Online registration sails smoothly into operation
By Colleen MacPherson
Considering the enormity of the undertaking, the changeover to online class registration at the U of S could not have gone more smoothly, according to the people in charge of the switch.
“There was certainly a sense of relief and satisfaction when it finally worked,” said David Hannah, associate vice-president of Student and Enrolment Services.
“From the student perspective, this was really slick. It was a non-event so we knew we had been successful. There were a few glitches ... but we rebuilt from scratch every course offered here and every section, about 10,000 of them. The glitches were what you would expect as normal in such a major piece of software.”
Online registration for fall classes began July 12 with registration windows opening up for various groups of students until month-end. It was a major step in implementing the $12-million, four-year-old Student Information (Si!) system. The registration component, called SiRIUS, got its first test in April when some 5,000 students registered via computer for spring and summer session classes.
SiRIUS replaces the U-Star telephone system which could handle only 30 calls at once, said Russ Isinger, assistant registrar academic. The new system registers hundreds of students at a time and during the activity spike seen in the first hour of every registration window, servers were often running at over 90 per cent capacity.
Registrar Kelly McInnes said the implementation team had “a detailed plan in place to deal with any issues” that arose during registration. “Oh, we were so ready,” she said, but what they heard most from students was that the process seemed too easy. Many contacted the University to confirm their registration, she said, because, unlike the alert that appears if, for example, there is a class scheduling conflict, the program does not confirm successful registration. The student has to move to the timetable or tuition account page on the website to assure themselves that they are enrolled in the class.
This issue was raised at a post-registration debriefing, McInnes said, along with the problem of students registering in off-campus sections of classes instead of on-campus. This is an annul problem but seemed more prevalent this year because of how the class attributes appear on the user’s screen. A solution might be to simply rearrange the information columns, she said, offering one possible way the problem will be addressed as the system continues to be refined.
Hannah said there was one biology class where the links between lecture, labs and seminars didn’t work but by using the PAWS portal to create sub-groups of students, those trying to enrol were contacted and the situation resolved.
Provision was even made for the handful of students without access to a computer to register by telephone or fax, he said.
The next step in Si! will come in 2006 when students will apply for admission online, said Hannah. Then comes the Curriculum Advising and Program Planning (CAPP) module. This will allow students to track their academic progress against degree requirements. Isinger described CAPP as “a huge project” that is still 18-24 months away.