Holding patterns

With thanks to a very obliging advisee, I walked a small portion of the registration process at the college this fall. There was cause, the student simply needed to flip-flop a couple of sections - course times - in order to resolve a time conflict. A data entry person had not caught this option in the crush of bodies in the registration office.
When I entered OAR I was confused. There was no signage, only a variety of lines. Apparently one chose a line at random. With sections closing in real time, I realized that choosing the right line was potentially important to securing the classes one wants. One needed to somehow suss out which line was likely to move the fastest and join that line.
There was also a fair amount of uncertainty up at the front end of the office as to which line led where. One line sort of divided into smaller lines as one moved deeper into the office.

The data security nerd in me was also concerned that in the crush of bodies, there was a potential for a student to gain access to information that they really should not have - this was all happening inside an area that would typically be "employees only."
I had to opt into the line that the student, my advisee, had originally been in. Although students asked that I jump them in the line and go to the front, I steadfastly refused. I wanted to experience what the students were experiencing. The standing, the waiting. My advisee and I waited for thirty minutes - which means my advisee had probably now done two thirty minute waits that day - the earlier one when she first tried to register.

Despite the warm temperatures, the crush of bodies, and the thirty plus minute wait times, the students were pleasant and calm. The college is blessed with what must be the most patient students of any college on the planet.

Although I am not sure that there is the space in the administration building to do so, I think a banking style single line feeding many data entry personnel would have minimized wait times for students. I also wished that the administrators would be required to walk registration just like a student. Time the lines, study the bottlenecks. A process cannot be improved without knowing what happened, where, why, and how long.

A former director of research and planning once said, "If there is going to be a fire, I want to be there." In other words, if there is going to potentially be problems, she wanted to be in the middle of the event. Improving a process requires knowing what happened, when, and how. And that means getting into the middle of the event and observing. Measuring. Gathering data. And then acting on that information.

The registration system is a system in flux, improvements are being made to the underlying information systems. Future terms may provide other options and other processes that are more student friendly. For now, however, we can work on fixing and improving what we have.

My sincere thanks to the registration personnel. They put in the longest of days without breaks, working patiently with each and every student. May we do better by both the students and the staff next term!

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