By Melissa Mitchell Once it's fully operational, UI Direct will affect students and faculty and staff members in every academic unit on campus. And the consensus among those involved in its development is that the change definitely will be for the better. In the meantime, personnel throughout campus are putting their heads together, ironing out the wrinkles, and - in some cases - working overtime to ensure a seamless transition from old to new. Without a doubt, one of the biggest challenges to those sweating the details in this move from a request-based to a direct approach to registration is the management of course offerings. Nobody knows that better than Emily Peck, an associate dean in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Since LAS provides more required undergraduate courses than any other college on campus, it has functioned from the beginning as a model for how to manage course enrollments in a real-time environment. "What we have to do is a shift in thinking of 180 degrees," Peck said. "Instead of putting everything out and then coming back later to figure out what's the most efficient way to proceed, we have to put out something that's realistic. That's the game." Peck is the first to acknowledge that the game won't necessarily be a lot of fun for many departments, at least not the first time around. But it's one that can be mastered through careful planning and evaluation of previous experiences. "There's definitely going to be much more planning involved than departments are used to," said Peck, who has been convening meetings with LAS department heads, first to introduce them to what's required, then to load them "with lots of carefully prepared handouts, instruction and suggestions." Among the tips and advice she shares with LAS departments is information useful to all departments making the transition. As a starting point, she recommends that departments "just set up what you normally do; don't change anything - at least not in preparing the first version of the Timetable." "Reality check has to be completed before the proof copy of the Timetable," Peck said. "From that first version of offerings, what departments have to do is sort out courses that need no controls - ones they don't have to worry about saving spaces for, courses that aren't typically over-enrolled or have special requirements." Next, she said, "departments need to be looking at courses that have a lot of sections. And they need to ask, 'How many have we typically listed in a semester and how does that relate to the number offered in the Timetable?' If you have a lot of multisection courses, there's a lot you can do with UI Direct's 'pending' option as a management tool - to open or not open sections," she said. "If department heads don't know what their department's typical demand is, they need to stop and look at that," Peck said. Furthermore, "departments need to consider how many faculty have requested sabbaticals, how many have particular assignments that will affect teaching schedules, and how many courses will be offered for the Discovery Program." "After sorting out what courses they have to - and will - offer, faculty teaching capabilities and budget considerations, departments will have to sort out what they'll have in terms of teaching assistants and teaching associates. And, departments will have to allow for a margin of error" in that planning, Peck said. Among the factors that could throw off even the most carefully calculated strategies are uncertainties such as exact budget allowances, student enrollments, and acceptances by new graduate teaching assistants. Another wild card in the course-management process is what to do about incoming freshmen and transfer students. Since continuing students will register in advance for the following semester, a certain number of places must be held for new students. The key to making sure new students get the courses they need, she said, is "through carefully managed release of spaces" by departments, which will now have the ability to check into the system daily to make adjustments. "This will require routine management by departments, and will involve making regular determinations about increasing or reducing section sizes or how many courses to offer at a given time. "UI Direct gives us the kind of flexibility we've never had before," Peck said. In addition to allowing departments to adjust course and section offerings according to demand, it will allow for a host of other controls. For example, seniors or other specified groups, such as Honors students or students with special needs or college requirements, may be given priority over all other students. "This is something the departments have gotten down on their knees and begged to have done in the past," Peck said. And while it was possible to allow priority enrollments, "this was always done by hand and was not an easy thing to do," she said. "Even if a department has only two or three large, multisection courses, the ability to put realistic controls on who registers can be such a relief to a unit that concerns and worries about management may seem less onerous." Mark Netter, associate director of operations in the UI's Office of Facility Planning and Management, agreed. Netter, who oversees the development of the on-line Timetable and is helping train personnel who work with it in the units, said one key advantage to the new system is that it gives departments a greater sense of ownership of their courses. "Each department will be owning its own courses, with the movement of data in the system back to who it belongs to," he said. In effect, "real-time registration really goes back to the kind of registration we used to have in the Armory years ago, when each department had the ability to say on the spot whether a course was still open or not. With UI Direct, we have many of the same controls as when people would do it face to face." In implementing the kinds of enrollment controls possible with the new system, Netter advises departments to use such tools conservatively. Currently, only about 8 percent of courses offered have some type of control. Typically, the controls are in place "to protect seats for student academic programs that require that course," Netter said. "What we're asking departments to do is to look at all their courses," he said. "Then they need to ask, 'Will the normal order of registration be enough to get these students who need specific courses into them?' "Most courses won't need controls," he added. The bottom line - with the current registration system and with UI Direct - is that "we can't manufacture seats," Netter said. "Where there are problems now, there will be problems in direct registration. But that's where departments will want to apply course controls. If there are no problems now, all they'll have to look at is what they're doing for new freshmen and transfers."