By Tobin Jones
One of the things I’ve learned during my too many years as a student at various institutions in the California Community College system is that while one’s educational experience may differ drastically depending on the campus, some things are very consistent regardless of the school. One of these is that online application and registration is almost always, shall we say, less than intuitive, particularly for those like me who are not particularly tech-inclined. So, when City College introduced a new online course reservation program, my hopes were not high.
Community Colleges are notoriously bad at implementing even minor administrative changes in normal circumstances.
And given that this was being rolled out at the same time that the school was trying to pull off the daunting task of transitioning to all-virtual learning in the context of a pandemic, economic crisis and budget deficit, my hopes were not high.
Despite this, my initial reaction was pretty positive. At first glance, the process seemed remarkably straightforward. I selected “add course,” located my desired class sections, pressed “add course” again, and that, from all appearances, was that. Helpfully, there was now also an option to help students to plan their school schedule around other commitments by filtering out times when they were unable to be in class. I walked away from the computer, feeling pleasantly surprised at how secure the whole experience had been.
Had I taken the time to read through the list of instructions more thoroughly, I would have found that I still needed to complete four steps before I was enrolled in my courses. This fact only came to my attention a week ago when Journalism Department Chair Juan Gonzalez called me to ask why I still wasn’t on his Fall 2020 roster.
I very confidently insisted that I had done everything right on my end and that there must be some mistake, before logging back in and realizing that no, I had not completed all the necessary actions. Not only was I not registered in anything for the semester, but two out of my three desired courses were now full.
Several people I talked to had issues with the new system. Someone who had experienced problems similar to mine was Brent Lok, who I shared a Mandarin Chinese class with during the spring semester, back in the quaint days before “attending class” meant squinting at the screen of my out of date smartphone. Brent was confused by the fact that upon selecting a class section, it was added to the “shopping cart,” but unlike shopping apps that employ the imagery of “carts,” there was then no option to “check out.”
Instead, after selecting a class section, students must then click “Generate Schedule,” then “View Schedule” to make sure there are no time conflicts, “Save Schedule,” confirm everything, and then “Register” to complete the process.
One could argue that both Brent and I could have avoided these missteps by slowly and carefully reading the instructions before attempting to do anything. To which I say, “Yeah, fair enough.”
I’m not trying to dodge responsibility for what are at the end of the day my screw-ups, and I would encourage any students who have made it this far into a column on this less-than-gripping topic to make sure that they’re enrolled in a course before stepping away from the computer. But pupils attending community colleges are more often than not busy people inundated with other responsibilities and distractions at the best of times, and the circumstances we find ourselves in 2020 are by no sane person’s metrics “the best of times.”
Inevitably, a lot of enrollees, overloaded by job, family, and financial obligations are going to skip reading the directions and try and get the task done as fast as possible.
If, by tweaking the system, we could reduce the recurrence of these kinds of issues, why not do it?
It seems to me that simplifying the process would probably result in significantly fewer mishaps on the part of absent-minded registrants such as myself, which would result in decreased stress, not only for students, but also for the overworked tech support workers and instructors who right now are probably dealing with hordes of students trying to gain access to courses at the 11th hour. And in a year that has consistently been unpredictable, confusing and overwhelming (and in all likelihood will become even more so before the clock strikes midnight on Dec. 31, I would contend that making anything even a little bit easier would go a long way towards helping us get through the rest of 2020 with our sanity intact.