for one, said he hopes the “computer gimmick” will “quickly pass into Halloween lore.”
Ala Alryyes, also an English professor, said, “Why this is bad is also obvious: a grade may or may not correlate with the depth of skills, ideas, or new directions the class teaches.”
Still, DeWitt said that just over 1,000 students have logged into the site in the past week alone. He added that some departments, including Economics and Mathematics, are highly trafficked with around 400 reviews for each.