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May 31st, 2005

A continuous improvement kind of day...

I went to the "Counseling Center" today during lunch to "withdraw from school for the semester." I get up to the window and had this exchange:

Me said: "I need to drop the one class I'm taking this summer, so I guess I need to withdraw from school for the semester."

She said: "Are you in a degree program?"

Me said: "I'm a graduate student."

She said: "Are you in a degree program or are you something else, like a Lifelong learner?"

Me said: "I'm a grad student, getting a Master's degree in the Technical Communications program. Does that make me 'in a degree program?'"

After a few more exchanges, I must have said something that finally told her if I was in a degree program or not. I have no idea what it was. I watched, and listened to, this same basic exchange go on with the next three people that came to the window.

Eventually, I was seen by "a counselor" (I guess); I didn't catch his name, but did notice that he had "Ph.D" after his name. He asked me about the circumstances surrounding my "withdrawal from school."

Me said: "I signed up for this course, and found out on the first day of class, which was actually an optional session since this is an Internet (Distance Ed) course, that there was a prerequisite to the course that wasn't 1) noted in the course description, or 2) told to me by my advisor, who recommended the class."

He said: "What was the prerequisite?"

Me said: "There's a software package you have to use for the course, and you're supposed to already know how to use it to take the class. There are three projects to do in the six or so short weeks of the summer session, and I can't learn the tool and get all of the assignments done. The course is not in my major, but I was told it counts as an elective by my advisor, so I signed up for it."

He was writing all this down, and then asked me the name of the software package, to which I replied, "arcGIS, I believe."

He said: "Well, there are certain conditions under which a person really ought to be able to cancel a course even after the cancellation period, particularly when the circumstances are such that something the university did or did not do might have contributed to the situation. That seems to be the case here. Since you were not made aware of the prerequisite, I'm going to go ahead and process this as a cancellation instead of a drop, which means you'll get a full refund, and there won't be any entry made about it on your record."

Me said: "I certainly appreciate that."

He said: "You're almost done. You have to take this form over to Harris Hall, stop on the 2nd floor at the financial aid office where someone will verify that you are not receiving financial aid, and they'll sign here," pointing to a line on the form. "Then you take it downstairs to the registrar's office, and they will complete the process."

Me said: "Thank you very much. Are you interested in some customer feedback about that check-in window out there?"

He said: "Sure. What did you experience?"

I explained the scenario above, and said, "It seems to me, that the people working here are trying to get the customers to answer a question using the terminology used internally, instead of using terminology the customer uses. As a student, or customer, when someone says to me, 'Are you in a degree program?' I think, 'Well, I'm working on my master's degree, so yes, I am.' But, when I answered like that, that didn't tell her what she needed to know.

"I watched this same thing happen with each person that came to the window. I don't know what question(s) they should be asking, but I can tell you the one they're asking now isn't working."

He explained to me that a lot of students say they are in graduate school when they are only taking a graduate course, for instance, and are not actually enrolled in a degree program. So they would end up sitting there for 15 or 20 minutes to see a counselor, they'd call them back, find out they're not really in a program, and have to send them somewhere else. So, that's why they're trying to find out up front if they are really in a degree program.

Me said: "Well, maybe different questions need to be asked to which the students know the answers. Maybe you want to ask how we enrolled in our course, for instance, or if we applied to grad school -- something that will let you know our status without us having to know your terminology. I really don't have a solution for you, I'm just letting you know that what's currently being done is not working, and it's not working over and over again."

He was very appreciative of the feedback, and said he'd take it up internally to see what they could change.



Once home, I sent and received these e-mails:

From: John Martin
To: Dr. John Fels (NR 535 Professor)
cc: Dr. Stan Dicks (My MS in Tech Comm Advisor)

Subject: NR 535 Computer Cartography

Hello Dr. Fels,

Just FYI... don't know how soon you get notified, but I have withdrawn from NR 535. In the spirit of continuous improvement, had the course description:

Principles of cartographic design and how to apply them to produce high-quality Geographic Information System based maps. Successful students will acquire an understanding of map design and experience in applying this with ArcView GIS. Students produce project maps in both print and web media.

explicitly stated that arcGIS was a prerequisite for this course, I would not have enrolled in it. The way it is worded, I thought its use was going to be taught in the class. Alternately, had my advisor in the MS in Technical Communication program told me it was a prereq, I wouldn't have enrolled.

I don't think it's feasible to do three projects using such a software package in the short amount of time of a summer semester and learn the tool. It probably can be done, but I'm assuming it would be like trying to use Dreamweaver (with no prior experience), and do three website projects in a summer semester -- might be possible, but it would be arduous at best, and frustrating and unsuccessful at worst.

I'm not being critical; I'm sincerely trying to give feedback that might help the next student. The registrar's office ended up treating this like a cancellation, so I'm not going to lose any money or have my record "tarnished" for "withdrawing from school," so that should make it obvious that this note is purely for quality improvement purposes. It certainly would have been easier for me to just "take my money and run," and to not have bothered with this communiqué.

Sincerely,
John Martin




From: John Fels
cc: Heather M. Cheshire, Devine Hugh

Subject: re: NR 535 Computer Cartography

Hello John,

I believe you've made a wise decision, and thank you sincerely for your feedback. We'll make sure that, in the future, course prerequisites are clearly understood. Maybe you can join us at a later date?

Have a great summer,

John

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