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One of Harvard College’s biannual traditions will go the way of the slide rule this fall, as registration day—the ritual gathering of every College student in Harvard Yard to sign cards acclaiming their presence on campus—migrates to cyberspace.
While the change is expected to save the Registrar’s office over $50,000, according to Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) Registrar Barry S. Kane, the bureaucratic streamlining of online registration is not without drawbacks: technologically-savvy students can now register without actually leaving home, scoring an extra weekend of summer.
And according to Matthew J. Glazer ’06, Undergraduate Council (UC) President, online registration could make it easier for the administration to do away with shopping period in the near future.
“I do recognize that there are benefits to the system,” he said, “but what concerns me is the possibility that this might open the door to pre-registration.”
In addition to registering online for the first time this fall, students will also design and print their study cards using a web-based shopping tool on the my.harvard portal.
The FAS Registrar’s Office plans to debut three more enhancements to the my.harvard portal this fall, including new student record and directory capabilities and a customized communication packet with electronic copies of documents that were previously included in the hard-copy registration packet.
This online communication packet will be accessible to students through the my.harvard portal. Academic departments will also be able to upload important documents into the communication packet and specify a target group of students that can view the documents, such as a specific class year, house affiliation, or concentration.
Although the student record was also previously included in the registration packet, under the fall online initiative, it will be categorized separately from the communication packet and made accessible any time through the my.harvard portal.
The development of the five registration initiatives relied heavily on both faculty and student input: proposals were submitted to and approved by the Faculty Council in the spring term, and FAS Computer Services put together a focus group composed of seven students to help preview—or “beta test”—the new applications.
The first major initiative, which was approved by the Faculty Council on April 6, will replace the paper-based “I Am Here” registration card and eliminate the traditional registration day at the beginning of each term. Starting at 7 a.m. on Saturday, September 10, all Harvard College students will be able to register for the fall term by simply logging onto the new online registration tool via their my.harvard portal.
The system will automatically prevent students from registering if they have failed to meet certain prerequisites, such as a fully-paid termbill.
The freshmen registration deadline is 11:59 p.m. on Monday, September 12, while upperclassmen will need to register by 11:59 p.m. on Friday, September 16. The registration tool will remain accessible after the deadlines, but students completing the process afterwards will be charged the regular $50 late fine.
Although the application will require students to confirm that they are on campus by using a computer on the Harvard network, Registrar officials acknowledge that crafty students may still be able to circumvent this system to extend their vacations well into late-September.
“There’s virtually no guarantee that someone using [the application] is within the Harvard network,” said Rick Osterberg ’96, a database specialist for FAS Computer Services.
Moreover, Kane admitted that, while the system will log IP addresses for future reference, the “Registrar’s Office will not position itself as the registration police,” Osterberg said.
Instead, only “if there was clear evidence [of wrongdoing]”, would Harvard officials choose to implement punishment, he added.
But the “largest and most consequential” change in registration this fall, according to Kane, will be the switch to a primarily online course enrollment process—as opposed to the antiquated system of filling in bubbles on paper study cards.
Until last spring, College students had to pencil their chosen courses onto a paper study card, collect the required signatures from faculty and advisers, and turn it in to the Registrar’s Office at the conclusion of shopping period. While a “Course Shopping List” application has been available on the my.harvard portal for a year, it is currently used only as a scheduling aid for shopping; courses selected online by a student still had to be transferred to the study card by hand.
Starting this fall, College students will use the online shopping tool to automatically construct drafts of their study cards. When they finalize their schedules, students can print an official study card—the Registrar will contribute $1 to each student’s printing budget for the cards—and collect the required signatures from faculty and advisers on the printed form. Kane said that the process will also eliminate “bubble trouble,” the deluge of enrollment errors which regularly plagued the Registrar’s office after study cards were collected.
According to Kane, Harvard has the technology to make course enrollment completely electronic, but the administration has chosen to use a mixed system of online and in-person course enrollment to ensure that students still have face-to-face contact with academic advisers.
In contrast, the Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences uses a purely electronic system in which students submit their schedules online to a bevy of advisers, each of whom can electronically approve the proposal or request that it be revised.
But undergraduates at Yale, like their Cantabrigian counterparts, must still print out a final schedule to show—in person—to all of their required advisers. Administrators at both colleges acknowledge that a fully online system could negatively impact their intricate advising systems.
“There’s no substitute for sitting down with your adviser and having a conversation,” said Daria Vanderveer, an associate registrar at Yale who also advises freshmen. “I don’t know that I would want to pass up the chance to sit down and talk to them, as convenient as it would be.”
Kane—who came to Harvard in 2003 after overseeing Yale’s transition to online course registration the year before—said that his office would consider switching to electronic signatures if the new system was successful for one or two years.
“Most things are possible,” Kane said. “[But] the basic advising process will not be shifting.”
Harvard’s other registration idiosyncrasy—shopping period—has been fiercely defended by students facing proposed changes to registration in the past. In 2002, Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby proposed replacing the open-lecture period with preregistration and an extended “add/drop” period. The move prompted more than 1,000 College students to sign a petition supporting shopping period, and Kirby quickly revoked his proposal following vehement faculty opposition in the spring of 2003.
“This is in no way a step to eliminating shopping period,” Osterberg said of the online course selection tool.
In an earlier test version of the application, it was necessary to “seal” a study card—make it unalterable—before printing it out.
Aaron D. Chadbourne, chair of the UC’s Student Affairs Committee (SAC), who worked with the Registrar’s development team, said that he suspected the “seal” feature could “diminish shopping period” because any move to streamline registration potentially makes it easier to abolish shopping period in the future.
Additionally, the new registration process will force students to review and update their directory information, including new information not in the current FAS directory update utility, such as cell phone numbers and addresses. The default privacy levels for this information will also be changed this fall from level four—which dictates that contact information will “display only within Harvard, in print or electronically”—to level five—which says that information will “display in publicly accessible Harvard directories.”
That change is moving forward despite privacy concerns that arose after a streak of telemarketing calls targeted students this past spring.
Although the Registrar’s office plans to do extensive testing of the system before its fall deployment, Kane admitted that “there will undoubtedly be some glitches, as with any new application.”
—Staff Writer Brendan R. Linn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff Writer Jonathan Tsao can be reached at email@example.com.
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