In the beginning there was Tele-BEARS. Then Info-BEARS. Now, Bear Facts and DARS are underway.
Together, these computerized services will allow students to easily and swiftly obtain nearly all the information they need to get through Berkeley--except, perhaps, the answers to their mid-terms.
Students will benefit in another way as well. By relieving professional staff of time-consuming clerical work, they can better use their expertise to assist students. "What this means is that we'll be able to give better quality service to students who need the attention," said Bonnie Wade, chair of the deans of the College of Letters and Science.
Bear Facts, now being tested at kiosks in Sproul Hall and the Banway Building, complements the two other BEARS programs. It will allow students to obtain a variety of constantly changing information, including their final grades, their current GPA, status of financial aid applications, billing, course enrollment information and general campus information. And they'll be able to get hard copy printout.
Kiosks containing Macintosh computers and printers will be set up in several administrative offices. Planning is underway to provide access in campus computing labs and dialing up from home. A PC-Windows version is also planned.
DARS, which stands for Degree Audit Reporting System, meanwhile will speed and simplify the complicated process of determining where a student is in satisfying graduation requirements for the student's major. A pilot test is scheduled for summer.
With a swift, computerized check, students will be able to keep up to date on their progress toward graduation. This should help eliminate that unexpected extra semester for students who suddenly find they are shy a key course requirement. It also will provide an opportunity to see what will happen if they decide to change majors.
Equally important, said Wade, is "it will permit us to use college advisers as advisers for program planning and thinking, not for clerical duties."
Still, getting to the point where DARS is up and running, even as a pilot, hasn't been easy. "It is one of our biggest, most complicated systems," said Bjorn Solberg, director of Student Information Systems.
The basic program was purchased from Miami University in Ohio, and is used by major universities across the country. But customizing it to Berkeley's needs has been a major undertaking, said Solberg.
The information needed to determine whether graduation requirements are satisfied is enormous and complex, so encoding it for the computer to use can be tricky. "For each major, there's a different answer," said Solberg.
Still, he said, DARS is a "clever program. When one course will satisfy more than one requirement, DARS will apply that course to the requirement that is most advantageous to the student."
So far, 10 programs have encoded information for their majors, and this summer four will begin a pilot program to test it. They are French, sociology, music and mechanical and chemical engineering.
"Now we can begin to look at students who are enrolled and produce audit reports for them," said Wade. "Once it is operating sat, we hope to have all 10 programs using it by fall." In addition to the four this summer, that will include architecture, business administration, legal studies, integrated biology and political economy of industrial societies.
Together the programs will provide a good test, said Solberg, because they cover both undergraduate and graduate programs and simple and complex encoding.
Handling complex issues isn't all that's useful, both Solberg and Wade point to advantages of the new BEAR Facts system that will speed simple tasks too.
Students frequently move, and that requires they change their mailing address by physically visiting every office that might be sending them mail. With Bear Facts, they can update their address campuswide with a couple of key strokes.
"That alone will make life better for everyone," said Wade.
Solberg and Wade noted that the new systems build on those already in place, like Tele-BEARS and Info-BEARS.
Those programs, along with the newer ones, have been the product of the Berkeley Student Service Initiatives, a collaborative effort among Student Information Systems, Undergraduate Affairs and the College of Letters and Science.
"There's a lot that has happened to get where we are today. Each step has been built on another. We didn't start from scratch each time," said Solberg, who added that this has had the benefit of keeping costs down.