Concord High junior is creating online system to help classmates pick courses 

  • Concord High Junior Grennon Gurney explains his idea for ‘Class Compass’ in front of a chalkboard wall at his house where he has written down notes for the project.  Courtesy

  • Concord High Junior Grennon Gurney explains his idea for ‘Class Compass’ in front of a chalkboard wall at his house where he has written down notes for the project.  Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 5/5/2020 3:57:18 PM

Starting high school is hard enough during normal times.

Preparing to do it during a stay at home order is even more challenging.

Usually, graduating Rundlett Middle School eighth-graders spend a day at Concord High each spring getting acclimated to the building and schedule, and receiving easy access to their guidance counselors to ask questions about choosing courses in-person.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, none of that will happen this year.

Concord High Junior Grennon Gurney, who is in the CRTC computer engineering course, wanted to do something to help. While learning at home, Gurney has been working on a new application that can be used by not only incoming freshmen, but all Concord High students as they select classes.

He said the process of transitioning to high school was difficult for him three years ago, even under ideal circumstances.

“The process of picking and choosing classes – ‘what do I think is of value now? What will I want to take in the future and what’s best for me moving past high school?’ – that’s pretty stressful,” Gurney said. “There was a list of courses and descriptions students can access, but it was overwhelming.”

“Class Compass,” an online system accessed through the Concord High site, will help students narrow down course offerings based on their interests.

“Incoming freshmen will be able to take a survey and say, ‘These are my interests, this is how much I care about these different things and depending on their answers, the algorithm will pick things that are best suited for them,” Gurney said.

He’s already finished coding a first run of the course selection site for incoming freshmen.

However, he said he’s likely still months away from completing the project. While he knows how to compile the information he needs, how to do that fairly weighs heavily on his mind. 

Some ethical questions Gurney is considering: “How I classify people and cluster people – what is the most fair way to do that? What is the best way to put people into groups in order to best recommend them things that they will enjoy and do well in?” he said. “I know what I want the program to decide, but I’m still trying to figure out how I want it to decide.” 

For example, one ethical question is how much students’ grades will weigh into what classes are recommended to them. 

“I want people to be grouped so they can get accurate and true recommendations, but I don’t want them to be defined by their groups and unable to move upwards,” Gurney said. “That’s not something I can sit down and code off the bat.”

Gurney said he’s been reaching out to the administrative team at Concord High to talk about the most fair way to approach some of these questions. 

He said he wants to take into consideration students’ interests since students tend to do better in courses that appeal to them most. He said he hopes to use exit surveys evaluating courses after they’re completed to get a sense of how fulfilling a class was for a particular student. 

Gurney started CRTC’s computer engineering course as a sophomore, and will finish it this year. Most students enter the program as juniors. 

He said he’s grateful that during the stay-at-home order, he’s been able to take advantage of free time to learn more about machine learning and artificial intelligence. 

Gurney said he wants to work in the computer science or computer engineering fields making personalized products for people that help accomplish a task or cater to a need. 

“I’m not really interested in game developing or hard code. I really like the more personal aspect of computers, how they’re used with people,” he said.

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