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Course Registration Changes Prompt Frustration from Trent Students

Written by
Evan Robins
and
and
June 27, 2023
Course Registration Changes Prompt Frustration from Trent Students

Priority registration for the 2023–24 academic year opened on June 14th to undergraduate students at Trent University.

Unlike previous years, however, students expecting the familiar hassle of the Visual Schedule Builder (VSB) were instead directed to a new self-service portal, which has replaced the existing course registration portal from years past.

In a statement from Trent Communications on behalf of the Office of the Registrar, Arthur was informed that “The decision to switch to a new portal was driven by the need for system support and stability, not offered through the previous system.” They added that “Students were informed in advance of the move to Self-Service through multiple channels, including an initial email in February, sent to all students by Communications on behalf of the RO, as well as regular social media posts (on RO as well as main University channels), and bulletins in college newsletters, and on myTrent.”

Unlike the VSB-based system, which would let students create a visual, drag-and-drop, colour coordinated schedule which would generate a unique numeric string which could be copied and pasted into an express registration form, the self-serve registration offers no way to conveniently see a list of all classes and a visualization of a student’s schedule at the same time.

The portal saw its first widespread use after being “soft-launched to undergraduate students during their summer course registration period.” According to Trent Communications, “Helpful how-to guides on Self-Service were also shared with students,” though many students told Arthur that registration was the first time they were even aware of a change to the system. Despite Trent’s assurances that the system will prove a marked improvement over its predecessor, students, at the moment, don’t seem all that convinced.

In a public call for student feedback Arthur received dozens of responses from students—overwhelmingly critical in tone, if not outright negative in their bent. 

“It’s not as simple as the previous format—despite what Trent says about it being easy.” This response from a Trent undergrad was more or less echoed several times over in the breadth of feedback received by Arthur.

“It’s the most confusing thing…they took a good thing and made it worse,” one student told Arthur. “The [VSB] had its flaws, but this one you have to go through so many more hoops… you can’t flip the potential sections within a class easily, and they’re unreadable.” 

“It’s horrible,” one particularly succinct reply offered.

These issues are compounded by the fact that on the morning of Wednesday, June 21st, the portal crashed under the brunt of overwhelming student demand, leaving many unable to register for classes for hours, and flooding college offices with calls from students anxious about the registration process.

Arthur talked with a number of College Cabinet members and College Office Staff during the registration outage on the morning of the 21st, almost all of whom noted an increased demand for support from students with the new system. Many further added that the self service crash left College staff picking up the slack.

This fact is corroborated by the statement received from Trent Communications, which noted that “To support the launch of the new portal, the Colleges at Trent collaborated to establish a new dedicated support line, supported by student ambassadors trained on how to use the new Self-Service portal and available to assist with common questions.” The Office of the Registrar noted that “Academic Advisors in the College Offices also enhanced their availability during the priority course registration period, offering same-day appointments on a first-come, first-served basis,” and added that “staff in the Registrar's Office are accessible to address inquiries related to records and offer technical support whenever necessary.” 

“College student staff are trying their best to help,” a College Cabinet member told Arthur.

One student noted that the new system is “more centralized than the previous system,” but “has all the same problems of not being able to deal with all the students registering at once.”

“Capacity is an issue but self service is much more user friendly,” another echoed. 

A third student took a far more straightforward view: “Instantly crashed and won’t let me register, lol.”

While the system’s ability to handle demand is a recurring complaint among all students, the trend demonstrates that students with fewer credits—and thus a larger registration cohort—are disproportionately affected by the instability. The registration group for the morning of the 21st was students with 9.0 or more completed credits—effectively a considerable portion of the second-year cohort. 

Considering the system’s failure in spite of administration’s best efforts to stagger registration groups, concerns about the upcoming June 28th registration date for incoming students would not seem unfounded. When taking into consideration the university’s continued efforts to grow the number of undergraduate students, and their stated intent to once again increase enrolment in the coming year, it begs questioning as to how able the self service system will be in handling the overwhelming demand. 

This possibility is by no means lost on Trent students. “...the system crashed on the first day. I don’t know how it’s going to handle the first years,” one student confessed.

Despite the technical difficulties, the Office of the Registrar maintained that “The system underwent rigorous testing during its development process and had an initial launch for graduate students in 2022, ensuring its readiness for full-scale production.” While they admit that “occasional issues related to system capacity were encountered during the soft launch,” the statement assured Arthur that “measures [had] been taken to mitigate them.” The additional staggering of priority registration times, as well as an increase to the university’s server capacity, were undertaken “to resolve traffic issues experienced during the first days of summer course registration.”

The new system is part of a comprehensive Information Technology suite operated by Ellucian, a company which specializes in “student information systems” (SIS). Ellucian itself is owned by the Blackstone Group, a private equity alternative investment firm and “asset manager” based out of New York City.

Ellucian’s cloud-based Self-Service portal represents an update from the previous course registration system, operated by Ellucian partner Modern Campus, and is used by a number of universities both domestically, such as OCADu, and across North America.

Former Arthur Senior Journalist David King had experience with the Ellucian system prior to enrolling at Trent, thanks to several years spent in OCADu’s Creative Writing program.

“In my first year they had just transitioned to the self-service portal, and all course registration was facilitated through that,” King said. 

“At times it was synced up with the course calendar—somewhat like the progress tracker tab here at Trent,” he continued. “They also had a priority registration schedule as well—you had to log in, connected through your Microsoft 365 account, and select your course basically exactly like Trent has.”

During his time at OCADu, King reported having encountered numerous problems with the self service portal recognizing completed prerequisites, thus impeding his ability to register for classes. “With OCADu there would always be errors because of prerequisites—the system wouldn’t recognize that you had certain prerequisites and wouldn’t let you register for classes as a result. It required a lot of communication with the registrar.” 

King first encountered the system at Trent through his experience having to register for classes in the 2023 Summer section. 

“When I initially registered through the Trent website I found that I had to keep communicating with the registrar because of the required agreements they make you sign—the system wouldn’t recognize [that I had done] it.”

“On March 5th, when I tried to register for courses on the self service, it said I had required agreements to fill out, but when I went to the required agreements tab there was nothing there for me to sign. This was a recurring problem from when I was first able to register,” King told Arthur

King contacted the registrar’s office, who subsequently manually updated his file, permitting him to register for summer courses. However, even once the issue was resolved, the registration process remained extremely “laggy,” and “slow.” 

When it came time for priority registration for the 2023–24 academic year, King was left unsure of where he stood because of his position as a transfer student. Despite him having previously enrolled and completed Summer classes, the registrar’s office were “extremely unclear in their communiques” as to whether he would have to register as a new student or whether his transfer and summer credits would be counted towards his eligibility for an earlier priority registration time. 

“We would not be in a position to confirm this,” the registrar’s office told King in email correspondence. “The calculation is done based on completed credits (grades entered and approved) on or before the priority registration.” 

On Friday June 23rd, King was allowed to register in the 5.0 or more credits slot (despite the registrar’s office’s inability to indicate whether he would be allowed to register). Even so he found the experience once again “laggy” and “frustrating.” 

“I kept getting this error in the upper corner of my screen, saying my course plan wouldn’t load. I saw that the registrar and some of the colleges had posted a graphic [on Instagram] saying that you just had to keep refreshing the page if you got this particular error.” 

King adds that he’s talked to a number of students who shared similar experience with him. 

“I hate it,” another student told Arthur. “I’m in my last year and I literally cannot get into anything I need.”

“Progress Tracker is wrong and messed up my degree,” another added.

While the response from students seems largely critical, a few of those who responded to Arthur did tout its benefits.

“It was easier than before!” one student enthused. “Not having to remember 056737 0537373 blah blah blah to register.”

For each of those students happy with the change, however, quite literally dozens dissented. “Trent University? Coulda sworn it was Trent Reznor who designed the new system,” quipped one student with an axe to grind against commercially successful industrial metal artists of the 1990s. “I’m not a fan.”

One response quite poignantly summarized the conflicting testimony surrounding the new system’s implementation. “Not better or worse than the last one,” they told Arthur. “It seems dumb though considering it isn’t any better.”

The response received by Arthur from Trent Communications indicates that students encountering difficulties with or needing guidance in using the new system are encouraged to contact [the] support line at (705) 748-1011 x7333.”

The Priority Registration schedule for the upcoming academic year ends June 28th.

Classes for the 2023–24 Academic year at Trent University begin on September 7th.

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