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Fall registration changes strive for fairness

By Nicole Zhao     8/22/12 7:00pm


New students used a new tool to register for classes during Orientation Week this year. 

The ESTHER Course Registration Planner, a "shopping cart" course selection application within ESTHER, was launched on Tuesday, Aug. 14 during O-Week. According to the Registrar's website, it is separate from the Schedule Planner created last winter by computer science professor Scott Cutler. 

New students added desired courses and back-up courses to the ESTHER Planner throughout O-Week until 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 16, at which point the ESTHER Planner was locked. The system then registered students for courses ramdomly, selecting arbitrarily from the pool of students who had added the course to their Planners until each course was filled. If a time conflict arose in a schedule, the system would automatically place the student in the first course randomly chosen, the Registrar's website states. 

Resulting schedules for each student were available at 7:00 a.m. the following morning. At 7:30 a.m., students were allowed to add, drop and be put on waitlists for courses as they wished using the Add/Drop menu. 

According to Registrar David Tenney (Sid Richardson '87), in previous years new students registered for classes in 15-minute intervals arranged according to ID number. 

"When everyone is a fall 2012 matriculant, it's not fair that some get to register 30 minutes before their peers," Tenney said. 

Tenney said registration has been done this way because the system would not be able to handle 1,000 students at once. 

Technical Manager of Administrative Systems Robert Truscott said the Planner allowed new students to be registered simultaneously without overloading the system. 

"Our goal was to have the entering class register at once," Truscott said. "Every student had an equal chance at being first in line to register for a single course."

According to Truscott, the idea for the planner stemmed from a conversation with Christoph Meyer (Hanszen '12) after Meyer wrote an op-ed in the Thresher last spring. 

O-Week Peer Academic Advisors felt that registration went more smoothly this year than in previous years. 

"This is my second year as an O-Week PAA, and registration was significantly smoother this year than in years past," Hanszen College junior Omar Tariq said. "Course Registration Planner took away the high-stress atmosphere that used to characterize Friday morning."

Brown College freshman Monika Patterson said that although she liked the Planner and got into the classes she wanted, she felt registration was stressful and that O-Week academic advising in general needs improvement. 

"As incoming freshmen, we come in knowing absolutely nothing," Patterson said. "O-Week is so stressful and I know some people couldn't even enjoy the House of Blues activity that night because they were freaking out about not getting into the classes they wanted. You need a lot of one-on-one time with people. Advisors can tell you what they did, but it's different when you have one-on-one time."

Martel College freshman John Chen said he thought registration was straightforward with the availability of tools such as the Schedule Planner and Course Registration Planner. 

"The planner was useful in that I could visualize my schedule and select courses accordingly," Chen said.  

However, many O-Week PAAs still feel the new system has much room for improvement. 

"It did not enable the same degree of flexibility of adjusting one's schedule to accommodate specific classes [as the old system]," Wiess College sophomore and O-Week PAA Rachel Marzen said. "For example, if one's priority was to take General Chemistry, they wouldn't be placed in a General Chemistry section if their first choice at 8 a.m. was full. They got into a different first choice class that conflicted with their alternate time for General Chemistry." 

Brown freshman Tabish Virani said she found the registration process to be fairly simple and fair, but noted the system had its pitfalls. 

"When we first submit our course selections, it isn't a race to hit the submit button, but instead all the students' course selections are submitted together," Virani said. "Although it is a good system, it still has its flaws."

Virani said she tried to register for a course and its pre- or co-requisite, but ESTHER could not process the situation and did not allow her to register for the course. 

"Although I got to register eventually, being in such a situation can be quite stressful for an incoming freshman," she said. 

Tenney hopes to improve the Planner using feedback collected from a survey sent out to all new students, which had been filled out by 424 new students as of Aug. 21. 

According to Truscott, Administrative Systems is working to integrate online instructor approvals into the Planner to reduce paperwork for students and faculty in the future. 

The Registrar's office hopes to implement a similarly more equitable registration process for continuing undergraduate students in time for the Spring 2013 registration cycle, Tenney noted. 

"It is a good possibility that [the ESTHER Course Registration Planner] will be modified somewhat to bring a more equitable registration process to continuing students," Tenney said. "[With this system,] it doesn't matter if you have 72 hours of [Advanced Placement] credit or zero AP credit: It's all the same. There has to be some advantage to being a senior, but I think the key thing is the AP hours." 

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