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University launches Otago Choice

Wednesday 16 July 2008

University launches Otago Choice

The University of Otago is launching a fun and innovative Internet-based software program to help people decide on their best course of undergraduate study.

Otago Choice is the result of a two-year collaboration between the University and two Dunedin-based software companies, 1000Minds and The Street.

The software – the first of its kind in the world – is for prospective and current University of Otago students to match their personal preferences with subjects they might be interested in majoring in for Bachelor’s degrees.

Otago offers one of the largest ranges of subjects in Australasia, with 105 “major subjects” – ranging from Accounting, Biochemistry and Chinese, through to Tourism, Visual Culture and Zoology.

Software co-inventor Associate Professor Paul Hansen, from the Department of Economics, says choosing subjects to major in can be a confusing experience for many students, and for their parents and careers advisors as well.

“And, clearly, such decisions are amongst the most important in a person’s life, as what you study at university affects your life-time career prospects. Given the time and expenses involved – to both students and taxpayers – it’s very important to make the right decisions."

A survey of Otago graduates in 2005 revealed that 41 per cent wished they had chosen different subjects or degrees.

In addition to targeting students coming to Otago for the first time, the program is also designed to help second-year students who found their initial course selections inappropriate, and First Year Health Science students who did not get accepted into their preferred courses.

“Otago Choice begins by asking users to identify the things that matter most to them personally when thinking about what to study, such as their skills and interests. Users are then asked a series of simple questions involving tradeoffs between these things in order to determine their relative importance. The process takes about 10 – 20 minutes at most,” Associate Professor Hansen says.

“Otago Choice then reveals Otago’s 105 major subjects in a tiered pyramid form and directs users’ attention to the top of the pyramid, corresponding to the subjects the software ‘thinks’ will most appeal to the user (based on what he or she has told the software). Detailed information about each subject is available, including links to the department concerned. The complete list of 105 subjects can be emailed to the user for future reference."

Otago Choice uses a decision-making algorithm invented by Associate Professor Hansen and Franz Ombler of 1000Minds. The algorithm grew out of Otago research, started in the 1990s, into methods for prioritising patients for surgery. It is patented and has won several national and international awards for innovation.

University of Otago Marketing and Communications Director Virginia Nicholls says Otago Choice is an exciting new development, which will significantly enhance the process for people trying to decide on a course of study.

“It can be overwhelming for people, especially school leavers who may not have a clear vision of where they see themselves in the future. This is a fun, easy and fast tool to help them work through the options.

“It’s something we expect people will use alongside other important information sources, such as careers advisors, parents, the University’s Schools Liaison team and the web."

There is a link to Otago Choice on the University’s home page, or it can be found at


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