Korman: Embracing the creative conveniences of online scheduling

By Ben Korman

Thackeray Hall used to be where academic dreams went to die.

You’d wake up at 6:30 on a cold, wet spring morning and venture out just to wait in a line that extended out the front door — only hours before you discovered that the one class you absolutely needed to take was closed, and thus you had to rework your entire schedule all before your 9 a.m. class.

This might sound foreign to current freshmen. Pitt’s adoption of online self-registration this semester virtually abolishes Thackeray’s relentless wrath.

The new system is simple and intuitive: Users load courses into a “shopping cart,” ensuring that all desired courses are open before proceeding to checkout. Enrolling is comparable to buying a book from Amazon.com.

It comes as no surprise that students have embraced the new system. University Registrar Samuel Conte said that as of Nov. 2, nearly 10,000 Pitt students had successfully registered online, 7,300 of which were on the Oakland campus — the last of Pitt’s campuses to implement the system.

Assistant Registrar Dave Carmen added that difficulties thus far have been minimal. Many of the students who call in with questions are simply seeking last-minute reassurance, or as Carmen calls it, “A pat on the butt.”

The advantages of self-registration are quite clear, even overwhelming. Not only does it eradicate the dreaded trip to Thackeray, but as Conte pointed out, students can now check for open seats and even add or drop classes while home during breaks. The convenience is almost comical.

“We piloted it at the regional campuses last year, and at 11:58 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, someone was trying to register,” Carmen said, admittedly amused that a student would opt to adjust his schedule instead of, say, popping champagne.

But here’s the kicker: Registering for classes and partying are not mutually exclusive activities anymore.

You could arrive home after a long night out, your vision and judgment fuzzy. You might check your e-mail, Facebook, etc., and begin chatting with a friend, who asks about your classes next term — apparently one of your future professors is a “total d**che.” You hastily log in to my.pitt.edu and drop the class, neglecting to replace it, as it were.

Ultimately, it might have been a good decision. Some professors are rather moronic. However, this behavior is borderline reckless — it is Drunk Dropping.

Of course, this is only one of many possibilities. Students can now potentially engage in Athletic Adding — laptop poised on stomach while doing sit-ups — and Gluttonous Grade Option selection — committing to take a class pass/fail with a mouth full of fettuccine alfredo.

It’s almost too easy. My enrollment appointment was Oct. 26 at 9:15 a.m. I set my alarm for 8:30, snoozed until 9:10, registered for the spring semester and was back in bed at 9:25. Awesome.

Suspiciously awesome, some might argue. It’s like a sci-fi thriller in which all the world’s bureaucrats are replaced by robots. Society flourishes with efficiency, joy and candy. Then, the protagonist — played by Jude Law, of course — falls in love with a charming outsourced tax collector and proceeds to stage a violent coup against the computerized superstructure in an effort to win her heart.

Although this movie is pure fantasy — self-registration, Conte said, has not resulted in any layoffs — one part does have basis in truth: the charming tax collector represents the men and women of G-1, Thackeray Hall.

I spoke to Karen Geragi, Verne Scariot and Pattie Carroll, three of the registration specialists who would process the old paper forms for students during registration.

Scariot, who usually mans G-1’s front desk, was on vacation in Disneyland a few years back when a young man began repeatedly shouting “Number three!” at her — at one point in her career she had indeed occupied the station labeled “3.” The young man was a former Pitt student, and he thanked her for her help. Oh the humanity.

I instantly recognized Geragi. She had guided me through an unexpected enrollment crisis last spring which nearly extended my academic career an extra semester. I suggested a potential drawback of self-enrollment: Students no longer have face-to-face guidance when they encounter a scheduling problem. She agreed.

Although G-1 Thackeray is no longer inundated with students on the first days of registration, Conte said that the specialists can now devote more time to helping students via with enrollment-related snags via phone, e-mail or walk-ins. Evidently, it’s what they do best, and it’s what students tend to appreciate most.

Before leaving, I asked if they had anything to add.

Carroll responded, “Have you applied for graduation yet?”

Apparently the deadline for Arts & Sciences’ Spring graduation is this Monday. You can pick up the necessary forms at Thackeray Hall. Don’t try and apply online.

E-mail Ben at [email protected].