For most LLI members, course registration just happens and we get registered for our chosen courses. Magically, behind the scenes, there seems to be a wizard keeping track of all these course selections!
We have been lucky over the years at Bard LLI; there have always been one or two members who were the wizards. Some long-time members remember not magic but days-long sessions of multiple people working to process paper registrations and sending out information by mail. Currently, we use online forms to collect data about registrations that are processed behind the scenes by the current registration wizard, Chuck Mishaan.
As Bard LLI continues to grow, the LLI Council recognizes that having only one or two wizards behind the curtain is not sustainable. There are too many ways to lose control over this mission-critical process.
Enter ProClass, web-based software designed for course registration and already used by dozens of lifetime learning organizations across the country. The LLI ProClass Support Team is made up of over eight tech members, who are currently learning how to configure ProClass to work for us.
Key advantages to Bard LLI are:
- Data integrity and relationships,
- Streamlined processes,
Let’s go through each of these key advantages and look at how ProClass will help Bard LLI.
Data Integrity and Relationships
Data represent real-world things, such as people, courses, and memberships. Data is useful if accurate and related to other data. Relational data answers questions that have many-to-many relationships: courses have many students. Students take many courses. If we are clever at modeling these real-world things in a relational way, we can use data to streamline operations.
ProClass provides a relational database to create, read, update and delete data instantly. It becomes the one source of data around our LLI people, courses, and memberships. Many people can be updating data in the database (such as dropping a course). ProClass stores these changes so when someone downloads a class roster, it is accurate at the time it is downloaded. Class managers can have access to class rosters just before a class starts. They can take attendance online, save the data, and then the Curriculum chair can see how many people attended each class.
Mistakes do happen. In technology, this is often called Garbage-In, Garbage-Out (GIGO). If the underlying data of a system has errors, these errors flow through, often compounding over time. For example, if you made a mistake entering your LLI member ID when registering for courses, you may end up not registered for any of them. Instead, someone else whose member ID you entered in error is enrolled in the ones you want!
Software designers try to keep errors to a minimum by validating data as it is entered. Sometimes, this validation can seem cumbersome, but it is so helpful to minimize errors. Of course, some GIGO is inevitable. But, once data is entered correctly, it is there, safely stored in our database, the one central place to look for the data we need to operate LLI.
We pride ourselves on being a membership organization. We don’t just offer classes, we are a community. We try to use our precious volunteer hours to enhance our community. For example, the recent wonderful email message to members about helpful resources during this time of COVID-19 used our volunteer hours to provide relevant, creative, and comforting information. Members got suggestions on things to do while we are all sheltered in place.
Just a few years ago, when most LLI communication was done via telephone calls and paper mailings, this emailed message could not have happened. It took too long to research options, to edit words on paper, and to address each member. Now, through the use of technology, we can focus on the creative aspects of disseminating information rather than onerous mechanics of shuffling around paper or electronic lists.
Technology has changed over time and LLI is changing, too. We want to take advantage of software to do more of the routine work so volunteer time can be used to build community, as shown in the graph. As committee team members learn more about how data is stored in ProClass, we are focusing on how to take manual labor out of our registration system and providing current, relevant data to better use our resources.
We are concerned about privacy and convenience. We don’t want our data shared with others unnecessarily and we want convenient access to data to make decisions.
In ProClass, you need a username and a password to log in and see your own data. Passwords must be “strong” and not easily guessed by hackers. Passwords are encrypted when stored in the ProClass database so no one can see your password except you (of course, none of us use the same password for multiple applications (not!)). Nefarious hackers, those wicked witches, will try to steal your password from unencrypted networks and use that in other accounts.
Committee chairs and key volunteers can have more access to data than a typical member, who can only see data about him/herself. But, even there, we want to limit access to authorized people. For example, we would not want someone other than the Curriculum Committee to change course information, maybe increasing the maximum number of students allowed in an oversubscribed course. Havoc! In ProClass, access to data is restricted on a need-to-know basis. Access is more than just reading the data, but can also include creating, updating, and deleting data. There are audit trails of who changed the data and when. The ProClass adviser team, made up of key Council members, will be helping develop rules on who gets to do what in ProClass to both maintain members’ privacy and give convenient access to key decision-makers.
How Do You Get a GSuite LLI.Bard.Edu account?
Before Fall registration, you will be invited to access your imported ProClass account. We will send out detailed instructions, but all you need to know is your email address to get access to your account information in ProClass. Once you login to ProClass, you will change your username and password to something easily remembered. You can then change and add your personal information to ProClass to be used in Fall registration.
In the meantime, if you are an LLI member, you can get your own LLI account by emailing Al Gersbeck at firstname.lastname@example.org or by emailing email@example.com. You will get an invitation from Google to set up your account with a link to click. When you click the link, you will need to change your password to something you remember, at least eight characters long. It’s that easy!