UI Direct requires 'shift in thinking of 180 degrees'

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

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

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."

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