Colby Magazine - Winter 1998 Online, Not In Line
If everything goes according to plan, class selection for next year's students won't require standing in line for 30 minutes or more to sign up for, say, Spanish class.
    After years of planning and months of developing and testing, online course selection arrived this spring. Using personal computers and their network passwords, students can fill out interactive registration forms in Colby's World Wide Web site. A series of menus allows them to declare majors, develop proposed schedules and eventually choose the courses they wish to take. Though several other colleges use character-based electronic course selection and registration systems, Colby's is among the first systems to introduce a more user-friendly graphical interface on the Web.
    It is a revolutionary change that will ease the logistical nightmare for both students and administrators, says Registrar George Coleman. No longer will office personnel have to first decipher the handwriting from students' class-selection cards and then type in the selections--a system that already seems hopelessly antiquated and inefficient, Coleman says.
    "We don't want just to change the medium without enhancing the process," said Ray Phillips, director of information technology services. Functions like a search engine able to find all classes that meet Tuesday and Thursday between 10 a.m. and noon, for example, should make life easier for both advisers and students, he says.
The crush of registration will now take place in cyberspace. The final registration in the field house was in February.     Returning students will sign up for classes before this school year is finished, and most incoming students will log on this summer, Coleman says. The Web registration system was designed to make certain that students are not getting what they want merely by being the first to submit their choices. "The system will see to it that seniors who need a class to fulfill a requirement will get that class," Coleman said. It will prevent non-majors from enrolling in "majors-only" courses and will reject students who try to choose a course for which they have not fulfilled prerequisites. "One advantage of the online selection is that students can find out right away whether their choices are possible." Programming the system to consider all those variables was one of the biggest technical challenges for the Information Technology Services team that developed the system, according to Cathy Langlais, director of administrative IT services and the project leader.
    Because the computer cannot massage schedules to accommodate unusual individual circumstances, Coleman will continue to "prune and balance" enrollments before class lists are final. If all goes as planned, student schedules, with all courses and sections confirmed, will be available on the Web beginning August 2.
    Though the crush of students during registration will take place in cyberspace and not on the field house floor, Coleman says the occasional student still will put pen to paper. Students who are abroad can register simultaneously with their on-campus peers if they have access to the Web, but provisions for phoning, e-mailing or faxing in course selections are in place for others. "Not every student will make their selections online but we anticipate the number who do not will be very small," Coleman said.
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