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Student-built Apps teaching US universities a thing or two

New York: An Indian-origin boy has created a computer programme that helps students at the prestigious Rutgers University to get into popular courses, one of the many apps built by undergraduates in the US that are more informative versions of campus information systems.

Vaibhav Verma was frustrated that he could not get into the most popular courses at Rutgers University, so he decided to try a new approach. He did not sleep outside classrooms to be first in line when the door opened, or send professors a solicitous note.

Instead, he built a web-based application that could repeatedly query the New Jersey university's registration system. As soon as anyone dropped the class, Verma's tool would send him a message, and he would grab the open spot. "I built it just because I was a little bit bored," he was quoted as saying by the New York Times. By the next semester, 8,000 people had used it.

Experiences like this are becoming common at campuses around the country, as students are showing up the universities that trained them by producing faster, easier-to-navigate, more informative and generally just better versions of the information systems at the heart of undergraduate life. Students now arriving for fall semester may find course catalogs that they can instantly sort and re-sort according to every imaginable search criteria. Scheduling programmes that allow someone to find the 47 different classes that meet Thursdays at 8:30 p.m., then narrow them down to those that have no prerequisites, then narrow again to those that count toward requirements in two majors.

There are also apps that allow you to see what courses your friends are considering, or figure out who has the same free periods that you do, or plot the quickest route between two far-flung classrooms. But this culture of innovation has accelerated debates about the flow of information on campus, and forced colleges to reckon with some unexpected results of the programming skills they are imparting.

Last year 19 students at Baruch College in Manhattan used a computer script to check for openings in crowded courses at such high frequency that they nearly took down not just Baruch's computer system but also that of the entire City University of New York. That earned them a stern talking-to. On the other hand, the scheduling app that two University of California, Berkeley, students devised worked so well that administrators decided to adapt it for official use.

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