TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – The days of long lines and frustrating phone calls that sometimes left students scrambling for course names, days and times, are over at The University of Alabama. Registration has gone high-tech at UA with a student-friendly Web-based system that is the first of its kind in the United States.
The first phase of the new system, known as Tide Navigator, debuted this summer with incoming freshmen registering for their first semester on campus. Additional features will be implemented during the fall and spring semesters, when all students will register on the Web.
Tide Navigator not only allows students to register for classes but also instantly provides schedule options and will allow students to track courses they have taken and review those they still need to complete their degrees. Technologically, the system, which uses software produced by the Canadian company Decision Academic Graphics (DAG), is a U.S. first.
“No one else in the country does scheduling this way,” said Dr. Roger Thompson, UA registrar. “To register, a student simply needs to know the five courses they want to take. They submit those five courses, block off times when they cannot attend classes and the system provides a variety of potential schedules to choose from.”
“Students today want to be served in the most efficient, effective and accessible manner possible. They are accustomed to Web interface and they are accustomed to quick delivery, whether at an ATM or a fast food restaurant. This system meets their needs,” he said.
Once a student has completed a semester of coursework, Tide Navigator’s “degree audit” function takes effect. The system will track each student’s individual academic progress, providing an ongoing record of courses completed and requirements remaining. Considering changing majors? Just plug in a new major and the system will automatically show the classes needed for that major. Transferring to UA? Students transferring from community colleges or other public colleges or universities in the state of Alabama will be able to see how their courses will transfer to UA and check requirements for degrees long before they set foot on campus.
“The potential for this system is phenomenal. We are far out in front of other universities with this technology,” said Tom Canterbury, registrar for UA’s Culverhouse College of Commerce and Business Administration, and an early member of the team that put the new system in place. The technology opens the door for students to register from anywhere in the world, he points out, and to check on their progress at any point in time.
“I don’t think we’ll see nearly as many surprises, when students suddenly realize they are missing that one last course or that kind of thing. This system is automated so students know from day one what courses they need. That feature alone could certainly cut costs and time in completing a degree,” Canterbury said.
With computers taking care of so many technical details, student advisers will have more time to consult with students on their individual academic plans. “Right now, advisers may spend 15 minutes doing paperwork each time a student comes in. With the new system, much of that time could be devoted to working directly with the student,” Canterbury said.
Plans for the new system date back to the fall of 1998 when Thompson sought the assistance of a group of business students to find and analyze suitable systems for degree audit. A team of business students took on the project to fulfill the requirements of MIS 431, a senior-level management information systems course.
The students investigated available options and found four systems that warranted further analysis. They recommended DAG. Thompson and other University officials were also impressed by DAG’s software, but the system required another complicated technical step – a means to connect DAG to the University’s computer system. The answer proved to be another piece of software. Known as Touchnet LogiXStream, this component bridges the DAG software to UA’s SIS+ system.
Thompson said the project is an excellent example of a campuswide team effort. Drs. Mitch Mitchell, director of the Seebeck Computer Center, and Priscilla Hancock, associate vice president for information technology, played key roles in managing the technology. Associate and assistant deans who work with registration across campus also had input into the system. Martha Piwonka, assistant University registrar, coordinated the project in the registrar’s office.
“From the beginning, this has been a great project in terms of involvement across campus,” Thompson said. “It has been successful because we have had campuswide support throughout the development of the system. Thanks to this team effort, we have a registration system that truly addresses our students’ needs.”
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.