ROSI Student Web Service retires after 19 years

After 19 years, ROSI Student Web Service (SWS) will officially retire on February 15, 2018. In its place, ACORN has now become the primary student web service since launching in 2015 – with over 12 million logins in the past year.

U of T’s Enterprise Applications and Solutions Integration (EASI) kept the two systems running concurrently to help students make the transition. Now, ROSI-SWS is ready to officially hand over the reins to ACORN.

But how did we make the leap from long lineups and paper-based registration to technology that revolutionizes the student experience?

Assembling ACORN

When ROSI-SWS was nearing the end of its lifecycle, the project team decided to rewrite the code with contemporary best-practices and student expectations in mind. These included using inclusive design principles for accessibility, improving mobile usability, and making the process of planning and enrolling in courses more helpful and personalized to each student.

The team engaged hundreds students through interviews, usability tests and other research activities.

“Our goal was to improve the student experience using the web service in a number of different ways: planning for and conducting course enrolment, understanding and accessing financial information, as well as increasing the visibility and engagement with student life services,” says Michael Clark, manager of User Experience and Process Design with EASI. “ACORN provides a cohesive experience that helps students navigate an otherwise complicated network of resources across the University.”


ACORN’s Enrolment Cart (mobile view) allows students to plan course choices ahead of time and simply click “enrol” on enrolment day


The ACORN project team within EASI partnered with Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions and with Information Security and Enterprise Architecture to launch the service.

“ACORN is a more highly polished and functional website than ROSI could be during its time. Students can see if there’s room in a course and how long a wait list is – there’s much more transparency to the process,” says Karel Swift, who was U of T’s University Registrar and led the functional development and implementation of ROSI. “Fees can also be paid in the same place as course and program selection – it truly is a one-stop shop.”

What existed before ROSI-SWS?

Before 1974, students registered through an entirely paper-based system.


Students register for classes at University of Toronto Scarborough in 1969 (photo courtesy of University of Toronto Scarborough Library, UTSC Archives Legacy Collection)


The University moved from this system in 1974 to enter students’ paper-based course selections into computers. In 1978, staff transcribed 31,400 students’ selections.

“In the 1980s, students used to wait in long lineups to have their paper course selections processed in the computer system,” says Rodney Branch, who worked in college registrars’ offices at the time and is currently Manager of Client Services and Process Integration with EASI. “They would then have to line up separately to pay their fees. The line ups would go out the door, down the hall and onto the sidewalk.”


Students waiting in line outside of Woodsworth College, formerly Drill Hall, to register for classes in 1988 (photo courtesy of Richard Chow)


Donald Boere, Registrar of Innis College, remembers ACCESS, the Assisted by Computer Course Enrolment and Scheduling System used by the Faculty of Arts & Science starting in the late 1980s. “In the summer, students wrote their options for timetable scenarios on paper forms, and all these requests would be typed into IBM dedicated terminals by staff, though in later years, students with touch-tone – not rotary! – phones could enter their own requests through the Student Telephone Service. Resulting timetables were mailed to every student. For changes, there was a second round, called Mini-ACCESS, and students got new timetables during Registration Week. It was pretty cutting-edge for its time.”


Most staff used IBM 3279 Colour Display Terminals to enter students’ course selections and create timetables (photo by Retro-Computing Society of Rhode Island)


Anil Purandaré was one of those students. “During my first year, I was anxious and pretty naive about the process. New College had a large sign that said, ‘Don’t Worry – We’ll Help You.’ It was lovely to meet people, but increasingly complex registration required a more effective process,” says Purandaré, now a Doctoral Registration Specialist at the Office of the Registrar and Student Services, OISE. “ACORN has made the registration process much more student-friendly. When you’re anxious, and perhaps naive about the process, that helps a lot.”

ROSI-SWS was introduced in 1999 and was used, along with the ROSI telephone service, to enable 54,132 students to register in real time.

The future

In 2016-17, 88,766 students enrolled at U of T. To accommodate increasing numbers and enrolment complexity in the future, Information Technology Services will implement a new computing platform in 2018. This upgrade will improve system performance and capacity, allowing up to 15,000 students to register simultaneously for classes during peak registration times.

ROSI-SWS is also planning to keep busy during retirement. The service, now called ROSI Alumni Transcripts, will continue to exist in a simplified form for alumni to view their academic history, request transcripts and reset their PIN. Staff will still use the administrator-facing ROSI to manage and maintain students’ records, and ACORN will evolve to serve students’ needs.

“ACORN will continue to be timely, personalized and helpful – with improved accessibility, mobile optimizations, financial tools and additional complementary tools, including the Grant Application, GPA Calculator and Financial Planning Calculator,” says Clark. “We’re the hub in the wheel of student services and we’ll be strengthening that core to consistently improve the student experience.”


If students have not yet used ACORN, they need to activate their UTORid.

Staff Profile: Meet Gerald Lindo

Name: Gerald Lindo
Job Title: NGSIS Project Manager

Working On:

-Project Managing for Safety Abroad and CM/Calendar: Working with stakeholders to create an adaptive infrastructure that facilitates project deliverables while working to meet agreed-upon milestones.
-Program Management: Working with project teams to help to identify & address risks/issues/dependencies that allow us to facilitate delivery of the NGSIS initiatives in the Academic & Life Experience, Student Records, Student Finances, Curriculum Design & Development and Planning & Analytics streams.

Where did you study?
University of Toronto ~ I graduated from the Faculty of Applied Science’s Engineering Science Program, specializing in Computer Science / Communications engineering.

How are you feeling about your first two weeks on the job?
I’m feeling quite optimistic.  I’m really enjoying working with my project teams and stakeholders and contributing to the project work already underway, here. The team has been very welcoming, sharing their own ‘newbie’ experiences with me and helping me to feel very much at home.

Share with us a few ideas, how you perceive the university environment, any thoughts of optimism?
From a professional standpoint, many facets of this position, itself, may seem to be daunting. Despite this, my colleagues have helped me to feel confident that I’ll meet these opportunities as part of a strong and compassionate team, which is, in itself, very reassuring. After graduation, I’d returned to the university several times to volunteer with and help out student groups that interested me. This served to expose me to many  different sides of the university that I’d never been able to see and enjoy as an engineering student. Lastly,  I approached this job as an opportunity to contribute to my school in a professional aspect, while still being able to share in the wonderful culture that I’d been able to discover over the past several years and what I’ve seen so far is definitely cause for optimism.

NGSIS at Techknowfile 2016

NGSIS will be well represented at this week’s Techknowfile conference. This annual conference brings together hundreds of U of T staff and faculty involved with technology in some capacity to share information, best practices and meet face to face.

NGSIS will have five presentations at the event:

 

 

If you’re attending this week and are interested in what we are up to at NGSIS and how we approach our work, please stop by one or more of the presentations!

2015 Year in Review & What’s Next in 2016

2015 was a productive year for NGSIS as we continued on our mission to modernize U of T’s online services with new impactful products and enhanced existing ones. Let’s review some of the highlights before we look ahead to what’s next in 2016.

 

ACORN

  • The new Student Web Service and NGSIS flagship product launched in late June for students and has had over 3 million logins in the first 6 months of service.

Degree Explorer

  • Nearly all undergraduate programs are now using Degree Explorer.
  • We’ve seen usage rates significantly grow year over year and in 2015 we approached 600,000 logins.

Convocation

  • A cross-functional process streamline effort resulted in broad, impactful changes to the November convocation experience.
  • For the first time at U of T, students were able to request and distribute E-tickets for the November ceremonies. Accompanying these changes were a fully redesigned student graduation request process and RSVP web service launched on ACORN.

Business Intelligence – Student Life

  • In partnership with NGSIS, Student Life has implemented several core products in recent years, including the Co-Curricular Record and the Career Learning Network. In order to maximize the utility of these products, the Business Intelligence team worked with Student Life to deliver key analytics for these tools.

Curriculum Management (CM)

  • Curriculum Management will serve as the basis for an authoritative source of course and program information at the University. U of T has negotiated an agreement with KualiCo, the commercial affiliate of the Kuali Foundation, to develop a cloud-based learning Curriculum Management system. NGSIS will be piloting the use of CM with a sample division in consideration of a full rollout of the product at U of T.

Academic Calendar

  • NGSIS has been working on a new content management system tailored for academic calendar publication. The specialized website allows divisions to maintain non-curricular content, select divisional branding, and provide access to tools that can import course and program information from Curriculum Management.

Infrastructure

  • ACORN was the first application deployed on a new Cisco and IBM foundation. The IBM foundation provides an integrated platform for critical applications. This enables ACORN to provide a more convenient, well-performing and available application for students. This infrastructure will enable more applications to be built to ACORN’s standards in the future.

Strategic Plan

  • For a program as diverse as NGSIS, it is imperative to have a guiding strategic plan to help coordinate the moving pieces and facilitate ongoing success. Cathy Eberts, NGSIS Program Director, and the NGSIS leadership team worked with our sponsors, stakeholders and key individuals to craft a three year strategic plan. This effort was carried out in stages over a number of months, with the final draft presented to our sponsors and NGSIS Core Team towards the end of 2015. The plan will be released publicly in phases, beginning with our list of initiatives for 2016.

 

What’s Next in 2016

With over fifty individual projects on the roster for 2016, and the first year of our 2016-2018 strategic plan underway, we are set up for one of our most ambitious years to date. Here’s a glimpse at what we have in store within each of our five strategic priority areas.

 

Academic and Life Experience

ACORN

  • Building on the foundation put in place in 2015, we will produce an optimized mobile experience for ACORN, a staff view of the student interface, a timetable generator and a number of enhancements to course enrolment this year.

Degree Explorer

  • In early 2016, we will implement significant changes to the student degree planner and are looking forward to introduce Degree Explorer to graduate students in 2016.

StarRez

  • StarRez has been one of the most successful administrative products to date within NGSIS. 2016 will mark the first time the University has all 13 core residences using the same administrative system, with Trinity College joining.

Student Records

We’ll be making a number of small but impactful improvements to the records services of ROSI and ACORN this year. The largest effort will focus on adapting to changes in how we receive applicant data from the Ontario Universities’ Application Centre (OUAC).

 

Curriculum Design and Development

For staff and faculty we are working on two core systems that will help improve the processes for initiating and maintaining courses, as well as providing a robust suite of tools for instructors to manage their course information. These are two of NGSIS’s flagship projects for 2016.

 

Student Finances

ACORN

  • We are looking forward to offering a completely redesigned finances section of ACORN in 2016. This will include online credit card payment for tuition and fees, an online U of T grant application, a new awards and financial aid module and a broad effort to boost levels of financial literacy.

In addition to the work on ACORN, we have two impactful efforts underway:

  • Towards the middle of 2016, we are looking to implement a new student accounts module that will eventually replace the existing ROSI student accounts module. This will ease some of the reconciliation issues we currently face and in the future will help to facilitate greater clarity and more timely information for students.
  • Secondly, we are exploring options for implementing a proper student awards module. These are early days for this initiative and when it’s completed, this will provide students as well as staff with a much better experience for managing the thousands of financial awards available at U of T.

Planning and Analytics

The Business Intelligence team will build off several years of strong results by continuing to analyze the vast quantities of data available to decision makers at U of T. This year’s focus will be on admissions, student retention and course evaluations.

 

Staff Profile: Andre Kalamandeen

As part of an ongoing series, we’ve reached out to contributing members of the NGSIS program and asked them to share some insights into their current involvement, career path, areas of professional expertise and personal interests that they bring to NGSIS projects.

Name:

Andre Kalamandeen

Role:

Intermediate Java Developer

Current Project:

ACORN. There’s still a lot of work to be done. We want to make it better, keep tweaking it. Then there’s ACORN Mobile, the staff-facing view…

Career Path:

I was born and raised in Guyana. I did my undergrad at the University of Guyana. After I finished a masters program in Computer Science at the University of Toronto, I saw a student job posting for a contract position doing mobile development. My first project at UTM was working on the card scanning system for shuttle bus running between UTM and the U of T. Since coming to EASI/NGSIS, I’ve worked on MyRes and the ACORN project.

Personal Highlight:

The ACORN project. I had never worked on a team that had so many functional roles! We had developers, functional analysis, UX, QA… Just having all these people work together; it was dramatic and it was interesting for me. It was great to be a part of that experience!

Off the clock:

I try to keep active which involves circuit training at the gym, swimming and cycling. I’m learning to play the piano, though I’m not very good at it. At times you’ll find me on battle.net playing StarCraft, but most times I’m working on mobile apps, or tinkering with new technology.

calmunderfire

Kalamandeen: Calm under fire. 

ACORN Released June 22nd!

After a lengthy project cycle, ACORN was released into production June 22nd. Students have been using the new student web service for the past three weeks and with over a quarter million log-ins, so far the system is holding up well.

Over the past few weeks we have been busy supporting the launch, observing the system’s performance and addressing any hot fix issues that need attending to. Our goal with ACORN is to continually evolve the product and to remain responsive to our student and staff communities’ needs.

We are extremely grateful for those in the U of T community who have helped take ACORN from a mere concept and idea through to being a real-world application.

ROSI reborn as ACORN – From UTM’s The Medium

As we near the intended launch of ACORN later this spring interest from student newspapers has been increasing. Starting in November, we had our first ACORN related article in The Varsity, and this week UTM’s The Medium has published a great overview of ACORN and its current status. The most recent article highlights the key features that will be in ACORN, particularly enrolment related as well as aspects of the user centred approach that we’ve taken on the project.

Thanks to Farah Qaiser and colleagues at The Medium for the informative piece on ACORN!

Introducing ACORN to Students

As we near the release date for ACORN we’ve put together a student focused ‘Introducing ACORN’ website to help raise awareness of the new system for students. In addition to alerting students that big changes are coming, we will provide a brief walkthrough of how students have been instrumental in the project through our user centred approach, an overview of key ACORN features and an invitation for students to get involved in future ACORN project work.

The short-term purpose of the site is to get students comfortable with the upcoming system changes. Longer term,  we’ll use this site to highlight upcoming ACORN enhancements such as mobile, student finances and other ongoing improvements.

Introducing ACORN screenshot

Project updates and a look ahead

The end of 2014 was productive for NGSIS as we released two key updates prior to the holiday break:

Transfer Explorer

In collaboration with the Centre for International Experience, we enhanced Transfer Explorer to include courses taken while on exchange. Transfer Explorer now shows student users and student services staff how courses taken abroad will transfer for credit at U of T. We see this as a great exploration opportunity for students planning to study abroad with CIE’s exchange program.

Emarks

Over summer 2015, the Emarks user interface was redesigned to address numerous usability and navigation issues. Additional workflow and course attributes were also added to accommodate the School of Graduate Studies graduate courses. Following a very successful pilot with four graduate departments during the summer, Emarks is now available and in use by the vast majority of graduate units across the University.
Looking ahead in 2015…

2015 is promising to be another big year for NGSIS. In the short-term, we will be releasing enhancements to Degree Explorer to include course plan submissions for Applied Science students. This is will enhance the Degree Explorer experience for both students and staff and increase the connection between Degree Explorer and course enrolment. Additionally, advising reports will be built in for Arts and Science staff to help support student program progression.

By mid 2015, we will see the first production release for the ACORN project and plenty of work around student accounts, student finances, business intelligence and curriculum management.

Project updates and a look ahead

The end of 2014 was productive for NGSIS as we released two key updates prior to the holiday break:

Transfer Explorer

In collaboration with the Centre for International Experience, we enhanced Transfer Explorer to include courses taken while on exchange. Transfer Explorer now shows student users and student services staff how courses taken abroad will transfer for credit at U of T. We see this as a great exploration opportunity for students planning to study abroad with CIE’s exchange program.

Emarks

Over summer 2015, the Emarks user interface was redesigned to address numerous usability and navigation issues. Additional workflow and course attributes were also added to accommodate the School of Graduate Studies graduate courses. Following a very successful pilot with four graduate departments during the summer, Emarks is now available and in use by the vast majority of graduate units across the University.

Looking ahead in 2015…

2015 is promising to be another big year for NGSIS. In the short-term, we will be releasing enhancements to Degree Explorer to include course plan submissions for Applied Science students. This is will enhance the Degree Explorer experience for both students and staff and increase the connection between Degree Explorer and course enrolment. Additionally, advising reports will be built in for Arts and Science staff to help support student program progression.

By mid 2015, we will see the first production release for the ACORN project and plenty of work around student accounts, student finances, business intelligence and curriculum management.