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A developing tools: The Course Request System

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The process of registration at New College is complicated to say the least. Functioning in two main parts, the Course Request System (CRS) and contract negotiation, signing up for classes can be a frustrating process. As the spring semester creeps around the corner, students must record their class preferences through the CRS. While the CRS is not a binding force between students and classes by any means, it is a useful tool in gauging the academic interest of the student body.

“The course request system helps us plan, that is its purpose,” Dean of Students Robert Zamsky said. “It is an imperfect snapshot of student interest but it is better than nothing which is what we used to have,” he added.

Initiated in the spring of 2009 for fall registration, the CRS has developed from being an optional tool to a requirement last year with an accompanying late registration fine of $50. When the system was first introduced with a late registration fine, the fine was $100. It was soon discovered that, by regulations, the school is only permitted to charge students $50 for registering late.

Including this semester, students are now only charged $50 for not registering and an additional $50 for late contracts, an apt change for the system’s workings as a whole. Just last Friday, the “Student Instructions” link for the CRS corrected itself from a $100 fine to the $50 fine. As a whole, registering late with the CRS and contracts will result in a $100 fine. However, all incoming students are exempt from the system’s late registration fine. This semester, a total of only 11 students were charged the late registration fine.

“Almost nobody used [the CRS] when it was optional and we need to judge student interest,” Zamsky said. “We would find not until the beginning of the semester that there was a ton of interest in one area so we had to react quickly and this made the beginning of the semester extremely stressful.”

The CRS, although helpful to faculty and administration, can at times be a pain for students. One major glitch in the system is that students essentially have to register for their classes twice. As explained in the “Student Instructions” link, “the initial submission process will fail due to technical reason.”  The CRS then requires each student to manually select “Add Course Request” for each of the six possible classes in order to have their request processed.

“As an incoming first-year, I was very confused with the purpose of the system as the mini-class and contract deadline arrangement was a largely unfamiliar process,” second-year Paige Pellaton said. “As a second year, I think the CRS is great now that I’ve had the opportunity to see how it really works. I appreciate the attention the school is devoting to the student body’s course preferences. I think that it really works too as a basic measure of student interest in areas of study here at New,” she added.

Students use the CRS mainly as a means to express their academic interests. In turn, these interests are taken into account by the Provost and plans are then developed. For example, the Office of the Provost uses the information provided by the CRS to assess whether the school needs to hire an adjunct professor for a specific class or more faculty for a certain AOC, room assignments can then be assigned based on the estimated class size.

“The [Office of the Registrar] looks at the information gathered from the CRS produces a report of all the courses and how many people have expressed interest in them,” Registrar Marta Moreno said. “Then that is sent to the Provost Office and the Provost takes a look at it because they’re the ones that make decisions regarding faculty and class offering.”

“The divisions are the ones who create the courses and then they send them to us [the Office of the Registrar] and we just publish them and we then make any changes from that point,” Moreno said. She went on to mention some of the details required to be included in the course descriptions. “If it fulfills an LAC requirement, if it’s going to be a diversity course, if it’s going to count for more than one thing, if there’s going to be a lab fee, all of that information comes from the divisions because they are the ones that know.”

“I look at [the CRS] when I am planning my syllabus, thinking of what kind of room I want and so I definitely double check it,” Professor of Political Science Barbara Hicks said. Hicks went on to mention the procedure of adjusting students officially in the class into the online system, which all faculty must do. “It is a cumbersome process to put each of the students in your class roster and to go through the whole list of students.”

The divisions are given a schedule with certain blocks of time in which their classes are permitted to occur. Each division must ensure to the best of their abilities that there are as few overlapping courses as possible and that required courses for an AOC do not take place at the same time. It may be argued that the professors have the closest relationship with the CRS as they set up the descriptions, must adjust the student roster once contracts are finalized and have the ability to decide how much they rely on the CRS as a guide to accepting students.

“I treated [the course request system] as a preliminary class list and gave priority to students who signed up through it,” Visiting Professor of English Margaret Konkol said. On the other hand, professors may choose not to depend on the CRS as much.

Visiting Professor of Biology Christopher Frost, who is an alumnus from when New College did not have the CRS, chooses instead to focus on the student applying to be in his class. “I made it clear that I was personally approving people in the class,” Frost explained.

“[The CRS] is especially good for a classes that may fill up quickly,” first-year Cole Zelznak said. “It’s also nice as a way of organizing the classes you’re interested in and confirming that interest to the administration,” he added.

“We were able to compare initial student interest and actual course enrollments, although there is some noise in that data that we need to sort through,” Zamsky said regarding this semester’s CRS results. The CRS is a work in progress as is the entire registration process.

There are certain developments being processed and perfected such as the concept of online contracts. “I think [online contracts] would save everybody a little time and much frustration,” Zamsky said. “It would more efficiently store this information and keep a track record of students semester to semester.”

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