By Emily Gold Boutilier

Amherst switched to online course registration last spring, but the Registrar’s Office soon found a new use for old add/drop forms.

It’s the end of a very long era. For almost 200 years, Amherst students have registered for courses on paper.  Last spring, the system moved online. 

Online registration began in April, when students pre-registered for the Fall 2011 semester. Also this fall, course numbers changed from two to three digits.

The online system was in the works for two years, guided by input from a committee that included students and faculty members. The goal was to create a system that was more convenient and used less paper, but that did not compromise the best elements of the low-tech method that worked so well for so many years, including one-on-one faculty advising. 

“We’re providing more convenience to students, and more timely information to faculty,” says Registrar Kathleen Goff.  “We’re also improving the quality of information that is shared when students change advisers, and enhancing security and confidentiality as well.”

The switch was a major undertaking for Goff’s office, and once pre-registration was over, her staff faced one final task related to it: figuring out what to do with the yellow add/drop forms now rendered useless. The recycling bin beckoned, but instead, the staff came up with a more creative use, fashioning some forms into a paper crown and others into a paper tree that now decorate their Converse Hall offices, serving as a reminder of the paper era.

While registration is now online, some courses require a professor’s signature. As The New York Times reported recently, many elementary schools are spending less time teaching cursive, deeming it a useless skill in the 21st century. But at least for the foreseeable future, Amherst faculty members know how to sign their names, and so those signatures are still gathered the old-fashioned way—on paper.

Photo by Samuel Masinter '04