We are writing to address recently voiced student concerns that the university administration has made a decision to shut down Carta and ExploreCourses without supporting replacements, thus depriving students of resources they rely on to help them make informed choices.

We appreciate the initiative, creativity and dedication of the many undergraduates that have been part of the Carta project since its inception, and we support the replacement of Carta (which we will refer to from hereon as Carta v1) with the student-led Carta v2 application. ExploreCourses, which is close to reaching the end of its useful life, will also be replaced with an improved system currently under development.

This letter provides more detail on these transitions and ends with some actions that we will take to ensure that the process going forward is more transparent, especially to students.

Carta v1 began as a platform project initiated by faculty Ramesh Johari (MS&E) and Michael Bernstein (CS) and their students. Over time the project evolved to become the CartaLab, and currently operates out of the Graduate School of Education under the direction of Professors Mitchell Stevens (GSE) and John Mitchell (CS). CartaLab currently maintains Carta v1. At the same time that Carta v1 provides students with information about courses, the CartaLab uses the information gained from student interactions with the system to develop insight into how students navigate a complicated and consequential part of their career: choosing courses. This is signalled to users of Carta v1 on its landing page, and users agree to contribute to the research via a notification that they receive when they first log in to the platform. University leaders have supported both the Carta v1 service, and the CartaLab research project, through funding and access to data that includes information from ExploreCourses, and de-identified data from student course evaluations, enrollment information and grades.

In 2019 a group of undergraduates began working with the CartaLab to rebuild the Carta v1 backend to make it more durable, and flexible to evolving student needs. This is the project that came to be known as Carta v2. Carta v2 is set to diverge from v1 in two important respects. First, it will no longer serve as a conduit for gathering research data on student behavior for the CartaLab. The purpose of the v2 application is to help students select courses as they build their class schedules in preparation for enrollment. Second, v2 will operate independently from the CartaLab and will be fully student-run.

With appreciation for the commitment of this group and in recognition of the value of the service that they proposed to provide to the university community, the University Registrar Johanna Metzgar assigned a senior developer to be a resource for the Carta v2 team in May 2020. This developer meets regularly with the Carta v2 team to provide guidance on data and campus systems, with the intent of helping the Carta v2 team to successfully launch the new application. The Registrar also made a commitment in July 2020 to provide some of the bridge funds needed to support Carta v1 until Carta v2 is ready to launch.

Concurrently, the Registrar’s Office has been assessing the totality of the academic planning and enrollment experience for Stanford students, with the goal of integrating the complicated patchwork of source information currently needed for students to map their requirements, choose classes and chart their progress towards degree. A discovery project to explore options for rethinking the online student experience across multiple student systems platforms was launched in May 2020, with student consultation occurring via workshops and interviews. The vision for this project is to create an academic planning and enrollment experience that will meet the needs of students today and that can evolve and continuously improve to meet student needs in the future. This project includes replacing the end-of-life application ExploreCourses with a much more robust system.

All this underscores that ensuring students have the information they need to make informed course choices is a university priority. However we realize, based on the petition from students, that the process by which Carta v1 and ExploreCourses will be replaced is not sufficiently transparent, and for that we apologize. We especially regret that students from the Carta v2 team were not present during discussions with the CartaLab team.

To rectify this situation, we will take the following actions:

  • Rather than soliciting input from students and instructors solely through their participation in workshops and interviews, we will expand the membership of the discovery team so that all stakeholders — students, faculty and academic staff — are represented.
  • We will continue to work with the Carta v2 team to help them to craft and submit data requests to appropriate oversight committees, including access to grade distributions. We mention grade distributions in particular because this requires approval by the Faculty Senate.
  • We will continue to work with the CartaLab and Carta v2 teams to help them develop a transition plan that gives the v2 team sufficient time to prepare their new application for launch before Carta v1 is switched off.

We look forward to further discussions with both the CartaLab and Carta v2 teams, and reiterate our commitment to making sure that students have the tools they need to make informed course choices.