That’s So 1998! Technoglitches and the Registrar

“In many schools in recent years, college and university Registrars have tried to modernize registration procedures, usually in terms of putting paper registration systems online. In some cases, though, the people in charge are not very informed about technology or the internet, and the end result is not good. I have heard many horror stories.”

“I had very negative experiences when my school switched to online registration. No one could get into the classes they needed for their majors, seniors suddenly had almost no preferential treatment for getting the last classes they needed or wanted before graduating, and deadlines kept getting changed. Some things don’t need to be modernized, they work just fine the old fashioned way.”

Just last night, my son was asked to send his resume to a fax number. This was after he had submitted it as an electronic attachment to an email. The person responded to his email and thanked him for sending it and then asked him to fax it.  ?!?

These are some of the comments my friends and colleagues made when they heard the story:

Why would your son want to work for someone who’s idea of technology is the fax machine? Will he be running mimeograph machine too?

Wow, that’s so odd. As a young person, the way people hire is just baffling sometimes.

Is he applying for a job in 1991?

I have nothing against fax machines. My office has one and I use it regularly –  once a year.  Mostly to see if it still works.

As the comments above all indicate, there is nothing so transient as technology. In my lifetime as a student and staff/faculty member in universities and colleges, I’ve seen and used paper registration, punch-card registration, telephone registration, back to paper registration, and web registration. What’s next? Text registration? Smart phone registration? Hey, why not? If you can help Japan by texting donations, why not text your class choices?

Have I succeeded in getting your shorts in a knot? [insert evil laughter and ominous music]

Unfortunately, those comments above are all too common. We Registrars are a little infamous for screwing up the job we’re supposed to be responsible for. And some of us have become rather adept at blaming the IT department for the screw-ups. New technology can be daunting and confusing.

Perhaps it’s helpful to remember that the trusty pen and paper are also technology. Old technology, to be sure, but still technology. Rather than get all flustered (insert your own descriptor there: excited, afraid, upset, googley-eyed, etc.) about how you’re going to redo everything using web registration or some other shiny piece of gadgetry, why not think it through as though you were using the ancient technology of pen and paper? What principles would you be concerned about? Let’s use course registration as an example.

  1. The first principle might be one of communication. You would be concerned about getting the course schedule and information about how to register into students’ hands. In the old days that was a paper booklet. In these new days it might be a .pdf file or an html web page. Would you change how that was prepared or published? Probably not much the first time around. You might add some bells and whistles that the online format can offer, but the basic principle remains – you need to get the information published so students can view it easily.
  2. The second principle to consider is one of security. You need to ensure that students are who they say they are and that they have the right to register. Their courses need to stay with their registration and not just float into the ethernet. In the old days, if you created a multi-page course registration in paper, you would have been very concerned that the student sign every page, or at least staple pages together so they didn’t wander off or pick up another student’s registration along the way. Perhaps you required students to show photo ID when they dropped off their registration forms. Do you need to do this electronically? Not the same way, of course, but the principle still holds true: the student needs to be verified and the courses need to be securely attached to the student’s record.

It’s not quite so daunting when you think of technology as a pen and paper. Granted, not every new technology translates to paper and pen; however, I will guarantee you that the principles stay the same. We get into trouble when we forget the principles and get caught up in the excitement of the shiny-ness of new technology. I remember the confusion everyone had with electronic signatures. We understand how to collect a signature with pen and paper. But how do you sign a computer screen with a keyboard? Ah, but then some wise person asked why we require signatures and what the purpose of the signature is. Then some smart IT person developed an equivalent method to the principle behind a signature.

The next time some new technology comes your way, give it the hairy eyeball and say, “I’m on to you and your tricks!”

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