WHY. Why do I need a waiting list? Because there are not enough online courses at my school, that's why! My courses fill up really fast, as do the other online courses, especially the General Education courses. Every semester I enroll 90-100 students in my classes, I usually have at least 40 students (or more) that I had to turn away. So, I keep a list and then offer enrollment permissions to those students the next semester. I also keep a list of sophomores who want to enroll; because of the demand for upper-division Gen. Ed. online, I am not allowed to enroll any sophomores, but I keep track of the sophomores who contact me so that I can offer them a chance to enroll when they do become juniors. As students contact me during the actual enrollment period, I also want to be able to save space for students with special needs who really do need the flexibility online class: expectant mothers, people who unexpectedly have to move out of state, anyone managing a complicated medical situation, etc. In addition, I try to accommodate anyone who is seeking to graduate that semester (although I can only do that when students contact me early; if they wait until their enrollment window opens, it's usually too late).
HOW. The way I run the waiting list so that I can accommodate the students on the list is that there is open enrollment for 50 students total across both my classes, and then I spend enroll an additional 40-50 students with permissions to enroll in the course even after it is closed. I think that is a really good solution: it allows for half the students to enroll via the regular system (in which athletes and National Merit Scholars get to go first in the enrollment pre-week, then seniors in the first week of enrollment, and then juniors the week after that), while allowing me to manage the enrollment for the other half of the class, accommodating students who make the extra effort to get in touch with me because of their interest/need for the class.
"OFFICIAL" WAITING LIST. Unfortunately, my school also has a waiting list system built into the regular enrollment system but it does not fit with my system at all. It is designed for instructors who do not get involved in enrollment at all and instead prefer to let everything happen automatically. In the official system, after a class is full, students can put their name on a list and then, if anyone drops, the slot is filled by someone from the waiting list, I guess based on how long they have been on the list. For my classes, this won't work: once my classes fill, no slot ever opens up because of all the special permissions I've issued. That means anyone who signs up for the official waiting list is doomed! So, I check the waiting list manually once a week to make sure I contact the students myself to explain how my waiting list system works. At that time, I ask them about whether they are graduating that semester or not, have any special needs I should know about, etc. This is a really awful process because I cannot remove people from the waiting list after I have merged them into my process and there is no way to see how is new to the list: ugh. Of all the tasks listed here, this is the one that is totally and utterly frustrating. I asked the Registration office if the automated waiting list option could just be disabled for my classes, but apparently that is not possible.
THE SPREADSHEET. To manage this system, I use a spreadsheet. As people contact me, I write them back and explain how things stand, and I label their email "Waiting List." Then, periodically (once a week during enrollment season), I transfer the email address and other details from the email to the spreadsheet and remove the "Waiting List" label. I send out one mass email at the beginning of the enrollment season to everybody remaining on the list from last semester to see who wants to enroll this semester or stay on the list for a future semester; I delete anyone who doesn't write me back. I then use this spreadsheet to manage the enrollment process, collecting their OU ID numbers and issuing the full-class permissions. There is no easy way to keep track of which permissions are used in our enrollment system, so I also use the spreadsheet to keep track of the permissions that I have issued, checking to see who has enrolled and who hasn't enrolled (I guess that is just too complicated for our multimillion-dollar student enrollment system to manage...). As people enroll in the class, I delete them from the spreadsheet completely.
General Observations. It's not a perfect system, but it's what I have developed after teaching these classes (and, sadly, turning away students) for 10+ years. It actually used to be so much better when we had the old enrollment system. In the old system, each class was automatically linked to a webpage of your choice, so I was able to share lots and lots of information about the classes, including information about the waiting list, with prospective students. Admittedly, most faculty did not use that feature, but I sure did, linking to the course homepage and prominently featuring information about the waiting list on that page. Well, that feature disappeared when we bought the Sungard/Banner student information system that we now use, branded Ozone.ou.edu. In Ozone, there is no way for students to know anything about the courses beyond the instructor's name and the generic catalog description; no links allowed. As a result, it takes real personal initiative on their part to look up my email address and write me. Of course, that just makes me more committed to my waiting list system: if a student shows the initiative to get in touch with me that way, I definitely want to try to help them if I can!
I guess if you add it up, I spend about 10 hours per semester on enrollment-related issues. That's not too bad really, and it's worth it when I am able to help a student who is really eager to take the class, for whatever reason. I don't want their hopes to be frustrated! :-)
Spe expecto. I wait with hope.