Looking Back: Computer registration

Today, we all have portable computers. Whether it be a laptop, tablet or phone, many of us have technology right at our fingertips. The hardest part of course registration is waking up on time to get in the classes that you want. And if your dream class is filled up, you can quickly browse for another class to take its place.

But in 1986, the Oakland University campus was stunned by the idea of computer registration. After four years of planning, students would be able to register for spring 1986 classes through a computer.

There were twelve computer terminals available for students to use, though during registration as little as five were available at once. These were IBM computers, and Oakland hired temporary “specially trained operators” to assist students in the registration process.

The Registrar at the time, Lawrence Bartalucci, told The Oakland Sail, the student newspaper at the time, that each student would only need about five minutes to register for their classes at these terminals.

However, there was the risk that most students at the time had no clue how to use one of these machines.

Because of the risks of college students not knowing how to use a computer, there were two open houses in the Oakland Center for students to get a first look at the new process. In addition, faculty and staff were trained on the new system prior to student registration.

“When you’re on-line, you need to know what you’re doing,” Laura Schartman, assistant registrar, said. “You can’t tie up computer time. Students will need to be prepared.”

Professors needed to be prepared, as well. Part of this process gave professors the opportunity to watch their courses fill up, and if they noticed an influx of students all signing up for one course, they were able to go in at the same time and reserve a larger room if needed.

Students at the time were advised to have back up courses planned, as they would not be allowed to look up alternative classes at the terminal. At the time, this online system was not tied to financial aid, though they eventually planned to link the two departments.

In the beginning of April 1986, students were able to use the system for the first time.

“It was ten times better than my previous experience,” one student who used this new system told The Sail. “Regular registration was a joke.”

When students actually went to use the system, they faced a process time anywhere from five to 20 minutes. Some students said the experience was “very unmemorable,” and that it didn’t save time.

However, it’s safe to say that most students agree today that computers make the thought of human interaction while registering for classes seem like torture.

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