A Game-Changing New System

Freshman Registration Team

Even if it’s been a while since you had to register for college classes, chances are that you remember the process as confusing, dreary, boring, or some combination thereof. Which courses were absolutely required? What if you entered a single digit incorrectly—would you end up in an advanced class for which you were totally unprepared?

Add to that the sheer number of other challenges new students face—finding their way around campus, adjusting to an entirely different living situation—and it’s enough to make anyone nervous!

Melinda Parham, the assistant dean for first-year students and academic initiatives at the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering, often turns to her tech-savvy colleague Yona Jean-Pierre, the director of faculty innovations in teaching and learning, to brainstorm ways in which to make the acclimation process easier. A few years ago, they instituted a series of Webinars aimed at helping incoming students through the registration process; hosting the Webinars, however, posed its own set of challenges—not least of which was encouraging those who might simply be watching passively to engage with the material and take ownership of the registration process.

Thanks to working in a borough that is fast becoming an epicenter of tech and gaming—and at a school that houses some of the most dynamic games-related courses in the country—the answer came relatively easily to them. What if all the information incoming students needed about course requirements, curricula, and the registration process could be delivered to them in an engaging, game-like format, accessible whenever they liked and at their own pace?

Calling upon a multidisciplinary team that included several students, they developed a new pre-registration tutorial that includes several “missions.” Users must complete each one before moving on to the next, and in the process, they meet their future advisors (via video clips); familiarize themselves with NYU Classes, the online learning-management system that will be used by their new professors; and more. Quizzes allow them to see how well they’ve absorbed the material, and if need be, they can go back to a previous mission for review as many times as they like.

This year’s students began using the tutorial, which features whimsically appealing avatars and colorful graphics, on June 15, and within one week, almost three-quarters of the Class of 2019 had completed their registration.

Parham is not surprised that the initiative has been so popular. “We know our students lead very digitized lives, and most of them love video games,” she says. “It was natural for us to put a tutorial together with those things in mind.” The system has proven to be a particular boon to students from beyond the five boroughs, since they can now complete the registration process, take a virtual tour of the MetroTech Center, and other needed tasks, without the expense of arriving in New York early.

Thanks to data analysis, the team can easily discover if any modules are particularly difficult for students or if there are sections in which their attention seems to wane. “We put a lot of effort into getting the look and feel right,” Jean-Pierre says, “but we’re always interested in enhancing and improving it.”

Their efforts have captured the attention of others in the world of higher education. Campus Technology magazine, one of the field’s preeminent publications, recently honored them with a 2015 Innovators Award in the category of Student Systems and Services.

Both Parham and Jean-Pierre give enormous credit to Iraj Kalkhoran, the associate dean of undergraduate academics, who enthusiastically encourages collaborative projects like this one. While they are gratified by the recognition from the Campus Technology judges, they have no intention of resting on their laurels. “Our goal is to remain at the forefront of the usage of technology to facilitate our work with students,” they say, “and to showcase all the talents of the NYU community.”