Bowdoin students turned in their paper course registration forms for the last time this week. Starting in the 2013-2014 academic year, the College will use an online course registration system. The move is part of the plan to replace the current student information system Bearings, with the newer system, named Polaris.

Under the guidance of the Polaris Project Team, consisting of staff from IT and the Office of the Registrar, as well as the Polaris Advisory Committee, a board including students, faculty, and IT members, the College has slowly begun implementing the new software throughout the past year. It is already employed in the Office of Admissions, enabling staff to review applications online and  giving applicants the ability to track their application materials through an online portal.
Professor Suzanne Lovett, co-chair of the Polaris Advisory Committee, noted that the changes to the College’s data systems prompted a closer look at other aspects of College administration—such as registration.

 “Since this was an opportunity to review all of our policies and practices that will be touched by this system, we decided to stop and make sure we’re doing the most effective thing we can for students in particular, and faculty,” she said.

The most prominent change to the Registrar’s policies as a result of this new technology is the introduction of online course registration. According to Jan Brackett, the College registrar, the registration process will have three stages.

At the first round of registration, students will log on to Polaris and select their top four class choices. Brackett believes that online registration will prevent many of the routine registration errors that usually cause problems for a student’s schedule in Phase I registration.

 “Students might have conflicts, they might not have a prerequisite, but now as they are entering the course, those things are checked, and they would get an error telling them what the problem is,” she said.

 According to Brackett, having those errors prevented during the registration process “would be a big step forward” for the registrar, and would save students the unnecessary trouble of going through another round of registration.

A second round will follow for students with incomplete schedules, following similar guidelines to the first. Both of these first two rounds would be deadline based, rather than first come first serve. If a student’s schedule is not full after the second round, they will proceed to a third and final stage similar to the current Phase II, where the remaining slots in classes would be filled on a first come, first serve basis.

This system will be in operation by the time the first years arrive here in the fall. First years will not register for their classes online before they arrive, as is the case at Bates. They will still meet with pre-major advisors, register for their first year seminars first, and select the rest of their classes second.

The hope is that the lack of a physical registration card to sign will not diminish the role of the academic advisor. In fact, accompaning changes to the advising system may strengthen that relationship. Beginning next fall, all second-semester sophomores, juniors, and seniors will be assigned a specific major advisor. According to Lovett, the standards for advising vary across departments, as some assign formal advisors, and others simply allow advisors to be selected informally. Because of the conversion to an online system, the signature of the advisor will now be replaced by an online hold system. In order to signal that the advisor has approved their advisee’s schedule, they will have to log on to Polaris and remove the hold on the student’s registration card. Therefore, for the system to work, each student needs to be specifically assigned to an advisor that will have the ability to log on and remove the hold.

The final major change that will come with Polaris is  course numbering system. When students return to campus next fall, they will see their traditional three-digit course numbers replaced by new four-digit ones. Supporting the change, Lovett argued, “there are some departments that have run out of numbers, in some cases they’re reusing numbers that they already used two, three years ago.” The four-digit numbers will allow Polaris to more easily track and display the division and distribution requirements attached to each course, a feature that does not currently exist in Bearings.