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Participants give kudos to online registration pilot

The paper-based process underwent a sea change this fall.
Image: Ping Han/Fotolia

In the past, Registration Day kicked off each semester with lots of forms and signatures. This paper-based process underwent a sea change this fall, as seven departments, 2,630 students and 184 advisers participated in the first online registration pilot. Part of MIT’s Education Systems Roadmap, this pilot was led by a team that included staff from the Office of the Dean for Undergraduate Education (DUE) and Information Services and Technology (IS&T).

While online registration has been technically possible for many years, various political and cultural barriers at MIT have stood in the way. In order to ensure success, the project team engaged a faculty advisory committee and worked closely with departmental administrators to get input on requirements and feedback during development and usability testing.

The team also decided on a phased approach to ensure a smooth transition. For the fall 2011 pilot, they developed an online system that closely resembled the paper registration form. Before the launch, participating departments were given a demo of how the system worked.

Feedback from faculty and administrators was very positive. Among the comments:

“The online registration system was built in such a way that I don’t need to work around the system — it works perfectly with what we do and what we try to accomplish with registration.”

“Turnaround time was impressive. I was expecting delays. There were none. I was expecting major bugs when it launched; again there were none.”

“Initially, a few faculty were concerned about the online system but once they logged on and realized how intuitive it was, they were extremely pleased.”

Students participating in the pilot benefited from a streamlined process in which online registration forms are populated with pre-registration data. As part of this process, the student and adviser consult and adjust subject selections. When the adviser approves the subjects, the student has the option of updating his or her address and emergency contact information before formally submitting the registration.

The new system also enhances the advising aspect of the registration process. In developing the system, there was an emphasis on the importance of face-to-face meetings between students and advisers and enabling informed academic planning. As one administrator noted, “Our interactions with students this past fall were so much richer than they have been in previous semesters. With an online system, we were able to look up course descriptions and course schedules. Technology enhanced the advising sessions.”

Looking ahead

The online registration pilot will continue in spring 2012. The Registrar’s Office anticipates that 75 to 80 percent of all departments will participate in the spring pilot. 

Meanwhile the online registration project team is hard at work defining the scope for future developments. Currently in the analysis phase, Online Registration Phase II is a multi-year project that will focus on tools to assist in curriculum planning, subject selection and advising.

If you have suggestions or comments about the online registration system, send mail to the team at

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