January 28, 2005

Online registration may get facelift

Choosing classes and other uses of the Registrar's office may become easier for students in the upcoming year, if a proposal is approved to consolidate all the Registrar's internet sources into one website.

The SG Committee on Academic Concerns met with University Registrar Thomas Black and Therese Allen-Vassar, the director of web services in NSIT, on January 21 to discuss the future of web services at the University.

One of the main topics was limited scope of the cMore project. Many of the committee members said their ideal plan would be for the Registrar to combine aspects of other University websites—Chalk, Bidding, Add/Drop, Time Schedules, the Course catalog—into cMore.

"cMore is seen as a program with little purpose now, but with lots of potential," said Christian Brockman, a first-year in the College and a member of the Academics Committee, in an e-mail interview. "Chalk is seen as confusing to navigate around. Also, there are complaints with teachers not using it or putting documents in confusing places."

David Clayman, the chair of the Academic Committee and a second-year in the College, said that many came to him with complaints and grievances regarding the registration. "Several students I talked to did not fill out their health insurance survey for one reason or another," Clayman said. "Then they were blocked from registering for the next quarter, and when they tried to fill out the survey, they found it wasn't uploaded anymore." Students also complained that instructors put information in "counter-intuitive" places, and that the Add/Drop feature makes it difficult to search for classes.

The Registrar and NSIT are looking into consolidating all of the functions into one site for future use. One of the changes to make registration easier, Allen-Vassar said, was Coursesearch, a proposed search engine where students selecting courses can have direct access to faculty information on the web from the Coursesearch "hub."

The cMore project and Coursesearch project are two aspects of the "Registrar" site. "Students appear to be very supportive of the further development of these two projects and we look forward to their help and feedback," Allen-Vassar said. "Different parts of the site will be delivered on a phased timeline."

Coursesearch, in its early stages, would be a search engine for classes, with boolean values such as course information, descriptions and evaluations, and the faculty member teaching the course.

Allen-Vassar said that NSIT had designed a similar system for the Biological Sciences Division's Molecular Biology Department—a faculty information system—and was looking to expand to other departments as well.

Elaborating on the idea behind Coursesearch, Allen-Vassar said that it would allow students to have better access to class information, including schedules, evaluations, full descriptions and "extended descriptions." "The students were interested in how this project might evolve," Allen-Vassar said. "They saw it as very helpful and something that would save a lot of time and frustration by consolidating relevant course information into a single hub."

The committee also brought up the issue of the course syllabi, for which the main complaint was that faculty were not uploading syllabi until the day of class, or not posting them online at all, making it even more difficult for students to know what to expect from the class. Black said that the Registrar was proposing to have a single website containing syllabi from all College classes.

"We are in a position now, using [Course Syllabi] as a repository, to collect additional information on courses," Black said. "In addition to a course description, the system can accept information on the objectives of the course, how one is to be evaluated, a listing of the units to be covered, assignments, perhaps, and the materials needed. Although, we have yet to devise the mechanism for entering the data, e.g. who should enter the data, when, etc., we're further along than we have been."

Another issue brought up during the meeting was the introduction of a flat-transcript fee, in which incoming and returning students would pay a one-time fee of $70 for unlimited access to transcripts on a PDF file with Black's digital signature, which would then be available to students online. Such a fee already exists at Columbia, Duke, and Dartmouth Universities.

"We charge $10 for an online transcript order," Black said of the existing transcript price. "The extra charge, over the $7 walk-in order charge, defrays the costs associated with our service provider who, in turn, must clear credit cards and pay the premiums that the card companies charge it.  It is regrettable that the more convenient service, the online service, costs more. This proposal would, in my judgment, improve both in-person and online services."

The committee, optimistic about the discussions, will have another meeting with Black and Allen-Vassar on cMore within the next week. Members emphasized that it was up to students on campus to be vocal about changes to registration if they wanted them to happen.

"It appears that there has not been enough student response on this issue in the past because it has always been a problem," said Jeremy Guttman, a fourth-year in the College and member of the Academic Committee. "These things take time, but now that students are voicing their concerns, I imagine it will go a little quicker."