Students frustrated with automated course tracking system

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February 27, 2013

The computerized data system designed to help track student progress toward graduation is often confusing, incorrect and time-consuming to fix, students say. Many say they don’t know how to access the program  — known as the MAP, or Mills Academic Plan — and some weren’t even aware that it existed.

(Kate Carmack)

(Kate Carmack)

“No one really explained it to me, so when people referred to their MAP I was like, what is that,” said Ndeya Walker, a senior transfer student.

Nonetheless, college officials say that the MAP is an efficient way of gathering student course information.

The system pulls data from student transcripts and roughly sorts courses in terms of degree requirements, and shows students which requirements they are still missing.

Alice Knudsen, Director of Institutional Research, Planning, and Academic Assessment, initiated the MAP project in 2004 when she was Registrar.

“The goal was to have an automated degree audit that would allow students to check at any time online to see what requirements they sill needed to complete, and to provide advisors a tool that would help them correctly advise students as to their degree requirements,” Knudsen said.

Students and administrators agree that one of the shortfalls of the system is that the MAP is so automated it can’t always correctly sort courses in more complex situations.

“The MAP only recognizes things automatically when it’s a specific numbered course that satisfies a specific requirement,” Assistant Registrar Jim Oberhausen said in an email.

Creative writing majors are required to take 3 creative writing workshops, two of which must be upper division. There are many different courses to choose from that satisfy this requirement.

“The system doesn’t know what to do with that,” Oberhausen said. “Your advisor has to say, we are using this course for
that requirement.”

Degree requirements vary by department. Each program has a different set of requirements, often with multiple courses that can satisfy those requirements. The MAP’s programing is not complex enough to handle these scenarios and often misplaces courses, or does not count them at all.

“If the major requirements were tighter and only had one option – the system would recognize it automatically, but they are very fluid, which is a good thing for students,” Oberhausen said.

Once a mistake is identified on a student’s MAP it can be difficult to correct.

Only the registrar’s office can change a student’s MAP, and they require authorization from an advisor to assign individual courses to major or minor requirements.

The position of Registrar is currently vacant at Mills. David Gin Associate Vice President for Student Finance and Administrative Services and Director of Financial Aid, has been assigned as acting Registrar along with his other duties.

Advisors do not have direct access to make changes to a student’s MAP.

Students who find a mistake must go to their advisor, get written documentation that there is a mistake that should be corrected, and then take that to the Registrar’s office to get it corrected, Oberhausen said.

Advisors can also submit a MAP Waiver and Substitution Request electronically to the registrar’s office but someone from the registrar’s office must manually implement the changes.

“I don’t think advisors would want to have to do it,” Knudsen said.

Zoe Binsch, a freshman double majoring in Economics and Mathematics, said the MAP can be useful, but recognized that because the MAP is designed specifically to organize the credits of students with one focus of study, students like her should only use it as a starting point and not as something solid and dependable.

“The system does not take into account the packed schedule of a double major and the classes required for one major are not taken into account by the MAP of the other major,” Binsch said.

Rachel Reyes, a double major in Ethnic Studies and Art History, said the MAP had incorrectly sorted her courses.

“Classes I took for general education kept getting sorted in my electives section,” Reyes said.

Knudsen said the MAP’s shortfalls deficiency could stem from the choice to build it through Banner, the Mills information database.

“It was extremely difficult from a programming standpoint as Banner’s product for this did not follow a logic that was a very good fit for the Mills curriculum,” Knudsen said.

The MAP system also has particular trouble funneling credit information for minor degrees, especially when the students major and minor requirements have overlapping courses.

A student may see classes they have taken with the intention of satisfying minor requirements have been counted towards their major. When this happens a student must meet with an advisor to have them request that the classes be allocated properly.

“All of the classes I had taken toward my minor had been entered into my MAP as elective credits for outside my major and a lot of the classes I took for my general education did not show up at all,” Reyes said.

Assistant Provost Dave Donahue, who has also been a professor in the Education Department at Mills for 21 years, said that as a professor he appreciates the MAP.

“I hope to see it extend to grad students who currently must plan their degree’s out by hand,” Donahue said. “I always found the MAPs valuable and they are the first place I go when I’m advising and keeping track of students’ progress.”

Donahue said the M Center is currently working on developing MAPs for the 4+1 program so students have access to information about their progress towards their BA and MA, but at this time a deadline is unknown.


Students frustrated with automated course tracking system was published on February 27, 2013 in News

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