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Add/drop goes digital

New online add/drop improves the process for users and paves the way for other digital forms

The Registrar’s Office rolled out its newest digital tool, an online add/drop form, on Jan. 27 — just in time for the beginning of spring term. Like the paper version, the form allows students to add or drop courses, adjust units, change status (for example, from credit to listener), and obtain advisor approval. However, not only is the digital version more convenient and efficient, but it also is equipped with helpful interactive tools.

Developed by the Registrar’s Office and Information Systems and Technology (IS&T), the online add/drop form comes on the heels of other recent digital initiatives, notably online grading and online registration. These initiatives have come to fruition as a result of the Education Systems Roadmap, a strategic plan to modernize applications and processes central to the Institute’s educational priorities. “This is indeed a transformative moment at MIT,” says Registrar Mary Callahan.

Paving the way for the future

Creating the digital form was no small undertaking. “We spent a lot of time listening to students and faculty about their add/drop pain points,” Callahan says. “We designed the system to focus on self-service, with a rich array of features to assist in making informed decisions.” To enable students and faculty to access the form from a tablet or mobile device, the program was built with responsive web design, which adapts the screen layout to the user’s platform.

The design process was challenging, according to Associate Registrar Brian Canavan. Although the old form seems simple, it was “deceivingly complex” to digitize. For instance, the program accommodates the multiple, distinct deadlines associated with adding or dropping a class. And it features intelligent contextual messaging, so the software prompts or guides the user where appropriate.

Although the immediate goal was to develop the online add/drop form, the design team conceptualized the application with an eye to the future. “Add/drop is one of four high-priority forms and petitions identified by key student service offices,” says Eamon Kearns, associate director of education systems at IS&T, referring also to the HASS concentration form, the late add/drop petition, and the Dean for Graduate Education petition. To anticipate the requirements of all four forms, the team developed an overarching digital framework. A single landing page, which currently houses the add/drop form, will eventually accommodate the other three forms when they are digitized.

The perks of a paperless paradigm

The advantages of the online add/drop form go well beyond saving paper and staff data-entry time; going digital allowed the design team to incorporate features tailored to the needs of each type of user.
For students, the application automatically determines whether the instructor’s approval is needed in addition to their advisor’s approval. Interactive messaging informs them if the requested change exceeds credit limits. Students can use the communication tool within the app to connect with their advisor online, a feature they are using frequently, according to Canavan. For those students who must maintain an eligibility threshold, such as remaining at full-time status, a drop request can be linked to an add request. The online version also buys students some time; forms are now due at 11:59 p.m. on the appropriate deadline, so students don’t have to scramble to slip the form under the registrar’s door by 5 p.m.

Because students are responsible for submitting the final, approved form to the registrar, they receive status notifications at each step of the process. When the advisor approves the request, the student gets an e-mail prompting them to submit it to the registrar. Once the form is submitted, it is immediately posted to the student’s record on WebSIS.

The online add/drop form also addresses the needs of faculty. Each request is populated by the student’s biographical information from the registrar’s database, including a photo of the student to help the advisor quickly identify them. With the embedded communication tool, instructors and advisors can send a message to the student, such as requesting a meeting to discuss the proposed change. Advisors can record notes in a section visible only to them, which they can also access from the online registration app. Similarly, advisors can view any notes they have made in online registration. This cross-application functionality helps them to keep track of specific details and make more informed decisions about the student’s academic plans.   

As with the student interface, approvers are notified by e-mail when students submit requests, with the option to receive messages immediately, daily, or weekly. The program automatically flags a request as a high priority 72 hours before the applicable deadline. Also, the immediacy of the information makes it easier for faculty to track their course enrollments; class lists are automatically updated once the student submits the approved form to the registrar.   

Now that the add/drop form and framework of the overall system are in place, other Dean for Undergraduate Education and Dean for Graduate Education offices are partnering with IS&T to develop the remaining three forms and petitions, which they expect to roll out in the next year.

Digitization aside, in the final analysis, it’s still about people. “We are so excited to be able to provide this service to our students and faculty,” Callahan says. “Our goal is to enhance the student-advisor relationship by providing a coherent user experience that is efficient and fun to use.”

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