MIT add/drop system moves to digital format

New application is meant to reduce add/drop hassle

A new online application was introduced to the MIT community on January 27, allowing students to add, drop, and change courses via their own electronic submissions. A number of key forms are also expected to go paperless in the near future.

Information Services and Technology (IS&T) and the Registrar’s Office implemented the switch to the electronic forms. Online add/drop differs from the old procedure in that students have the freedom to add and drop without having to seek out professors’ signatures on hard copy forms turned in to the Registrar’s Office. All forms and digital signatures are handled through the program, notifying advisors (and in some cases, instructors) of the student’s request to add, drop, or change a unit.

“The digital environment enabled us to extend the deadline for student submittal until 11:59 p.m. No more running to shove the form under the Registrar’s door by 5 p.m.!” according to Mary R. Callahan, MIT’s Registrar, who explained that the deadlines were the only policy to change as a result of the new form system.

“A nice feature of the new system is that there is logic behind the deadlines for when a student can submit a particular transaction,” said Callahan. Sophomores, for example, were able to use the system to alter their exploratory option prior to the Registration Day deadline.

According to Eamon Kearns, Associate Director of Education Systems (part of IS&T), 30 freshmen were successfully able to drop courses through the online program during a pilot period held during the fall 2013 semester. “We were confident, based upon the pilot, that the app was ready to be deployed to the full community,” stated Kearns.

Students generally showed positive responses to the new add/drop system. “Tracking down a professor to sign a form was difficult. You don’t need that, it just made life more complicated,” said Scott A. Skirlo ‘13, a graduate student, when asked about his experience with add/drop. Skirlo also commented that the new interface is easy to use and a significant improvement from what he experienced as an undergraduate.

When asked about her experiences adding and dropping courses, Jazzmyne L. Washington ‘14 recalled a time when she was unable to find a professor for a drop signature, putting her in danger of failing that course. “During the semester professors are busy and people are dropping at random times,” Washington added. “The new online system is going to be much more convenient with all electronic forms; this is excellent for us.”

Other students were disappointed that the system was only launched midway through their academic careers. Grace Tuyiringire ‘14 said she would like to see other forms online in the future, commenting that the new add/drop program “is well overdue at MIT.”

Kearns told The Tech that more forms are likely to come. “Our goal is to roll out several additional forms in the next year, including the HASS concentration form, late add/drop petition, and the Dean for Graduate Education petition,” he said.

“The add/drop form involves a complex workflow, which will pave the way for future forms and petitions to utilize the framework developed in this app,” Callahan said.

The difficulty of creating the online version may be the reason the deployment only came out recently.

“The paper add/drop provided the option of changing grading status, such as selecting listener or junior/senior P/D/F and adjusting units, and the digital version affords the same opportunities,” Callahan explained. “When these and all of the nuances of add/drop are taken into consideration, it is clear why this form was complex to digitize.”

“Once we determined the common framework required for supporting multiple forms and petitions, we focused on delivering the specific add/drop functionality, which took 9 months,” said Kearns.

Callahan also stressed that administrators spent a great deal of time listening to faculty and student “add/drop pain points.” “Add/drop impacts a large segment of the community and our focus is on improving the student experience,” Callahan said. “We are so excited to be able to provide this service to our students and faculty. Our goal is to enhance the student-advisor relationship by providing a coherent user experience that is efficient and fun to use.”

Anonymous about 10 years ago

There might be good reasons to eliminate the requirement to get a professor's signature. But it's annoying when limitations of new technology dictate changes in policy.

What's the real reason they eliminated the professor signoff? Did whoever's in charge think it was important to make that change? Or did they just not bother to implement that feature in the online add/drop form?

Erik Demaine about 10 years ago

Anonymous: I think you may be confused -- professors still "sign off", it's just digital instead of physical. This is really handy, especially when professors or students are traveling, making a physical meeting difficult, but an email discussion still easy.

Anonymous about 10 years ago

Ok. Thanks for clarifying -- the article didn't explicitly say that.