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In August, as students settled into their routines during the first weeks of school, registering for the Spring 2023 semester was the last thing on their minds. For the Operational Excellence team, however, it was front and center.

In July, Operational Excellence announced the Course Setup project, led by Candace Reynolds. This project is a partnership with the Office of the University Registrar to redesign ConnectCarolina’s course availability features to improve the student registration experience. ITS Enterprise Applications and other campus stakeholders are participating in the redesign.

Julie Dockens
Julie Dockens

“The Operational Excellence design team had several workshops where we listed the ways we thought registration could be improved,” said Julie Dockens, ITS Enterprise Applications Manager of Student Admin Projects. “We narrowed the scope to items that were seen as highest in student impact and implementation feasibility by October.”

With the start of Spring 2023 registration, the new design enabled students to see if a course was available to them and whether there were any registration restrictions. These modifications are the first part of the two-phase Course Setup project headed by the Operational Excellence team, with a second phase aimed at class waitlist features.

“In previous semesters there was a lot of confusion and frustration for students when they looked at classes with open seats but when attempting to register, got an error message those seats were reserved for special populations such as first-year students, transfer students or students in the major for that class,” Dockens said.

Improving user experience

In the previous design, students saw only three class statuses: open, closed and waitlist. The redesign alleviates confusion by adding more class status information and a new class status icon so students know when all available seats are reserved for specific groups.

“We also added more data to the class details page showing all the reserve categories, reserved seats and how many of those reserved seats have been taken,” Dockens said.

In addition to more data, the design team added “hover” language to the status icons and labels, updated the reserve capacity short descriptions, and clarified the language used for error messages.

Laying the groundwork 

The team laid groundwork for the Reserve Capacity redesign during a multi-phased restructuring of ConnectCarolina’s internal processes. The process changes improved equitable seat distribution, provided a consistent and transparent process, and enabled better understanding of a course’s availability. These actions improved the overall experience for first-year students and eased the registration process for new transfer and continuing undergraduate students.

Streamlining how ConnectCarolina handles these special reserve groups set the team up to complete the next two phases of its design work with course availability and waitlists. The team noticed the user experience improved for both students and support personnel.

“The registration numbers showed significant improvement, the calls received by administrative offices were greatly reduced and we saw less of a system spike with high traffic when open enrollment started than in previous semesters,” Dockens said.

Creating support structures

However, it isn’t just design work in which the Reserve Capacity Design team is engaged; it is also making sure student support personnel are prepared for any new design features.

“We created training and documentation for student services managers, advisers and other administrative offices that assist students with registration,” Dockens said.

That documentation was incorporated into a Course Setup Playbook that provides information on course setup activities, a year at-a-glance timeline, and guidance on when to use the various options for controlling enrollment, such as reserving seats for a specific population.

Looking to the future  

Dockens said that students have a reason to be excited about this redesign.

“They should be able to see most needed information beforehand while searching for classes, which should make actual registration less stressful,” Dockens said.

The Operational Excellence design team will redesign waitlist functionality in the next phase of the Course Setup project.

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