Tired of hunting down professors and advisers to fill out course registration cards, only to then, days later, wait for hours to access the overloaded Bearings system?
In response to ongoing discussion about deficiencies, the College is working to implement a new student information system (SIS), which would involve online course registration, better recording of academic progress and student information, and increased communication between faculty, students, and staff through processes such as advising.
"The whole purpose of this is not just online registration, it's academic planning," said Financial Software Upgrade Project Manager Abbie Brown.
"A component of it is that a student has the best options to get the best courses within that context. But also, we're really focusing on the user experience...trying to come up with an experience that is best for Bowdoin," she said.
For years, Bowdoin's system has struggled with an outdated database, difficulty integrating with software, slow access, and a paper-based course selection process. However, Chief Information Officer Mitch Davis said that significant improvements require the implementation of a new system, which has allowed the College to create a group of faculty and staff to assess its needs and decide what the new system should be.
According to one presentation prepared by the group, Bowdoin's current SIS makes no provisions for "consistent and efficient" communication between students and advisers online. The group also said that the paper registration process creates course selection issues and inefficiencies, and that degree progress is inconsistent and difficult to manually manage.
First, the new SIS will include online course offerings and registration, which Davis said would reduce staff time and human error from entering data from the registration cards, and maybe simplify the process of picking late courses. One of the benefits is that prerequisites and time conflicts would be checked before students submit course requests.
"Right now, even though students are supposed to check prerequisites and time conflicts up front, they're not, and a few hundred courses are rejected each semester as a result," Registrar Christine Brooks Cote said.
Cote also said that she doesn't want to lose the personal touch with course registration, noting the "useful conversations that happen in the office over the counter," and that adviser meetings would still be a core part of the process.
Also, Associate Dean for Curriculum Steven Cornish added that the College does not want to switch over to a first-come, first-served registration process that many programs on the market provide. Instead, Cornish prefers a system that gives students time to pick courses and allows for weight given to certain class years as accorded by the professor.
Beyond course registration, Brown said that the goal is "better tools for student and faculty; more than just going online, it's academic planning," including components of advising and degree progress with distribution requirements.
Cornish said that online tools would be useful for supplementing visits to the adviser by exchanging information.
"What I'm looking at is how online is going to assist a faculty adviser in advising a student. It's about getting the faculty adviser to see the course choices a student is thinking about, keeping a record of contact with the student, looking at distribution requirements, and looking at all that academic planning information the student is working with," he said.
Ideally, Cornish said, a planning system would be implemented where students could see their completed major or distribution requirements, and students could pick courses according to how best to fulfill the rest of their requirements. Furthermore, the SIS will integrate with other systems on campus for better exchanging of information.
Davis envisions that the SIS would link students, faculty, staff, and campus services so that a student could sign up for classes, instantly create a calendar, create book lists, check available times to meet with advisers, and more.
Some of these proposed features have been tossed around for a while, including by students. Mark Dinneen '08 took Software Design, taught by Professor Allen Tucker, in Fall 2005, which allowed him to work with other students to design an online course registration program model. He said that while conversations between students and advisers to get cards signed are useful and should still exist, going online is a good idea.
"I feel like a lot of students gripe about the process of filling out the cards and not getting a response back right away when you submit, because it takes a couple of days to put all the data in and spit back out schedules. The prerequisites, and getting signatures for the courses you need, can be a hassle," he said.
Now, to institute the SIS, Davis said that the College has two system options: either purchase an existing student information system on the market and try to add additional functionality, or buy a lower-end and smaller-scale system to update the current database, and then develop an interface on campus.
"We've interviewed some schools and most are very unhappy. What we want to do is build a system that works with the students and faculty, and makes the process easier. We're trying to find a company that works with us and build a system that works for Bowdoin," he said.
Other peer institutions have more advanced systems, but also lack certain functions that Bowdoin seeks. For example, while Williams College offers a cumbersome online registration system, there is no feature for tracking degree progress.
As a result, Davis said Bowdoin will likely purchase a basic system, and then design a user interface to meet the College's needs.
Brown said that between now and the end of February, the group will be looking at products, peer schools, and Bowdoin's requirements in a system. The College will then look at which systems can feasibly meet its needs, discuss budget and implementation procedures, and set up student focus groups to give input on interface and user issues.
Davis said that while the College would like to implement the system as soon as possible, "if we get it done once and get it done right, we won't have to do it again for a long time."