Dorms Pilot Online Initial Sign-In System

Students racing into the common room at 8:00 p.m. to scribble down their name in the sign-in book has been a common sight at many dorms. However, common rooms have looked different from previous years starting this week—multiple dorms have piloted a new online sign-in method. Designed by Pete Dignard ’07, Senior Associate Director of Admission, and proposed to the Dean of Students Office by Student Council, a simple Microsoft Form automatically emailed to boarding students each evening is now replacing the previous pencil-and-paper sign-in method.

According to Dignard, many community members have been pushing for the implementation of an online sign-in system since his time as a student at Andover. While serving as a house counselor at Foxcroft House during the 2020-2021 school year, Dignard built an online sign-in system program that worked for his dorm, which received positive responses.

“Last year, during the pandemic, you couldn’t even share pencils, and so I wanted to think about a new way to do sign-in. I created a system that worked for my dorm, Foxcroft House, and the kids liked it. I think the house counseling team liked it as well—it worked really well for us. I think the word got around because everybody has been talking about online sign-in… At some point, this fall, they created a proposal that they gave to the Dean of Students,” said Dignard.

The form sent to students each day asks for the student’s place of study, a rating of their day on a scale of one to six, and optional comments for House Counselors. When the form is submitted, the system automatically collects the student’s name and time of form submission, then automatically adds the submitted information into a spreadsheet that House Counselors can easily access.

Dignard prefers using online sign-in in his dorm as he believes the previous sign-in method on paper was not only prone to mistakes, but also lacked a way to track the collected information. On the other hand, Dignard believes that the new online sign-in system makes the sign-in process more convenient for both students and house counselors and further improves House Counselors’ understanding of students’ status.

“Kids have messy handwriting, they don’t know the time, they write something down that’s wrong, and it’s messy… The other thing is that that information is never tracked. It’s on a sheet of paper; nobody’s putting that information into a computer later so you can look at it,” said Dignard.

Dignard continued, “We all know why kids want online sign-in, right? It’s easy. They don’t have to go back to their dorm. The benefit [of online sign-in] as a house counselor is that it’s so much neater—you can check back, like where the student was a week ago. I also added that question about how’s your day because I think it’s good for kids to reflect on how their day’s been. And it’s good, as a House Counselor, to be on the same page as kids.”

Kennedy Herndon ’23, a resident of Adams Hall, has found the online system to be much more efficient. Without the interruption of having to physically go back to her dorm to sign-in, the online system has provided her much more flexibility in her time management.

“When I have to sign in I’m scrambling to get out of the library like at 7:50 and have to run all the way to my dorm, and I know some dorms are far away, so it’s kinda a time crunch there. So having the ability to sign in online lets me avoid all the hurry and allows me to get more schoolwork done,” said Herndon.

Ethan Weinstein ’23 agreed with Herndon and expressed appreciation for the online sign-in system addressing the issue of inequitable campus access due to dorm location.

“I lived in Flagstaff my whole time here so distance was not really an issue for me, but I think it’s sort of an equity thing for people who live in Abbot who have to walk like 20 minutes back to the dorm to sign in. So I fully support online sign in. It gives people a lot more time to study and allow more flexibility at night when most people do their work,” said Weinstein.

Nigel Savage ’23, one of the members of Student Council who submitted the proposal, recognized the helpful convenience of online sign-in through his experience of living in Thompson House this year.

“Last year, I was super lucky to live in Flagstaff and not have a long walk to sign in. However this year living in Thompson house I started to understand what it’s like to have to walk a long distance in order to sign in. Our student body is extremely busy so time is a valuable commodity; anything that we can do at student council to erase wastes of time for students is a win,” said Savage.

Tina Zeng ’24, another member of Student Council, shared a similar sentiment as Savage and believes that the previous sign-in system on paper needed improvement.

“Theoretically, I understand [the previous sign-in system] helps house counselors know where we are. In practice, I don’t think it does this. Usually I sign out at 5:00 pm. In the time between 5:00 and 9:30, I’m in many different places. If there were really an emergency, what I write down wouldn’t be a way to find me. Besides, people sign in for each other all the time,” said Zeng.

According to Savage, another version of online sign-in on the REACH app, the Student Life Management system for boarding students, is currently being tested. Members of Student Council are hoping that online sign-in, either on REACH or through Dignard’s daily forms, could be integrated into boarding students’ lives as a smooth and seamless process.

“I hope [the REACH system] can remove the sense of stress, if minor, that comes with online sign-in… I want Mr. Dignard’s system to do the same in removing stress for students until the REACH system can be implemented seamlessly. Mr. Dignard has done some very cool work and I hope the dorms that have adapted his system are happy with the change. I don’t know, it just makes sense to me. It’s the kind of online sign-in system that we really should have been using since years and years ago,” said Zeng.

Dignard is pleased that his online sign-in system could serve as a starting point for a change that students have wanted for many years and looks forward to creating more technological systems for the convenience of community members. Another recent project of his is an automated system that converts students’ and faculty’s class schedules in ICS form, which can then be added to electronic calendars.

“I graduated in 2007; it’s been 15 years that people have been talking about online sign-in. My hope is that this, at least, is a catalyst for some change, possibly… if it becomes a catalyst for the school to say, ‘Hey, this actually works, we can do this,’ it’s a win-win, and that’s great. And sometimes you need a catalyst to make stuff like that happen,” said Dignard.