Program May Further Assist Students Planning Schedules

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Doing away with their pens and booklets of graduation requirements, UC Berkeley students may be able to plan their entire college careers online if a campus committee adopts a new computerized course planning service.

The planning service, University Planet, would include an online academic planner and schedule conflict manager to make the path toward graduation easier. UC Berkeley officials have formed a committee to explore how the campus could use the program.

The program would permit students to plan their schedules in advance, allowing academic departments to schedule and size classes based on demand. In theory, students would be able to plan their entire degree program online.

The software creates a database of course catalogs, allowing users to interface with the information. Unlike existing software such as Tele-BEARS, the new program would allow students to plan their entire college careers from a very early stage, developers say.

"Most students plan their schedules only one or two semesters ahead of time," said Dennis Lunder, University Planet's marketing vice president. "What we're doing is making it possible for students to make scheduling decisions many semesters ahead."

Meredith Packer, the ASUC interim academic affairs vice president and the student representative on the committee created to consider adopting the service, said she felt the program had promise, but hoped it would not be used as a substitute for personal academic advising.

"What we are in favor of is more person-to-person advising," Packer said. "We think that all students should be able to have personal contact with their faculty advisers. (University Planet) would have to be integrated with person-to-person advising."

Lunder said faculty advisers would have access to students' course plans, saving advisers' time while increasing the quality of student-adviser interaction.

"When you meet with your adviser, the quality of time spent is much better, because you've done the planning before meeting," he said. "And when you do meet, you're talking about longer-term goals, like career plans after graduation. If students can plan ahead, then the university can do a better job planning ahead as well."

Although the potential costs of the system have not been determined, University Planet officials said a large institution like UC Berkeley could save up to 30,000 person-hours per year by using the program. Using figures from The Chronicle of Higher Education, this would translate into annual savings of $600,000.

The system was tested last year on 15 campuses across the country, but only one, California State University Fullerton, has formally adopted it.

"In every decision we make regarding technology, we strive to figure out whether - and if so, when - to implement in order to obtain the best return on investment," said Michael Parker, chief of information and technology at the university. "We believe University Planet's (program) offers great promise, and is very promising in terms of risk versus reward."

Since the creation of the committee in charge of investigating the program, no further steps have been taken toward installing the system. Some members of the committee said they remain doubtful that the program will actually be adopted.

"I see this as a helpful system," Packer said. "I don't see it as a necessary system, though."


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