First online registration period draws to a close

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

After two weeks, over 50,000 classes added or dropped and countless 5-minute time-outs, the campus has survived its first shopping period using online course registration.

“I’m definitely relieved,” said Associate Provost Nancy Dunbar, the Banner project owner. “But there is still a lot of work to do.”

Banner, the $23-million system implemented to integrate information from 11 different University offices into a single database, brought many new procedures and its own language. Although overrides and course reference numbers, or CRNs, may have been hard to get used to for some, many students and faculty told The Herald they have come to appreciate the modernization of Brown’s registration system.

“It’s definitely been much more convenient,” said Michael Li ’10, a prospective biology concentrator. “I registered for my classes, and that was it. I had zero problems.”

“Banner has gone really smoothly,” said Julia Green ’08, who plans to graduate with a degree in cognitive neuroscience.

But while Li and Green have had positive experiences with the new system, some students have been disgruntled by Banner’s inability to cater to certain individual needs. Li said his classes – large lectures such as CHEM 0360: “Organic Chemistry” – “aren’t the type people would have problems with.”

Michael Morgenstern ’08, who spent last semester studying abroad in Prague, Czech Republic, was technically considered a second semester junior and lost the preference given to seniors during registration.

“It was an alternate program, so the transcript hasn’t arrived yet,” Morgenstern said. “I needed four overrides this semester.”

Morgenstern said he is having particular difficulty resolving a time conflict between two of his classes. Professors don’t have the authority to override those conflicts, so Morgenstern has had to go higher up.

“I’m in two classes that overlap by 20 minutes,” Morgenstern said. “The teacher said it was okay, the registrar said it was okay, but Banner is still angry at me.”

Kaitlin Love ’08, who recently returned from studying in Egypt, said she was worried her fate would be similar to Morgenstern’s but that she was pleasantly surprised.

“They wouldn’t let me register at the same time as all the other seniors, so I only pre-registered for one class,” Love said. “Somehow I managed to get into all the classes I wanted.”

Still, Love said she missed the old paper-based system and the sense of community surrounding it.

“I just feel like it’s not fun anymore,” she said. “I liked lining up to hand in my slip with a bunch of people who all hate the registrar. It’s like this big community thing.”

“That’s what makes Brown cool,” Love continued. “We’re weird like that.”

Not everyone has joined Love in pining for the old system. Lisa Mather, associate registrar for registration services, has welcomed Banner and the reduced traffic in University Hall. “We only have 25 undergraduates who are not registered,” Mather told The Herald Tuesday, the last day of shopping period. “Normally we would have hundreds, even thousands of students in our office doing everything at the last minute.”

Mather said “registration has gone very well from our perspective” but has created a few unexpected problems, including the time conflicts Morgenstern is facing.

“I don’t think we anticipated how much of an issue time conflicts would be,” Mather said. “But it’s been mostly questions, not complaints.”

Banner has also driven professors to take more action in managing their course requirements and enrollment.

“I feel like I’m the registrar, in terms of adding the names of 30 chorus members and 40 voice students individually,” said Louis Frederick Jodry, senior lecturer in music.

Jodry, who also directs the Brown Chorus and is coordinator of the Applied Music Program for Voice, said his courses in the two programs require auditions and so must be designated as “written permission required.”

“Each person requires eight steps,” he said. “Eight separate clicks of ‘submit.’ “

Professor of Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences Sheila Blumstein, a former dean of the College and interim president, said she sees good features and “not-so-great” features in Banner.

“As a faculty member, it’s easy to know how many students you have and who they are,” she said. “You can keep track of enrollment, and you can also find your advisees easily.”

But, Blumstein said, the pressure of online registration may have affected her freshmen advisees’ attitudes toward shopping.

“There was some pressure on the students to run back to their room and register right away – it caused a lot of angst,” Blumstein said. “I’m not a big fan of shopping a million courses, but I found my students were set on four courses from the beginning, instead of being interested in seven or eight.”

Blumstein, who said she tries hard to put faces to her class list, suggested having pictures beside the names of students in Banner.

“It would really be nice to have pictures,” she said. “I used to buy the freshman book and try to learn their names that way, rather than just learning the names of the ones who volunteer in class.”

“It’s a change, but we have to go with the flow of it,” Blumstein said. “There are so many changes this year – what with Orientation – we can’t put it all on Banner.”

Dunbar, who leads the Banner project, said she has compiled a list of student and faculty suggestions that she and the Banner project team will try to address this semester.

The list includes rather substantial changes – like distributing more printed information to complement online materials – and smaller ones, such as lengthening the five-minute time-out and adding pictures and semester levels to faculty lists of student names.

“It’s slower than many people would like it to be, but nothing on the list is too big a job,” Dunbar said.

Dunbar said there is one more “project milestone” before Banner will be considered fully operational, which is the conversion of 25 years of student records from the old SIS system into Banner.

“It should be complete by the end of this semester,” Dunbar said, adding that once the milestone is reached, Banner will be able to draw upon students’ transcripts to enforce prerequisites, which hadn’t been automatically enforced this registration period. “Right now, it is the all-consuming task of the registrar’s office.” x

– With additional reporting by Amanda Bauer

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