In Depth: OurCampus

 

This past week, I got to sit down with Tyler Lederer-Plaskett ’21, one of the founders of the new app OurCampus. OurCampus is a professor review app, and it’s out just in time for pre-registration! Gone are the days when we had to rely on ratemyprofessor.com or post in WesAdmits in order to get the lowdown on the best/worst/hottest/easiest professors at Wesleyan. I distinctly remember prefrosh-me trying to do pre-reg in the middle of July and having absolutely no idea who to ask about which professors and classes I should take. That uncertainty comes back full force every semester, and until now there wasn’t really a good way to deal with it aside from basically waiting it out til Drop/Add.

Read past the jump to get Tyler’s take on OurCampus!

How was OurCampus founded?

My friend Rafael Goldstein ’21 and I had the idea for the app about three or four months ago, in alignment with pre-reg for spring classes. We had always talked about issues that we kind of found with choosing classes and how he felt that there weren’t a lot of resources when figuring out what classes we wanted to take. The process often depended upon hearsay, or trying to talk to friends, or if you knew an upperclassman. Or people would, like, post on WesAdmits, which Raf and I just hated because it’s just so ineffective, especially considering that the Facebook algorithm for what they decide to put forward and show you on your feed is not the best.

What do you see the purpose of the app to be?

So we had the idea around mid- to late-November, and we thought we had something different. We wanted to make something Wesleyan specific that’s not RateMyProfessor because ratemyprofessor is just not super reliable most of the time, it has a lot of new professors every year that don’t have reviews, and an older professor’s last review might be from like 2009 or something. Other schools like Northwestern and Harvard have their own versions of this, that are instituted through the school and are not third party. [Northwestern consolidates all of the mandatory teacher evaluations that students perform each semester into a database that is available to the student body]. There’s no reason why Wesleyan students shouldn’t have access to the same information.

What’s your role within the company?

I was involved with more of the figuring out logistically of what we needed to do, especially on the legal side of things. I read a lot of terms and conditions over winter break. I went on Twitter’s website, Facebook’s website, I read their terms of condition, their privacy policy, because with an app like this we needed to protect ourselves. We had to make sure to define ourselves as a medium, as opposed to a media that people can post what they want. Kind of like how Facebook can’t be held for hate speech that’s posted on their platform. So that was kind of my responsibility of figuring out the logistical side of the app, and figuring out our own terms and conditions, and how we were going to present ourselves through the app. I also had other people look our app over because obviously, I am not a lawyer.

What was the process of developing the app like?

So Raf is an extremely gifted coder. He loves to code, and he’s one of those people who think of it as a puzzle. We both work at ITS, and I’d walk in (it was like finals week this past December) and he had a few finals but he would just be on his computer coding because he couldn’t figure out a glitch or something. That was he was just like a compulsive thing where he had to complete whatever miniature project within the app that he was working on. So his work ethic really helped get the app going past the idea stage, and also with finishing it. He didn’t want to put out a product that had issues or that wasn’t complete and so we were going forward. Raf really drove the coding side of developing the app, but both of us were constantly working together to improve it. There are a ton of things that made it into the final version of the app that were the result of us working together and expanding the idea.

Did you hit any roadblocks along the way?

It’s funny that you ask that because everything honestly just went really, really, really, right. Throughout the whole process, we kept expecting to like hit these major roadblocks. And we did, we definitely faced some issues but like, overall, we were kind of shocked with how we were able to do this in four to five months with minor issues. It was a really quick turnaround from the idea to the final project.

What are the Administration’s thoughts on the app?

We had some theories about how Wesleyan’s administration would perceive the app, because it’s not run by Wesleyan, it’s run by us alone. But we handled that by having talks with administrators we talked to President Roth, and with the Registrar, so we could get out in front. We wanted them to know that, if there were any issues, they could turn to us. And honestly, they had a pretty positive response to the app. They were like, “well you guys are gonna do what you want to do, and we can’t really stop you.”

I bet if you ask Raf what coding issues he ran into and what obstacles he faced, he would tell you all about the code that he had issues with and bugs he had to fix. But overall he just really powered through. He actually learned the language for Swift, which is the program you have to code apps in, which he didn’t actually know before this project. He had a lot of other coding experience, but not with Swift.

Can you speak more to the decision to only allow students to sign up for the app with their Wesleyan emails?

For one thing, it kind of solves that issue that we had with RateMyProfessor, where it ensures that the reviews about professors are actually being written by students. But the other thing is, it allows us to hold students accountable. All the reviews are anonymous, but Raf and I can still see who is writing what. Our privacy policy and terms and conditions are very clear about the rules of what you are and are not allowed to say on the app, and what constitutes an appropriate review. We’ve also written a mission statement, kind of like a shortened version of the terms and conditions, that people see immediately when they sign up. It’s short enough that people will actually read it, and know exactly what the rules are. And if we see activity that is not okay to have on the app, we can see who is doing it and address it as needed.

How do you plan on incentivizing students to use the app and to review professors that are maybe not as popular or don’t teach as many classes?

That’s a good question and I think that’s something we’re still working on. How can we incentivize students to be using this app as a tool but also just as a community forum that you can keep contributing to. And yeah, I guess we’re still working on that. We’re having an AirPods sweepstake right now, which is definitely our first step. One thing I’m doing is keeping flyers on me at all times, and I’m going up to students individually. We have a social media presence, and we have posters up, but you really just need to get them into people’s faces. We’re just really trying to make it work and ultimately doing anything we can to make the app succeed. Success to us looks like close to a thousand users and we’re on our way. We’re somewhere between 400 and 500 right now, just in two or three days of releasing. There’s a certain amount of incentive to use the app that’s wrapped up in the fact that this is a tool for students. Students need the app just as much we need them to be using it.