NIH center drops paper catalog

NIH center drops paper catalog

NIH's Leslie Barden says shifting to online registration will save $45,000 a year. In recent years, most would-be students'85 percent'have registered via the Web.

By Megan Lisagor

Special to GCN

As the leaves changed this fall, so did course registration at the National Institutes of Health's Center for Information Technology when online listings of computer training classes replaced paper catalogs.

The center offers free courses'to NIH's and some other agencies' employees'on computing, networking and information systems.

Advertising classes and signing up students on the Web isn't a new concept at the center; such services have been available since 1996.

But the center's managers decided to eliminate the catalogs because more than 85 percent of applications have been completed online during the past few terms. Web registration is also more cost-effective, they said.

'Forty-five thousand dollars per year to set up and distribute the catalogs was hard to justify for 15 percent of the audience,' said Leslie Barden, the center's chief of computer training.

Hot pace

The switch apparently has not hurt enrollment. As of mid-October, 1,545 students had already signed up for courses, said Pat Ashburn, a center computer specialist. That's just 291 fewer than total registrations during last year's entire fall session, which ends in January.

'I think we're on a very fast pace for the fall,' Barden said.

Applications will be accepted as long as classes have space.

To make sure that NIH employees knew about the new registration process, the center distributed fliers about the online sign-up desk to desk at NIH.

'The flier went out to 19,000 employees instead of 6,000 [catalog subscribers], and it was one-tenth the cost,' Barden said. 'We reached an audience that hasn't seen us before. We've had a jump in applications for intro-level courses.'

Online registration has increased quickly.

'When we went to the Web, the number of applications rose and rose,' Barden said. 'The very first term we attracted about 20 percent on the Web. Fairly rapidly we got to 40 percent.'

This year, 100 percent applied without paper.

Susan Holbeck, a computer specialist at the National Cancer Institute, registered for several classes online, including a Java seminar.

Smooth surfing

Leslie Barden of NIH's Center for Information Technology visits a class on medical imaging run by Matthew McAuliffe.

It only takes a few minutes to sign up, she said. 'If you look at their Web site, it's very easy to follow,' Holbeck said.

To register, students visit The site provides visitors with a complete class list and allows searches for classes by category.

The Web site, which is built with Microsoft Active Server Pages, resides on a server running Windows NT 4.0, SQL Server 7.0 and Internet Information Server, lead Web developer Jay Michael said.

Users can access the site using recent versions of either Microsoft Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator Web browsers.

Once would-be students have chosen a course, they click on the Select This Course button. Students visiting the site are allowed to register for more than one class at a time.

Finally, the users click on Apply for Selected Courses and enter the required information.

If they have not previously registered on the site, they must also complete a short customer entry form.

To verify the receipt of the course request, the center sends students e-mail confirmations.

For applicants who don't want to use the Web, the center still accepts phone registration. Online applicants may call for information, too.

'You don't just drop paper and go to the Web. I would never want to drive it down to zero by phone,' Barden said.

Although the center published no new catalogs this term, old versions remain available.

The center will accept completed versions of old paper registration forms that it receives via fax.


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