Starting next week, students will be able to preregister for their fall classes via the World Wide Web, using a new system that improves academic services for students, faculty and staff.
The system was developed by the Student Information System (SIS) and the Registrar's Office and was enhanced by a team formed under the auspices of FAST, the Financial and Academic Services Transition group in student services reengineering. The Sloan School and the Departments of Mathematics and of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) successfully tested a pilot last fall.
"Under the old system, students had to go to Lobby 10 and pick up paper forms, registration information, class schedules, emergency contact and religious preference forms, HASS guides and degree application forms," said Associate Registrar Mary Callahan, FAST team leader. "They had to use a separate publication, the MIT Bulletin, to get subject descriptions, the names of the professors, and the requirements that the subjects filled, and they had to devise some way to keep track of all their options. Then they had to fill out all this material and return it to us within three weeks, at the time of the year when they are finishing up their term work and taking exams."
This spring, however, students will be able to consult online the integrated subject listings/schedule, a site developed last year by Mike Wessler, a graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science, with the help of Ms. Callahan and Assistant Registrar Phoebe Minias. The HASS Guide and the physical education listings are also now online.
Students can create a hypothetical schedule while they consider different options. When they are satisfied with their selection, they click on the preregistration icon, and their choices are submitted directly to MITSIS, the database that manages student academic and financial records, and data on financial aid and other student services. MITSIS is supported by the Student Information System.
"By being online, the system also gives students a mechanism for asking questions," Ms. Callahan said. "This direct contact lets us do a better job helping them solve their problems." Furthermore, she said, "with the possibility of remote access, we can extend the deadline for initiating preregistration to the end of the month."
The system handles several kinds of preregistration. Graduate students have fewer scheduling constraints (they sign up for fewer subjects), so they have the option of submitting their choices without consulting schedules.
For more complicated preregistration, students can go first to the subject listings/schedule. This feature explains the subject matter and lists the instructors, the units, the time and location, and the requirements that the subjects fill. Students can also use this system to make special searches--for example, finding a subject taught by a specific professor or a subject that meets on Thursday afternoons and satisfies a HASS-D requirement in visual and performing arts; or getting a list of all the subjects that satisfy the REST (restricted electives in science and technology) requirement.
The system also gives students messages about their selections--for example, that they need to enter a lottery, or, if they haven't checked the schedule, that the subject won't be offered.
SLOAN LOTTERY ENTRY
For students preregistering for subjects in Sloan, where they have to bid for places in classes through the Sloan Prioritization System, online preregistration automatically enters them into the Sloan lottery. (The Sloan system has been on the World Wide Web since last May. Because the HASS-D lottery is still on Athena and not the Web, students have to enter that lottery separately.)
There are other advantages. "The printed schedules and subject listings go out of date almost as soon as we print them, but under the old system, students would not find out about these changes until they met with their advisors on Registration Day," Ms. Callahan said. "On the Web, we can keep this information current. So during the summer, students can check in at any time and from any place where they have Web access. If they find a course has been canceled or rescheduled, or if they have simply changed their minds, they can change their preregistration accordingly."
MAY 5 STARTUP
Students can start using the new system starting Monday, May 5. In mid-May, they'll be able to get up-to-date information at the site on their academic standing. Once their grades have been reported, they'll know their status, so their planning will be much better informed.
Since students can choose their subjects more carefully and precisely, faculty and administrators also benefit. "Students can still shop around, but they can make better-informed decisions," Ms. Callahan said. "We expect that the changes students will make after classes begin will be reduced." Because faculty and staff rely on preregistration numbers to allocate space and personnel for the upcoming term, order text books, forsee scheduling conflicts and even make decisions on subject offerings, this new system provides for better planning. Faculty members should also have more accurate class lists at the beginning of the term.
Callahan believes this system will also make Registration Day much more productive. "When students meet with their advisors at the beginning of the term, they won't have to spend as much time with administrative issues," she said.
In addition to Ms. Callahan, the members of the student services reengineering team that developed automatic registration were Erin McCoy (Office of the Bursar), Ms. Minias and Connie Scribner (Office of the Registrar), Cecilia Corey (Office of Student Financial Aid), Jim Billings and JoAnne Stevenson (SIS), Mary Enterline (Undergraduate Academic Affairs), Dan Burns (EAPS); Joanne Jonsson (mathematics), and Debbie Shoap (Sloan School).
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 30, 1997.