Campus gears up as UI Direct moves into 'action' phase

By Melissa Mitchell

You might say this is the drum-roll phase for UI Direct.

"All the critical pieces are in place, and the technology is
working. What now needs further reshaping and redefining is
making sure we have the attention of faculty, staff and advisers,
so they know what we're doing when the action starts," said Larry
Mann, assistant vice chancellor for academic affairs and director
of the multifaceted on-line project that promises to streamline
the way UI students register for courses beginning next summer
and fall.

Mann is quick to point out that while on-line registration is
probably the most visible part of the overall project, it is just
one component of the overall design of UI Direct, and involved
the least amount of effort. "Development of the on-line Timetable
and training of departmental staff in its use, and conversion of
LDB (the campus' student-records database) have been much larger
projects," Mann said.

The development history of UI Direct goes back to the fall of
1989, when the campus first assigned high priority to
computerizing the registration system. Since that time, various
committees, including the OnLine Registration Steering Committee
and an ad hoc OnLine Timetable Planning Committee, began meeting
to review policy issues, consult with college representatives and
get down to the business of actually developing the system. The
planning and design process has involved personnel from just
about every academic unit on campus, with major input from the
Office of Admissions and Records, Office of Facility Planning and
Management, Administrative Information Systems and Services, and
Computing and Communications Services Office.

Original plans called for full implementation to coincide with
spring 1995 registration. For various technical reasons, that
date has been pushed back; students now are expected to use the
system for the first time in April 1995 to register for 1995
summer sessions and the fall semester.

"The work to define and implement essential elements of the UI
Direct design - quite frankly - has taken more time than was
originally anticipated," Mann said. "Beyond software development,
last year we discovered that data communications technology had
moved past the capacity of the campus network - UIUCnet - to
transmit sensitive data securely.  Thus, a supplementary project
was started to encrypt data passing across the network so that it
can be 'read' only by the intended recipient. While this added
security requirement will provide benefits for the campus well
beyond those of UI Direct, it has required technical resources
and involved added time to complete the project," he said.

Two big tests of the system took place this past month - first
when departments began using the on-line student-records
database, known as LDB/2, and later, when a control group of
students logged on, kicked the tires and took the new on-line
registration vehicle for a spin around the block.

"The 'stress tests' went very well," Mann said, noting that the
preliminary tests were created with the hope of flushing out any
software or performance problems before the entire student
population logs onto the system.

Meanwhile, departmental and college staff members have been hard
at work for the past several months learning new approaches to
old tasks associated with registration. Last year, "lead persons"
were designated in each college and departmental office to assist
with the process of transmitting crucial information to
individuals in their units who will work directly with various
components of UI Direct.

Departmental staff members also are being trained to learn how to
build the on-line Timetable, which Mann said is easily "the
largest, single aspect of the UI Direct project." Forty of the
campus's 120 teaching departments are constructing their portion
of the Timetable on-line, and another 40 are receiving
instruction through November. The remaining 40 departments will
learn how to do it in February and March.

From here on out, Mann said, the success of UI Direct will depend
on how well staff members within each academic unit pull together
and work as teams to accomplish the next phase of the project.
"An essential requirement now is that units understand it is
their responsibility to assume ownership," he said.

So far, according to Mann and others involved in coordinating the
training and preparation efforts, everyone seems to be getting up
to speed on the new processes - although the pace has varied from
unit to unit.

"Our decision last year to designate UI Direct lead persons for
each college and department office has worked well to date," Mann
said. "Through that approach, we have created a reasonably solid
base of understanding in departments about UI Direct.

"However, as the date for implementing on-line registration
approaches - and now that essentially all of the requirements
have been decided - we need to further refine our strategy with
the units."

The immediate task, Mann said, is "to refocus our collective
attention on the requirements of real-time, direct registration
as it relates to course offerings and enrollment management."

A key difference between the old paper method and the
computerized registration system is that the process "will no
longer be a request-based system. It will be like an airline-
reservation system."

Under the formerly used request model, "many units waited until
after the request phase to decide about course offerings," Mann
said. "We can't do that anymore. We have to decide ahead of time
what's going to be offered, and we can't pull the plug on it
later - unless there's good reason," he said.

"In this new environment, we're going to have to manage
registration in a different way, with a completely new
philosophy," said Larry Faulkner, the UI's provost and vice
chancellor for academic affairs. Faulkner described the old
procedure as "a pruning system, where we put up the whole tree,
then cut back. The new system will be to build the tree as the
need develops."

The provost, who has been working closely with Mann and
representatives from each college to ensure a smooth transition
from the old to the new approach, said one of his biggest
concerns is that not all faculty and staff members fully
comprehend the scope of the changes that need to take place
immediately.

"In the past, we may have offered 8,000 course sections, and then
we'd only teach 6,000. We can't do this in the new system,"
Faulkner said. "Department heads are going to have to understand
that they can't set up sections the way they used to."

Because the new system will require colleges to complete the task
of course planning and management much earlier than ever before -
often, without key information such as confirmed budget and
student-enrollment numbers - a small percentage of courses may be
designated as "pending." Faulkner said that option should be
exercised "only when a department has a reasonable, good sense
that it's going to be offered." Otherwise he said, students may
be misled and think, "Oh, I can come back and finish this
[registration] later," when that won't be the case.

"We're encouraging colleges to know what they're offering up
front," Faulkner said. And furthermore, "The colleges must agree
that for any course not listed in the Timetable as pending, they
are prepared to pay for it. It's important that everybody gets
this message."

Faulkner has been communicating this and other messages primarily
through direct contact with a team of college representatives who
have been involved in the project since November 1992. In
addition to reviewing policies relating to registration and
establishing policies and procedures related to advising and
course-section development, the group - known as the UI Direct
College Representatives - has worked with the design team and
with their units to develop a variety of "course controls" that
may be used as tools to help units control enrollments. For
instance, courses or sections may be restricted by class level,
or according to students' participation in the Honors or
Bridge/Transition programs.

"One of the key components will be setting course controls and
making sure departmental staff members know how to use them
properly," said Morgan Lynge, associate dean for undergraduate
affairs in the College of Commerce and Business Administration
and co-chair of the College Representatives.

So far, CBA staff members have been pulling together on various
levels in preparation for the inaugural on-line registration.

"Our people have been enthusiastic about the project," Lynge
said. "All the equipment is in place, and everyone's been
cooperative about getting the resources we need to do this."

One of the things Lynge is impressing on staff members in his
college is that on-line registration won't eliminate direct
contact with students.

"Students will still have to access college personnel for various
reasons," he said. "The way that contact will change will be in
timing and character, but it won't go away. And at first, it may
intensify, and might move to an earlier time in the cycle.

"Right now, we're talking through those scenarios - the 'what
would happen if ...?' questions," he said, noting that staff
members are finding "a certain comfort level" in the fact that
"there are actually a lot of similarities between using computers
and registration on paper."

"On the other hand, there's a host of new things," Lynge said.
"We're well aware that there's going to be 'transition frictions'
- things that will go wrong, things that we will need to work on
and do differently." Probably one of the biggest preparation
efforts under way at the college level is happening in the
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

"Because we are the largest college on campus, we've simply got
to be up and ready to go, or it isn't going to work for the
campus," said Robert Copeland, associate dean for undergraduate
student affairs in LAS. Copeland also is co-chair, with Lynge, of
the College Representatives.

Since LAS is one of the biggest providers of required
undergraduate courses, the planning effort is involving the full-
time attention of one of its assistant deans, Bruce Hinely.
Copeland compared the LAS effort to "dropping a rock in a pool of
water and looking at all those concentric rings that form."

"Bruce has been working with groups at the college level and in
the departments, and is responsible for policy matters and the
nuts and bolts" associated with implementation of UI Direct,
Copeland said. "In addition, Associate Dean Emily Peck is
concentrating on the enrollment management issues."

One of the main concerns currently being addressed among LAS
staff members is "the security aspect of the new system," he
said. "Use of the new student-records database is going to allow
individual departments - and individuals - much more access to
student records than ever before," he said, adding that a number
of college personnel are continuing to work closely with
Admissions and Records to ensure their proficiency with the
system.

Overall, Copeland gives the LAS staff high marks for their
planning and preparation.

"I'm very optimistic - we have an excited group of people who are
beginning to see all the pieces of the puzzle that had been
fairly abstract until recently. And I'm convinced, personally. On
a daily basis, I can see the light bulbs going on overhead."


UI Direct College Representatives

Robert W. Batchellor, Extramural Courses
Geneva G. Belford, Graduate College
Willard L. Broom, Student Affairs
Jerry D. Burnam, Applied Life Studies
Robert M. Copeland/R. Bruce Hinely, Liberal Arts and Sciences
Tom W. Emanuel, Aviation
J. Terry Iversen, Summer Session
Morgan J. Lynge, Commerce and Business Administration
Curt B. McKay, Library and Information Science
Susan Michaels, Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations
Gay Y. Miller, Veterinary Medicine
Chris Moyer, Fine and Applied Arts
Charles E. Olson, Agriculture
F. Donna Reed, Nursing
Cynthia L. Rold, Law
Teresa D. Savage, Communications
Jacqueline Smith, Environmental Studies
William E. Sorlie/James W. Hall, Medicine
Mary G. Taylor, Social Work
Roscoe L. Pershing/Harry G. Wenzel, Engineering
David Zola/Chester Zych, Education



UIUC -- Inside Illinois -- 1994/11-17-94