This spring, advance registration has caused Lawrence students to think about more than just what classes to take next year. Changes in academic record-keeping mean students have to relearn how to sign up for classes. While students can expect even more changes during the next academic year, Registrar Anne Norman assures that the biggest changes have already been made.The course numbering scheme is one of the most visible of the changes. Instead of the traditional two-digit and section letter course number, courses will now have three-digit numbers and no section letters. For example, Principles of Classical Physics changes from PHYS 12 to PHYS 150. Section letters will be absorbed into class reference numbers, or CRNs, which are computer-generated four-digit identifications for specific sections.
The new course numbers have brought a change to the numbering of independent studies and tutorials. Previously, all were lumped together in the 90 level without regard to their level of sophistication. Now, students may register for a tutorial or an independent study with a course number appropriate to its level.
Course credit has also changed for next year. Where full courses used to be worth one credit, they are now worth six. Until the transition is complete, Norman encourages all students and faculty to be careful when talking about course credit. She asks that “credit” be used to refer to the old system and that “unit” be used to refer to the new system. That is, one credit equals six units.
The intention is simply to make transcripts easier to understand for readers, such as graduate schools and potential employers. The old system required the use of fractional arithmetic to calculate grade points and averages, which was almost unheard-of in higher education. Under the new system, grade points and averages will be easily calculable with decimal arithmetic.
Norman says that the new credit scheme is actually exactly the same as the old. In order for the old computer system to perform the fractional arithmetic, it simply treated each credit internally as six credits. It only converted to fractions for transcript printing. Norman says her office is merely “unmasking” how it works.
Though it has been a long-standing desire to change the credit system, removing all of the “masks” from the computer interface would have been too difficult, Norman says. And the change in numbering has also been in the works for a while. Five years ago, the faculty voted to adopt a three-digit format, but the opportunity to make the change has not happened until this year’s implementation of new computer software.
The new university administrative software, Banner, which will eventually be used by all campus offices, provided that opportunity. Until now, the university has been using an academic record-keeping system that was programmed by then-students about 20 years ago. Since the program was designed specifically for Lawrence, radical changes to academic record-keeping have not been feasible. Banner, a commercially available software package, is more versatile since it was designed to be implemented at any university.
While having a tailor-made computer system for a specific university has it benefits, Norman says that it also has its dangers. A major concern with an in-house system is that too few people know its intricacies. Norman herself faced that problem when she became the registrar. Her predecessor unexpectedly passed away, and took all of his knowledge with him—leaving her to figure out how things work without any assistance.
With Banner, thousands of university administrators across the continent have at least a basic knowledge of its functionality. Even though Banner is customized for each university, its general use is the same. Because of that, it will be easier to make future modifications to Lawrence’s implementation.
Norman says that some of her office’s functions will remain on the old system through the summer. She says that her office is making the transition “each piece at a time” in order not to overwhelm students or her staff. “We’re living with one foot in each world for now,” she says.
After the registrar’s system is fully moved onto Banner, students may expect to see online registration. Norman expects that to be ready for advance registration next year, but she says it might take a little while longer. In addition, the Banner system will be able to perform degree audits for B.Mus. students, as well as perform major and minor audits for all students. These are currently performed on paper.
Norman suggests that students or faculty who have questions about the various changes consult her office’s web page at http://www.lawrence.edu/dept/registrar/, or consult one of the office’s staff members.