NEWS

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September 30, 2005

Registration glitches irk students

The stress, excitement, and frenzy of class registration this year was only exacerbated by several technical problems with registration sites such as cMore and registrar.uchicago.edu. For the several weeks before the quarter even began, both first-year and returning students had difficulties with registration.

Two weeks before the start of the quarter, several students trying to register for physical education (P.E.) classes were frustrated, as the department had yet to make registrations available. P.E. classes were only available for selection on the morning of the first day of the quarter.

"Although I didn't have any trouble registering for P.E. classes, I understand a number of people used a loophole to register for P.E. classes earlier than they were allowed. When the University figured this out, they cleared the registration and closed the loophole," said Ginger Murphy, a fourth-year student in the College.

When registration for P.E. courses did open at 9 a.m. Monday morning, some students who were already enrolled for four courses were unable to add P.E. courses. "This affected about 10 students trying to add a course that morning, and the problem was fixed by about 11 a.m.," said Alex Henson, director of Student and Development Applications for Networking Services & Information Technologies (NSIT).

Returning students also experienced difficulties adding and dropping courses online before the beginning of the year. Several students could not register for Core courses and thought that the registration system was down. "This was not a technical issue," Henson said. "Some Core courses were closed to returning students to allow first-years to register, and this is why we received complaints about registering for Core courses."

Still, registration sites were generally running slowly due to the amount of students registering for classes at the same time. "Due to increased use, our registration applications ran slower than usual," said Thomas Black, University Registrar.

During the weekend of September 10, registration applications like cMore were especially hard to use, and at times, students had trouble accessing the sites at all. This was due to several technical difficulties that needed to be fixed while students were still registering for classes.

"An initial firewall configuration needed to be adjusted to handle larger load, but this was fixed within several hours of the initial reports," Henson said.

The system was completely shut down for 30 minutes around 1 p.m. Tuesday, September 20, while NSIT technicians fixed a major problem with one of the four web servers that support the registration sites. "While abroad I registered for an economics course, but was not registered when I returned to campus this fall," said Adi Habbu, a fourth-year in the College.

The Registrar's office also received a normal amount of inquiries concerning course seat limits, courses that require instructor consent to enroll, and other issues about specific courses. This, however, reflected normal trends at this time in the registration process, according to University officials.

"We did experience our usual course setup adjustments involving enrollment limits and instructor consent," Black said. "As these were identified, we made changes as requested or necessary to permit or restrict enrollment."

In spite of these difficulties, both NSIT and the Registrar's office were pleased with the smooth and moderately successful registration process for autumn quarter.

"Due to both system and process improvement, courses and classrooms were scheduled much earlier than in previous years, and students were able to view and print their class schedules using cMore well before the start of the quarter," Henson said.

Compared to previous years, technical problems involving registration applications have actually decreased. "I believe we have made steady improvements, both in adding functionality and in making our systems more user friendly and intuitive," Henson said. He also stressed that improving student systems such as registration sites is difficult at times. "One of the key challenges we deal with in NSIT is balancing the need for new functionality, which often adds complexity, with the need to keep the system stable, reliable, and supportable," Henson said.

Several improvements are also expected during the academic year. College advisors now use a new application to enroll first-year students. "Advisers were very pleased with the new registration module that NSIT developed for us. It was much easier for us to use than our old system, and for the most part first-year registration went very smoothly," said Susan Art, dean of Students in the College. The system processes registrations faster and also allows advisers to print students' schedules.

The Registrar's office hopes to improve the course search application soon to expedite the process of finding available courses online. "We hope that this will improve course selection by improving access to and quality of information available to students when choosing courses," Black said.