Registering for classes as a first-year in the past year went like this to Drew Dunham, associate dean of academic affairs and registrar.
“Alright. Everybody get to know each other real quick. Alright now, here’s modes and categories. Here’s how you do this. Now we’re going to talk about how to read the class schedule, and pick classes, and have individual interviews with somebody who will tell you what your test scores were. Then we’re gonna move you into the registration room, and there, you’re done.”
Dunham’s reenactment of past Student Orientation, Advising, and Registration programs may be painfully reminiscent to some upperclassmen. After 24 years working on campus, the associate dean of academic affairs and registrar knew how anxious and stressed students became learning about schedules, then picking classes the next.
That’s why the registrar chose classes for all incoming students weeks before the first of four SOAR sessions began.
Weeks prior, each Class of 2021 member received a questionnaire over email meant to gauge students’ academic interests, from musical ensembles to wellness courses. Space was also given for students to provide any scheduling concerns they had for SOAR advisers to consider.
[View the questionnaire here: SOAR Academic questionnaire (1)]
Then, a group of eight college staff members spent three weeks meeting every day to develop class schedules for each student based on their questionnaire responses. The results were then emailed out to students three weeks prior to the first SOAR session along with an email address created for students to request a change in schedule.
Paradoxically, the inability of students to choose their own classes maximized student choice.
“For most students – outside of truly undecided students, which are a small percentage – we’re at most picking two classes for a student, maybe one,” said Dunham.
He pointed out that many first semester students stick with basic introductory courses that are relevant to their majors, institutes and interests, all of which were highlighted on their questionnaires. Add on a preferred First-Year Seminar and the only class Dunham and his team had to choose were those that filled a mode or category. If a student did not like their schedule, a simple email would solve their problem.
The result? After the third SOAR session in late June, less than six percent of schedules were changed, a decrease from last year.
Compare this to past registration sessions, where students in later SOAR session participants had to compete with fellow classmates for shrinking seat availabilities.
Through the new method, the registrar was able to look at the incoming class together and place each member in classes that matched their interests but did not cause conflict with other members’ schedules. Even fall athletic schedules and specific needs of students were considered.
This also allowed the “Orientation” and “Advising” sections of SOAR to take more precedence than in year’s past. Instead of spending most of the day on registration, future Britons could receive relevant information and assurance about their time in Albion.
What were the students’ reactions? For Agnes Sponenburgh, of Westland, Michigan, delight. She had heard from friends who attended later orientation dates at their respective colleges that they received “bottom-of-the-barrel” class pickings.
Irving Espinoza of Chicago had friends with similar experiences as Agnes’. While some were excited about choosing their own classes, others were anxious about that freedom.
Both Agnes and Irving, being undecided on majors, were appreciative of the questionnaire. It gave Agnes the opportunity to consider and reflect upon which subjects she loved, while it took pressure off of Irving in making tough scheduling decisions.
Photo by Beau Brockett Jr.