The Campus Chronicle
Vol. XVIII, Issue 16
for the Amherst campus of the University of Massachusetts
December 20, 2002

 Page One Grain & Chaff Obituaries Letters to the Chronicle Archives Feedback Weekly Bulletin

 Page One Grain & Chaff Obituaries Letters to the Chronicle Archives Feedback Weekly Bulletin




SPIRE weathers major test

By Sarah R. Buchholz, Chronicle staff

S PIRE, the campus's new online registration tool, had its first workout between Nov. 14 and Dec. 3 when nearly 15,500 undergraduates and more than 1,800 graduate students registered for spring classes. The participation level of undergraduates in pre-registration was consistent with that of recent years while the number of graduate students choosing to pre-register rose 38 percent from last year.

     Approximately 95,000 course seats were filled during pre-registration, according to Associate Chancellor for Information Technologies Rosio Alvarez. Roughly 1,400 course sections have been filled and another 200 classes have electronic wait lists, said Elizabeth Pyle, registrar.

     "The system was effective ... in some clunky, if not perfect, way, but it's effective because the faculty scheduled into SPIRE a sufficient number of appropriate courses," said deputy provost John Cunningham. "And that is always the key to a successful registration."

     "While registration was successful in facilitating students' enrollment in courses, we were interested in how students received the SPIRE system," Alvarez said.

     "We are currently conducting a lot of assessment activities to figure out how pre-registration went," Pyle said. "[We] definitely feel there is a lot of dust to settle in a process that involves 30,000 people." A number of different assessments, including focus groups and surveys, have been or will soon be undertaken to learn how staff, students and faculty who are connected with the pre-registration process perceived their experience, Pyle said.

     "These activities will give us a lot clearer picture than we have right now of what went wrong, what went right, and which areas we can best focus on for improvement," she said.

     Despite the transition being a "somewhat painful process," students who had been through the old registration system preferred SPIRE by a nearly 2 to1 margin, according to Pyle and Alvarez.

     Preliminary feedback suggests that first-semester students had an easier time with SPIRE than students who had been using the older pre-registration system, Pyle said. More than 71 percent of first-year students found the registration process to be "somewhat easy" or "very easy" while just under 55 percent of their more senior colleagues found it to be so.

     According to Alvarez, more than 46 percent of all students who provided feedback rated SPIRE as "good" or "excellent" and only 15 percent said they thought it was "poor."

     Pyle said some of the "pain" of using SPIRE was learning to use a new computer system.

     "There were definitely - with the new tool - learning-curve issues, as well as some aspects of the tool that were found to be less convenient, initially confusing at least, or long-term confusing," she said. Part of what she hopes to learn from the assessments is where the points of difficulty lie and how to "ease those issues" quickly.

     Pyle said other stress involved in using the system came from policy change. The Registrar's Office switched from not enforcing enrollment limits in courses during pre-registration in past semesters, to the new model of closing sections when they are full and then offering wait lists.

     "The wait list is a new aspect to the campus, so we're eagerly supporting that and interested to see how it goes," Pyle said.

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