Student-run course selection tool remains popular two years on

According to its founder, QU Birdhunter has almost 200,000 page views

QU Birdhunter founded two years ago this month.
Wikimedia commons

Back for its third summer, the founder of popular student-run website QU Birdhunter says the service has become a “bigger success” than he could have imagined.

Created in the summer of 2016, the site aims to provide students with grade distributions for courses before they enroll.

The site’s founder, Jonah Livingston, decided to compile grade distribution data normally received at the end of a course and make it available for students to reference in the future. The site does this year after year by taking in submissions from students.

“I realized that if students could have [grade distributions] while they’re actually doing the course selection process, it would be invaluable,” Livingston said.

When asked if he faced pushback from the University on the site’s operation, Livingston said he hasn’t experienced “any direct pushback from Queen’s.”

This year, the site opened for submissions on May 15. According to Livingston, by the next day they had already received “dozens and dozens” of grade distribution submissions from students.

“In addition to the huge surge of submissions, we’re expecting to get 100 or 200 or so over the next two weeks,” he added.

According to Livingston, since the site began operating, it has amassed almost 200,000 page views.

“For an undergraduate student body of 20,000, that is quite large,” he said.

To incentivize students to submit their grade distributions, Livingston said he doesn’t publish them until the site reaches a “critical mass” of submissions.

“Because we receive so many distributions, we’ll receive many for the same classes. We can cross-reference them against each other for accuracy and to make sure we’re providing accurate distributions to students,” Livingston said.

Beyond analytics, Livingston said that while he can’t commit to anything specifically, he could tease some potential additions to the site.

“I don’t think you can judge the full story of a class just by looking at its distribution,” he said. “For example, if you’re looking at a fourth year advanced math class, it may be the case that all the students in it did quite well, but obviously if you signed up for the class and had only taken math 121, it would not be a success for you,” he continued.

Livingston explained that the addition of “more of a qualitative review process” on how students enjoy a class is an important aspect to be explored.

However, despite QU Birdhunter’s continued success, Livingston opted not to place advertising on the site and has never profited from it.

“The goal isn’t to make money,” Livingston said.

“I really enjoyed my time at Queen’s and I wanted to give back to the community,” he said. “There are minor costs associated with hosting the website, owning the URL, etc. But we’re more than happy to cover those costs in order to provide a valuable service.”

Livingston said he’s “always open” to improving the site and providing more information, “whether it be syllabuses ahead of time, or a more qualitative review of classes,” he said.

“There is a bigger story behind these numbers and it would be cool to provide some of that story as well,” Livingston added.

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