Reworking HKS’s Course Information

As the head of Student Services at the Harvard Kennedy School, my main responsibility is making sure students have the correct physical and digital resources while at the school. Presently, one of the key areas for important in our digital services is in the way courses are listed on My.Harvard. In terms of user-experience, students are unable to see:

  • Whether a specific course counts towards a graduation requirement
  • Whether the course counts towards a concentration requirement
  •  The professor and course ratings
  • If there are enrollment restrictions
  • If the course has ever been listed under a different course name/number

To help visualize this issue, I will take on the user persona of a second year MPP student at the Kennedy School. As part of her program, she has decided to declare a concentration in ‘international and global affairs’ resulting in her needing 28 class credits that fulfill that requirement. She has an interest in digital innovation within foreign policy and would like to explore that through Professor Eaves’ ‘Digital Government’ class. However, she is concerned that the course might not count for her IGA requirements for graduation. Additionally, she has heard positive things about the course but coming from a quantitative background, would like to see the previous year’s evaluation report.

She first goes to My.Harvard to look up the course ‘Digital Government.” There she finds the description, day and time it is held, and a link for additional information around the digital HKS program.

However, the key questions she has around graduation requirements are not presented in the course description. Additionally, in the grades section on My.Harvard, there is no indication around how this course counts towards her graduation or concentration requirements.

For that information, she then has to go to HKS’s KNET and search through the different links to verify if this class will even count. That would mean clicking on degree programs & student affairs > PACs and Concentrations > IGA > Concentration requirements.

From the concentration requirements webpage, she would then have to click on the AY20 fact sheet to access the classes that qualify for IGA elective credit.

Once she is on page 16 of the document (out of 27 pages), she is then able to see that DPI-662 ‘Digital Government’ does in fact count for her graduation requirement.

From the user perspective, there are several issues with this process for verifying if the course counts or not.

  1. This only verifies if the course counts for the IGA concentration but does not show how it fits with graduation requirements.
  2. It requires the user to use multiple Harvard websites (My.Harvard and KNET) when that information could be consolidated into one.
  3. The user will still need to go and find professor and course evaluations from a separate site.

You can compare the HKS experience to one that the user had while in undergrad. For her college, all courses had information about concentration and graduation requirements, restrictions, and if the course was ever offered before under a different name. For some courses, the user could also find the previous year’s evaluation link as well. For students who are choosing between several classes, having this information presented succinctly up front is critical as some will unknowingly drop a class that was of interest and fit key requirements.

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