October 12, 2000

Students Soon to Add, Drop Courses Online

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Cornellians may no longer have to spend their afternoons waiting in long lines and racing around campus to add and drop classes.

The University Registrar, in coordination with Cornell Information Technologies, is currently developing new software that will enable students to add and drop classes online. This should make the process of changing schedules easier and faster compared to the current system that uses paper forms.

“The basic design is to eliminate the ‘signature chase’ where students go from faculty to faculty,” said University Registrar David Yeh.

“One of our goals is that when you register for courses, you know [immediately] whether you’re in the course or not,” Yeh added.

Under the current system of adding and dropping classes, students often become frustrated because they must obtain approval from their advisor and the department of the class they are adding or dropping. Students may also be mistakenly told that a class is full, even though it has empty spots.

“The current system is a pain in the neck,” Stephanie Feinberg ’03 said. “It’s frustrating because it is very time consuming to go to your advisor and then the department.”

“Who has time to go back and forth between departments?” Feinberg added.

The new computer software and the design of the new add/drop system should be completed by the end of October, and will then undergo testing before being implemented in Spring 2001.

There will be no change in the policies regarding adding and dropping, only changes in the means of adding and dropping classes. For instance, students will still have three weeks to add a course and seven weeks to drop a course without petition.

Under the new system of electronic add/drop, students will still need to gain approval from their advisors, but they will no longer need to go to departmental offices for the signature of the department — departmental approval will be online under the new system.

“It’s to the students’ advantage to have this new system installed,” Feinberg said. “The whole process will run more smoothly.”

The new system is also designed to facilitate the add/drop process for University departments.

“It would be beneficial for our office because it reduces the amount of student traffic that goes through,” said Terry Thompson, registrar for the College of Engineering.

Yeh also believes electronic add/drop will help all departments run more efficiently. “This will help faculty whose job is to manage class size,” he said.

This advantage of electronic add/drop will limit class size by preventing students from enrolling in a course once a cap has been reached. In the early stages, however, students will still be allowed to add or drop classes the old-fashioned way — in addition to electronically — which may still cause some initial over-enrollment.

“I don’t think electronic add/drop will affect class size [in the beginning,]” said Sarah O’Hanlon, registrar for the College of Arts and Sciences. O’Hanlon cited the fact that “people can still add courses by [physically] going to the department.”

Electronic add/drop can also result in a better balance between the number of students in a course and the number who are trying to enroll in it. Currently, a student might not be able to enroll in a course that is supposedly full, even though the class might actually have open seats because other students have dropped it.

Under the new system, however, a student who has dropped a class will immediately allow another student to enter.

In the future, there may even be an electonically-controlled wait list for students trying to enroll in a course. Under one proposal, immediately after a student drops a class, then the first person on the wait list, as well as his or her advisor, receives an e-mail saying that he/she is now enrolled.

Nevertheless, electronic add/drop might have some minor problems in its initial stages, according to Thompson.

One potential problem is that electronic add/drop is done on a first-come, first-serve basis, which could result in some students not getting a course they require, O’Hanlon said.

Despite these potential difficulties, this new way of adding and dropping classes may eventually make changing one’s schedule much simpler. “There may be better outcomes [compared to the current situations] as long as we’re willing to test it and try new technology,” Yeh said.

Archived article by Peter Lin