Bannerstalker: $5 anxiety relief?

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April 1, 2013

11:47 PM

Banner stalking. Think about that phrase for a moment. Aptly describing the obsessive zeal with which students at the College of William and Mary approach course registration, it has now lent itself to be the namesake of a website which shrewdly utilizes that same TWAMPish fixation — and may prove to be something of a double-edged sword.

It’s as simple as this: For $5 per course registration number (with an additional fee of $1 for courses with a lab component), Bannerstalker.com notifies a student via text and email when a desired course becomes available.

The creator of the website, Peter Johnson ’15, clearly knows his market. Bannerstalker.com is being used — approximately 300 students have already signed up — and since open course registration began yesterday, it makes sense to assume more and more students will take advantage of the service it provides.

But despite the fact that it’s a shrewd business move on the part of the website’s creator, the question remains as to whether Bannerstalker.com is healthy for the student body.

It has become a cliché to say the College is a stressful place. And every year, twice a year, students get to mainline a concentrated dose of stress in the form of course registration. It’s a harried, frenetic process, and it would seem Bannerstalker.com could provide a respite from the anxiety that becomes the norm for a student who has been shut out of a course.

But not quite.

For argument’s sake: A rising senior is sitting in class. That morning was registration, and she was shut out of a small seminar-style class she needs for her major. Next semester is the only time it’s being offered in the coming year. She receives a text message telling her the course is now open. Unfortunately, her professor doesn’t allow laptops in class under any circumstances, and her phone doesn’t access the internet. She would leave class to go register elsewhere if not for the fact that her professor is going over material for the test next class, and she knows she can’t afford to miss his discussion. Of course, now she can’t pay attention anyway, as all she’s thinking about is the open course and how she isn’t currently registering for it. And it’s a popular class. Chances are, someone else is beating her to it.

In situations like these, Bannerstalker.com won’t so much curb anxiety as it will propagate it. While this example may seem hyperbolic, similar scenarios could certainly arise. (What if you’re driving when you get the text?)

If the administration wants to derive benefit from Bannerstalker.com, it should ask Johnson for the program’s analytics to see which courses are most sought after. After all, if students are willing to pay $5 for information on a certain course, chances are the demand for that course is greatly exceeding its supply. With information on desirable courses in tow, administrators could make more informed choices regarding how many sections certain courses should have. And when courses can better accommodate the number of students that wants to take them, registration anxiety — for the most part — will be brought to a halt.

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