University considering advising system

Figuring out whether that history class fulfills a requirement or exploring a potential second major may become easier if an online advising system that the University is considering comes to fruition.

Administrators say GW is in the process of researching and developing an online degree audit system, where students would be able to enter courses and determine whether they are on track to fulfill requirements – a move that could improve academic advising.

Implementation of the system could mean a change in face-to-face advising, freeing advisers from answering simple yes or no questions about requirements and making time for more substantive discussions.

“The focus of advising sessions can be broader because answers to basic checklist and requirement questions will be easily available,” wrote Columbian College of Arts and Sciences Dean Peg Barratt in an e-mail. “In other words, there will be more time to talk about student goals and interests.”

In the past, advising at the University, particularly within CCAS, has been criticized by students as impersonal and ineffective. Advisers from several schools, including CCAS, the Elliott School of International Affairs and the School of Business, said that an automatic auditing system would improve their advising programs.

Currently, administrators are conducting focus groups with faculty members, advisers and others who would be affected by the system and communicating with vendors about software programs that could be utilized, Barratt said. Administrators also expect to talk with officials from other universities about their experiences with similar systems.

Jeffrey Lenn, associate vice president for academic operations, could not give a specific time frame for the implementation of the system or an estimated cost, but said the University was confident that the service would eventually be offered.

“It’s not a question of whether it’s going to happen, but when it’s going to happen,” Lenn said.

Efforts to introduce an online system date back several years, although technical problems with integrating the University’s curriculum have stalled progress.

Donald Lehman, executive vice president for academic affairs, said the University has been working on an online system for five years, but he added that it is a major undertaking and difficult to implement due to the University’s complicated curriculum requirements.

“The places that have a semblance of electronic degree audit have very simple requirements towards the undergraduate degree,” Lehman said.

Craig Linebaugh, associate vice president for academic planning and chief academic operating officer of the Virginia campus, worked on the project several years ago. He said two different problems plagued the University’s previous efforts to implement the system.

The first centered on the complexity of maintaining the system’s data and decision rules. Linebaugh said this was due to the flexibility of the University’s curriculum and variety of courses available to meet requirements.

A second, technical problem arose from the system’s inability to recognize a student’s different major requirements depending on when the student declared his or her major.

This year, the Student Association has taken an active role in advocating for advising changes and the implementation of the online system, passing a resolution this semester to advocate that the system be implemented by the fall 2010 semester.

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