Students to register by terminal, not phone this spring
Assistant News Editor
A temporary registration center in the basement of the Hesburgh Library will replace the current Direct Access Registration by Telephone (DART) system as Notre Dame's primary means of class registration, University officials announced Tuesday. The shift will take effect this fall, as students register for spring semester classes from Nov. 8 to Dec. 4.
Those working closely on the project admit that the change comes largely in response to increased problems with DART in the past year.
"It hasn't been a disastrous problem, but the phones have failed a number of times in the past two semesters," assistant registrar Don Steinke said of the registration system in place at the University since 1989.
Since last fall, the Office of the Registrar has seen a steady growth in the number of students frustrated with DART. In particular, students voiced concerns about being kicked off the system while registering and often being unable to access it altogether.
Steinke acknowleged that most of the system's problems were associated with periods of heavy use by students. He said the University has tried but been unsuccessful maintaining a system that wouldn't be overloaded.
"We could have tried the phones, but we didn't want to risk putting students in frustrating positions," said associate registrar Lora Spaulding. "There's not enough candles in the Grotto."
Features of the new system
In terms of how it will function, the registration center will operate much like DART, said Harold Pace, University registrar. The process will even keep the same acronym — Direct Access Registration by Terminal — as its predecessor, he said.
The center will be located in Room G184 in the basement of the Hesburgh Library and will feature 35 workstations, or terminals, for students. At each terminal is one of the wireless laptop computers donated by University alumni affiliated with IBM. In the Office of the Registrar are an additional six terminals that have been used by students in the past as an alternative to the telephone system.
According to Pace, students with a working knowledge of the previous system shouldn't experience problems in the registration center.
"As far as how everything works, the messages and instructions that you'll see on the computer screen are the same ones that you heard on the phone," Pace said.
Students will still be assigned DART appointment times and PINs. Pace said that information may be made available as early as today. He expects DART books with Spring 2001 class listings to be available by Friday.
Also, as in the past, students will be allotted 15 minutes for registering once they've logged into the system. The time will be divided into two seven-and-a-half-minute segments.
"Come back" times similar to the "call back" sessions used with telephone registration are scheduled from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. daily from Nov. 8 to Dec. 1. Students with exemption forms or questions can come to the registration center from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily during the same time period.
Registration by terminal won't signal the complete replacement of registration by telephone. Officials said phone registration will be made available on a limited basis.
DART phone lines won't be open during student appointment times at the registration center from 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. weekdays from Nov. 8 to Dec. 4. The lines will be in place with limited access from 8 p.m. to midnight Mondays through Thursdays and from Fridays at 8 p.m. to Sundays at 4 p.m. from Nov. 8 to Dec. 1.
"Bringing up the phones at night, there won't be the potential for an overload," Steinke said.
But Pace stressed that what caused the registration change in the first place was the undependable nature of the telephone system.
"Although we're providing the phone system, students shouldn't rely on it to work," he said. "Students shouldn't depend on it as their main source of registration."
New system concerns
While the new registration center has put University administrators' fears to rest, it's raised a few concerns from students.
Sophomore Maria Mahon expressed some reservations about becoming accustomed to a new system.
"I understand that there were some complications with the phones, but I worry having to use the computers," said Mahon, a history major.
Anticipating such concerns, Pace said his office has worked to make the new process very similar to the old system. In addition, no fewer than one University staff member and three student workers will be present in the registration center to offer assistance.
Mahon, who said her past experiences with phone registration have been positive, also has misgivings about the sytem being available on only a limited basis.
"It would be good to have more of an option," she said.
For sophomore Linda Melchor, the change prompts other questions.
"I'm a little scared that when my appointment time comes I won't make it," said Melchor, a government major.
According to Pace, appointment times are scheduled so that they do not interfere with students' courses and come at least 10 minutes after a class.
There is also no need for students to arrive very early at the registration center, he said. At their assignment appointment time, students will be ushered into the terminals.
"There's absolutely no benefit to arriving early," Pace said.
Both Mahon and Melchor believe that the new process may prove somewhat inconvenient.
"It's the easiest thing in the world to pick up the phone in your room or apartment. In that respect, this change will be an inconvenience," he said.
But Pace hopes that the user-friendliness of the new system will quell some apprehensions about it. He said besides the ease of the system, students will also benefit from seeing their schedules as they're building them.
Tuesday, after the release of an e-mail announcing the change to the student body, Pace said complaints streamed into his office. Many worries came from students studying abroad and from students worried about space limitations in the registration center.
The registrar said students in study abroad programs will have their class registration taken care of through the Office of International Studies.
Other students who are away from campus on University business as well as disabled students who may not be able to access the registration center can contact the Office of the Registrar, Pace said.
Space and terminal availability shouldn't be a problem, according to Steinke.
He said appointment times are scheduled so that the number of students intending to register doesn't exceed the 35 available terminals.
At 33, the sophomore class has the highest average number of students registering during any given 15-minute period. The junior and senior classes have an average of 28 students scheduled to register during each session, while the freshman class has 20.
Only a temporary method
In some students' call for a more convenient system, they questioned how far into the future a move to a Web-based registration looms.
It's a project that the University has been making strides toward this semester but is not yet ready to be implemented, said Pam Johnson, senior assistant registrar.
"Right now we're not in a position to have it or to test it on a student group," Johnson said of Web registration, noting that students should not get it confused with the terminal registration they use this fall.
Johnson said that University software has already undergone the several rounds of testing and changes required to usher in Web registration.
"It's been difficult to test, but the Office of Information Technologies is working on it and tying up loose ends," she said.
Johnson and others in the Office of the Registrar stressed that registration by terminals is only a temporary system, but they said it is too early to tell if registration over the Internet or any other system would be in place for the course drop-add period in January or for registration in the spring.
Officials, however, are investing their resources in developing a Web-based system and are certain that the phone system won't return as the University's major means of class registration.
"The important thing to remember is that the registration center is only temporary. For right now, we're going to do everything we can to make sure that students' registration needs are taken care of in the best way possible," Pace said.
All News Stories for Wednesday, October 25, 2000