Monday, December 06, 2004

Letter to the Registry

For your interest and information, here's a letter I wrote to the Registry a while ago to complain about how crap the Banner system is:

To: The Registry
From: Dr Pierre, Department of Very Important Subject
cc.: Professor Very Esteemed Person, Professor Very Important Academic, Dr My Career is in your hands, Professor Will Retire Next Year
Date: 24th September

Re: Class lists and tutorial arrangements for 1st semester, 2004-05

On behalf of colleagues in the Very Important Subjects programme, I wish to convey to the registry some problems we have been encountering this semester with the arrangement of class lists, particularly for those of us who teach large classes that include AD as well as self-funded students. Two very specific problems here – firstly, the amount of time an instructor has to spent in order to find out which students are in which class (both lectures and tutorials), and secondly, the confusion in tutorial class allocation. I will use my own experience with my two courses (SOC 319 and SSC 112) as examples to make my points clear.

Since we started admitting AD students and self-funded students, we no longer get one consolidated list of students in each course. And with the introduction of the Banner system, instructors now logon to the system to access name lists of students in their classes. However, from the instructor’s point of view, how can he/she obtain these lists? Below is my own experience.

Firstly, we all have a time table generated by the Registry, which lists the classes we are responsible for, the time and classroom where they take place, and the codes of those classes. For my two courses, the codes on this time table are given in the following format: e.g. SC112-X-TUT15 (this is a tutorial class on Tuesday 9:30), or SOC319-X-TUT3-Z1 (this is a tutorial class on Thursday at 10:30am). Now, with this list in hand, we need to find out which students are in these classes. So now I go into the Banner system to try to find this information, but the courses listed in the system are in the form of CRN XXX or CRN XXXX (NOT SSC112(15) or SOC319-x-TUT3-Z1 as appears in our time table – you need to select the CRN before you can find out which course it corresponds to the format printed out in the timetable), and there are separate class lists for UGC funded undergraduates, AD students, and self-funded undergraduates in Banner respectively. For the two courses that I teach, I have a total of 38 such lists in the Banner system.

To illustrate the problem, I’ll start with the question: what does CRN 1065 stand for? To find out, I have to select the course code CRN 1065 in Banner, print out the class list in excel format. Then, I could see that it is the same as SOC 319(2). Next, I try to locate SOC319(2) in my timetable, and found that it is a class on Friday at 1:30. This is by no means a straightforward process and of course the obvious question to ask is that why is the time and date and room for CRN 1065 not printed on the class list itself? Never mind that for the time being. For some classes the process is even more cumbersome. CRN 1370, for instance, is the same as 319(8), but there is no SOC319(8) on the schedule printed out by registry. So how can I find out what SOC319(8) is? I had to go into Banner to find out what 1370 is by identifying the time and location of this class, only to see that this is actually a list of AD students in the lecture, and somewhat counter-intuitively, 319(8) refers to the lecture list NOT tutorial list. Likewise CRN 1371 is the same as 319(9) but again there is no SOC319(9) on the time table either. I have to go into “faculty detail schedule”, scroll down the whole list of 38 classes (two of which I found out actually have no students in them), find 1371, then look at the time and date of the class, THEN decode the day “F” for Friday (T is for Tuesday, and R is for Thursday, I’ve managed to work out), then look at my time table, and only then do I manage to realize that 1371 refers to the tutorial group that is 319(2) on my timetable. Likewise 1372 is the same as SOC319 (10) and again there is no SOC319 (10) on my timetable. To give you some sense of the scale of the problem, for the three tutorial classes I have on one day, I had to spend over an hour trying to piece together a complete list of students in these three classes.

I had to check each and every one of these courses in Banner’s “faculty detail schedule” page, in order to match up the class lists and the time of that class. And so on. Please bear in mind that for the 2 courses I teach this semester, I have 38 class lists in the Banner system. Not only do I have to print each one out separately, I also had to manually cross check what each of the codes refer to in terms of the actual time of that particular tutorial or lecture. Now the same problem (though to a smaller extent) is evident in WebCT. For students in the same tutorial group, AD and UGC funded students are on two separate lists in WebCT. I really do think that this problem could be easily avoided if registry could consolidate the course codes, or failing that, at least provide instructors with guidance on the easiest way to cross-reference these course codes and to obtain consolidated class lists.

The second problem is the fact that this semester, students are allowed to change their tutorial groups on-line without notifying their instructors. I only found this out from a student around 5 days into the new term. Correct me if I am wrong but to my recollection, I have not received any memo from registry telling us that students could now do this. And I only found out from our secretary that students who could not change their tutorial groups on-line (if that class is full, for instance) will need permission from the instructor concerned to “add” into that already full class. And they do this by presenting the instructor with an “add/drop” form and having the instructor sign it. Now, during the first week of term, I’ve been signing these forms and manually keeping toll of the number of students in each tutorial group, NOT knowing that all this work is in vain because the minute I updated my list, students could be changing to another group using the on-line forms! It does not seem to make sense that students are allowed to change tutorials on-line themselves without notifying the instructor, and AT THE SAME TIME they could ask instructors to give them special permission to add to a tutorial which they could not add to using the on-line mechanism. What makes even LESS sense to me is that NO ONE TOLD ME any of this! In the eyes of the students, I have been made to appear completely clueless and disorganized. Due to the confusion caused by this new system, I have now have one tutorial class with 21 students and students who had only notified me they wanted to change tutorial classes but had neither filled in an “add/drop” form nor done the changes on-line.

I hope that the registry could take these issues seriously, and I really do not wish to have to spend hours sorting out class lists next term , as I have had to this term.

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