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Preregistration Moves Online for Convenience

By Douglas E. Heimburger
Associate News Editor

All MITstudents will preregister for classes over the World Wide Web next semester following a successful test run of the new electronic system last December.

Undergraduate and graduate students from the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, Department of Mathematics, and undergraduate students in the Sloan School of Management tested the system by filing their preregistration material for this term online, said Associate Registrar for Facilities and Scheduling Mary R. Callahan.

The new system is a result of a joint effort by the Registrar's Office, the Student Information System, the academic departments, the Office of Undergraduate Academic Affairs, the Student Financial Aid Office, the Bursar's Office, and student services re-engineering, Callahan said.

The new system offers distinct advantages over the old paper-based system of preregistration, Callahan said. "Students can change their preregistration multiple times right up until the deadline date" with the new system, she said. Additionally, the system may allow the preregistration deadline to be later in the academic year since the Registrar's Office will no longer have to input the data on the forms.

The Registrar's Office will not save time overall with the new system because it allows students to send messages to the office with individual questions about topics like registration holds, Callahan said. "It felt good to be hearing from students"on issues that may not have normally been raised because of difficulties in contacting the office using other means, she said.

The paper preregistration forms will not be maintained with the new system, Callahan said. Students who have difficulties using the system will be assisted by the Registrar'sOffice on a case-by-case basis, she added.

System to feature added security

The electronic preregistration system will feature new security measures currently being developed by InformationSystems, Callahan said.

The test system used in December featured special passwords that were issued to the volunteering students by e-mail, Callahan said. While the system provided the appropriate level of security, many students lost their passwords, requiring intervention by the Registrar's Office, she said.

The new system, to be piloted in March, will feature digital certificates that will be obtained from a secure Information Systems server, said Susan Minai-Azary, director of the I/T integration process for IS. Unlike a traditional password-based system, the certificate can be used to authenticate users with systems that are not considered secure, she said.

"We didn't want to add more usernames and passwords to the system,"Minai-Azary said. "This is the marketplace solution" for secure user authentication, she added.

Kerberos, MIT's traditional user authentication scheme, could not be used for network applications over the World Wide Web, Minai-Azary said.

Comments on system positive

Both students and administrators praised the new electronic preregistration system for its ease of use and for the new information that it provides.

"I generally liked it,"said Shirley A. Rieven G. "I'm not sure that they should abandon their other registration methods though. If someone can't figure out how to use it, they should be able to go to the Registrar's," she added.

"The most difficult thing about preregistration is figuring out how to do it," said Clinton P. Conrad G. "The actual preregistration was easy" with the new system.

"Students seemed to enjoy the new system," said Joanne E. Jonsson, academic administrator for the Department of Mathematics. "One great benefit for us was that graduate students actually preregistered," allowing better planning by the department, she said.

The new system"seems to be a great success,"said Dean for Undergraduate Education Rosalind H. Williams.

Asurvey conducted by the Registrar's Office found that 92 percentof students using the system found it clear to use. Most students were able to preregister in less than 15 minutes, according to the survey.

The survey also found that only 37 percent of those using the system connected to it from Athena clusters. Graduate students tended to preregister from lab instead of public clusters, Callahan said.

Although the new system will feature an automated schedule system, the paper timetables will remain. "We've heard from students - don't eliminate the paper,"Callahan said.

Still, the system will feature schedule updates as necessary. "The paper catalog sometimes doesn't tell what is being taught,"Callahan said. The electronic preregistration system will add classes as departments decide to offer them, she said.

Registration could be electronic

The final registration process could be placed on the World Wide Web in the future, Callahan said.

However, the process of registration would still not be changed. "Faculty advisers value the interaction with the students,"Callahan said. Under the new system, students would still be required to meet with their advisers, she added.

The adviser would then attach his or her digital signature to the registration information, ensuring that the meeting has taken place, Callahan said.

"Good electronic contact will enhance communication,"Williams said. Still, no decision has been made on the feasibility of an electronic system yet, she added.

Other forms, such as add/drop forms, will not be moved online in the near future due to the complexities of getting multiple signatures attached to a form, Callahan said.