New software seeks to simplify course registration, advising

Photo by Kyle Parks.

When advising and registration for the Spring 2018 semester came, many students began doing so through a new application. This software, Student Planning, is McDaniel’s replacement for WebAdvisor – better known as Archway – which the school hopes will simplify the registration and advising processes for students.

Student Planning is provided by Ellucian, a Virginia-based higher education tech company which also currently provides McDaniel with Archway. According to Registrar Sandra Clark, part of McDaniel’s shift to the new software is largely because Ellucian will soon no longer maintain WebAdvisor. “Their focus is on their new software and we’ve been informed that, at a certain point in time … they will no longer maintain WebAdvisor, so we don’t truly have a choice,” Clark said. “We want to stay as up-to-date as possible … and we certainly don’t want to use a software package that is no longer maintained.”

Pilot testing of this program began last spring, involving both undergraduate and graduate students. “We got a lot of valuable feedback through those pilots,” Clark added. “It was well over 100 students total that participated.”

The program rolled out for all students, with the exception of members of the class of 2018, in the fall, with many students using the new software application as their main means of registration.

Wendy Morris, associate professor of psychology and associate dean of faculty development, believes the new software simplifies both the student registration and advising processes.

A major component of this is the replacement of Program Evaluations with My Progress. “The progress bar actually allows students to search for courses within the particular requirements that they’re looking for,” Morris said. In the Archway, this has to be done separately from the Program Evaluation.

Another advantage, says Morris, pertains to student advising. “Advisors can leave notes in the system for their advisees … and students can go back and refer to those notes so they won’t misremember advice they were given.”

With fall 2018 course registration beginning on April 2, many students can expect to see a very simplified process.

Clark affirms that registering for classes will be faster. Students will identify specific sections of desired courses and “when [their] registration priority time comes up [they’re] all set up … literally it’s the touch of one button, and you’re instantly registered for all your planned sections.”

Student Planning also allows students to plan out their four years at McDaniel in advance. “You can plan out all four years,” said Executive Director of the Center for Experience and Opportunity Josh Ambrose. “I understand that not a lot of students are thinking that way just yet, but you can… go through and add planned courses far in advance.”

Students are, of course, able to change their plan at any given time. “You can select a new major and it can tell you how far you’ve progressed towards that new major, and what classes you’re missing,” Ambrose added.

This pre-planning by students will have the added advantage of allowing academic departments to see the demand on certain courses for any given semester. “Being able to see what students are interested in taking far in advance can allow the college to offer those courses,” Morris said. “Whereas with Archway we didn’t find out until the registration period.”

The system, however, isn’t quite perfect yet. Clark asserts that the college gets an updated version every three months and “while it’s not a perfect tool at the moment, it is the tool that we will be using moving forward, knowing that we’re going to have to work with the company to identify things we want to see in the software and to address defects.”

While switching to a new system can be frustrating at first, both Ambrose and Morris – who piloted it with their classes – report that their students quickly figured out and came to prefer the new program.

Clark hopes to hold a tutorial session for students in late March to clear up any remaining student unease. “I think students are going to be happy that they don’t have to use WebAdvisor anymore because it is an antiquated system,” Clark said.