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University registrar: Old class scheduling processes time consuming, cumbersome

With a little less than three months until the start of Spring Semester, the pressure on Ohio State students to begin sorting through courses and creating class schedules might seem overwhelming. But the current process is much less time-consuming than those used in OSU’s past, said Brad Myers, the university registrar executive director in enrollment services.

“Could we do it in a shorter period of time? Sure,” Myers said. “(It’s) a purposeful decision just to make it (function) as smoothly and efficiently as possible.”

Myers said that prior to the independent student scheduling web-based software used today, students were once required to schedule over the phone using touch-tone requests.

“It’s conceptually similar to what you’re doing now, except you were doing all of that in a back and forth discussion with a computerized voice on the phone. Ohio State was one of the early major institutions to do that,” Myers said.

The over-the-phone technology, called B.R.U.T.U.S., which stood for Better Registration Using Touch-tone phones for University Students, was implemented in the late 1980s to give students more immediate feedback on the availability of their preferred classes, Myers said. It was Myers’ voice that was used for this telephone recording system.

“I was the voice of B.R.U.T.U.S.,” Myers said. “It was so fun. I might be in the store and talking to somebody and some student would just stare and go, ‘Why do I know your voice?’”

The phone registration system was developed by AT&T and originally used the voice of a person that lived in Indianapolis and worked for AT&T, which Myers said was ultimately inefficient.

“That meant that any time the name of a department changed or anything like that we had to go have him re-record things and that was pretty cumbersome,” Myers said. “We decided that we needed to have somebody on campus that would actually be the voice of B.R.U.T.U.S.”

Still, the telephone transaction technology was less complicated than the process of scheduling when Myers arrived at OSU as a freshman in 1973.

“When I was a freshman, I met with an adviser and I worked with them to figure out what my course request would be and then I wrote them on a multi-part form that was then turned in. Those all got turned in and somebody keypunched all of that information into the system,” Myers said.

This one-form scheduling process was a streamline of an older system, Myers said. A computer changeover was conceived in 1965 and implemented some time in 1972, narrowing the “infamous packet of cards received by Ohio State students at scheduling time” down to one form, according to an OSU libraries archives website article from Sept. 1972.

“Let’s say that you’re a student and you went in and you stood in line and got a little card that said ‘English 110 at 9 a.m.’ and then you went to another line because that was history and you got another card that said ‘history 110 at 12 p.m.’ You kind of collected your cards and then you went to a line at the end where you turned all the cards in,” Myers said.

Under the “packet of cards” process, students did not receive a report of their individual schedule until several weeks after turning in their bundle of course cards, Myers said. According to an OSU Monthly December 1966 article from an OSU libraries archives website, under the multiple scheduling cards system, the average student might fill out 105-plus registration cards and forms over the course of his or her four years at the university.

Plans for the one-form registration were finalized in January 1972, just before Myers arrived, according to an OSU libraries archives October 1972 article.

Myers said before the implementation of the software program used by students today, OSU developed its own in-house programming, which he refers to as OSU’s “legacy system.” The OSU-built system was maintained and effective until the current software-based system was fully implemented in the summer term of 2009, Myers said.

“We supported that system with tons of patches and little odds and ends, tweaks and major rewrites and things like that from 1973 until 2009. That was really unusual for a system to have lasted that long without being replaced,” Myers said.

Today, scheduling is done through an Oracle Corporation software called PeopleSoft, said assistant registrar David Schneider.

“It took us three years to do all of the planning and the development of that transition and then starting in the summer of 2008, we actually began to implement the pieces,” Myers said. “The whole thing costs tens of millions of dollars.”

Schneider said it was difficult to discern the full amount of money the university paid for the software.

Although neither Myers nor Schneider could provide a specific cost, Myers said that the cost of the software had been paid by the university, stretched over the course of the early to mid-1990s until about 2010.

Today, students are assigned 15-minute scheduling windows to log on and create their semester schedules, Myers said. About 200-250 designated students schedule within each assigned 15-minute window, which is one of the reasons why students must begin scheduling for the next semester so far in advance, he said.

OSU also spent $85,000 to integrate the Schedule Planner tool into the existing course registration system in October 2012 . Schedule Planner lets students choose which courses they need to take and in turn, will find the most efficient opportunities for students to take those courses.

Isabel Lewis, a second-year in neuroscience, said the current system is much better than having to wait in line or use a touch-tone process to schedule.

“I just like how you’re able to look into all of the classes because it gives little descriptions. You have all the options at your fingertips without having to go outside your house,” she said.

Nathan Bell, a second-year in business administration, agreed that the current system seems efficient.

“It’s easier. You don’t have to go to visit any advisers,” Bell said.

Yet, Bell said that the speed at which classes become filled because of the large OSU student body size can be aggravating.

“You have to be at your computer as soon as the clock strikes nine or something,” he said.

Myers said the current scheduling system does follow a specific hierarchy, with certain students such as student-athletes or honors students scheduling earlier than others, but that OSU tries to make the process as fair as possible by looking at the number of credit hours accumulated by the students in each group.

“What we basically are doing is randomizing within those little bands to make it as fair and consistent as possible,” Myers said. “The kind of concept was true then just as it is now. It just had to be processed through the system differently.”

Schneider said that the University Registrar office is made up of approximately 48 faculty and staff, who, among other tasks, oversee the scheduling needs of the nearly 60,000 students enrolled on OSU’s campus. OSU recently converted from PeopleSoft 8.9 to the 9.0 version, he said.

“We’re still kind of learning the new system. In a way, we’re still kind of in the honeymoon phase,” he said.

Myers said a challenge of the new system is deciding whether it is worth the hassle for the university to suggest a modification of the software to make it more specific to OSU. An advantage to earlier, in-house systems was that they aligned with the way OSU conducts business.

“All of the changes over time were all reflecting on changes that we made in how we did business,” Myers said.

Yet, Myers said that despite the rapid rate at which technology is changing, the foundational system of records and registration is still the same. He said the PeopleSoft software-based scheduling process is one that he foresees continuing in the future.

“Technology is rapidly changing and so we’re always trying to look at what’s coming next, so what new technology might give us more flexibilities,” Myers said. “We needed to be able to embrace and take advantage of newer technology in terms of doing business and meeting customer expectation.”

One comment

  1. We received a copy of the B.R.U.T.U.S. phone script at orientation when I started as an undergrad (2001), though we had online scheduling at the time. It seemed like a very laborious process, but I can imagine how much of an advance over it would have been over lining up somewhere to register.

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