Saving time, standardizing electronic transcripts

As part of a substantial upgrade to the Ontario Universities’ Application Centre (OUAC) transcript exchange, U of T introduced consistent, easy-to-read PDF transcripts, allowing admissions staff to view relevant information in one location. It’s a project that has dramatically improved workflows for processing over 20,000 incoming electronic post-secondary transcripts each year.

“We worked with the University Registrar’s Office (URO) to convert incoming post-secondary XML transcripts into PDF format,” says Matt Hendrickson, technical lead with Enterprise Applications & Solutions Integration (EASI). “If admissions staff receive a transcript from any university or college in Canada, they’ll see a PDF with information presented in a standard format.”

The upgrade has had many benefits, leading to streamlined processes for staff.

“In the past, admissions staff consulted a number of different systems to access transcript information, which was sometimes difficult to read and often added more time to the assessment process,” says Sinisa Markovic, deputy university registrar and director of operations with the URO. “Now, we are able to consolidate all the information in Slate, in a user-friendly format, making the process more efficient and less error prone.”

The EASI team used foundational work done by the URO, as part of the Canadian Postsecondary Electronic Standards Council (CanPESC) Common Digital Working Group, as a starting point for the standard PDF transcript format.

“The framework, called the Common Digital Layout (CDL), represents a minimally agreed-upon layout determined by the working group, and it’s something that can then be adapted to meet each institutions’ specific needs,” says the project lead, Joseph Minichini, assistant university registrar, policy and projects with the URO. “The EASI team took our foundational work and referenced it for U of T’s purposes. Using the CDL design, staff are now able to see XML transcripts, coming from a variety of institutions, in the same consistent and familiar format, making it easier for them to work with.”

U of T joined the CanPESC working group, led by OUAC, in June 2019 as the pilot institution. The CanPESC promotes adoption of data standards across Canada.

The PDF transcript project builds on U of T’s previous upgrade to OUAC’s transcript exchange to align with new data standards. The update to a modern data format involved an entire rewrite of the data model and application.

“For over two years, my colleague June Cheng worked with EASI staff and the URO to help U of T modernize its electronic transcript exchange,” says Hendrickson. “This update improved data quality and processing efficiency, and it also set the scene for PDF transcripts.”

In June 2022, U of T presented on the XML to PDF transcript solution at a conference hosted by the Association of Registrars of the Universities and Colleges of Canada and the Pan-Canadian Consortium on Admissions & Transfer.

The working group has published resources that other institutions can use to implement their own CDL transcript, and the group will publish an implementation guide in the near future.

“It’s been a very successful project that has improved the admissions process,” says Hendrickson. “It’s been great working with people at EASI as well as the URO and OUAC to ensure we met the different stakeholders’ needs.”

Behind the scenes: Student Information System transcript exchange

Each year, over 20,000 electronic transcripts are exchanged between U of T and other post-secondary institutions via the Ontario Universities’ Electronic Transcript System. Over the past two years, U of T has modernized this complex system of incoming and outgoing transcripts, resulting in improved data quality and processing efficiency. 

On August 17, the teams at Enterprise Applications & Solutions Integration (EASI) and Enrolment Services launched the upgrade to Ontario Universities’ Application Centre (OUAC) transcript exchange to align with data standards created by the Postsecondary Electronic Standards Council (PESC).  

“The update allowed the OUAC transcript exchange system to move to a modern data format and resulted in an entire rewrite of the data model and application,” says June Cheng, senior developer and project supervisor with EASI. “The new data format is a lot easier to read, and by improving the system it will be better supported in the future.”  

The transition to the new data standards involved shifting from Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) data format to more modern Extensible Markup Language (XML). These electronic transcripts are exchanged between postsecondary institutions as undergraduate students apply for graduate studies and professional programs or transfer between institutions. By creating consistent standards, institutions can align on exchanging transcripts in a consistent and efficient way.   

“The PESC data structure for transcripts is massive and could be described like a tree with hundreds of roots and branches. It was important to design a clean database that maps out this intricate structure, to improve our processes and provide a design that others can easily interpret,” says Cheng. “We also created additional automated workflows and updated infrastructure.”  

As part of the project, the EASI team also worked with Enrolment Services to help integrate the “common digital layout” transcript with the Slate application, which converts incoming XML transcripts from post-secondary institutions into a PDF format. The PDF transcripts have vastly improved business processes, due to their ability to display XML transcript data from different intuitions in a visually consistent and easy-to-read format.  

With the move to a more modern data format, June really helped to create the foundation for Enrolment Services to move to the creation of PDF transcripts from PESC standard XML data” says the project lead from Enrolment Services, Joseph Minichini, assistant university registrar, policy and projects. “Along with EASI and OUAC, we worked with the Common Digital Layout Working Group of the CanPESC User Group to create a standardized PDF transcript that will streamline workflows.” 

Beyond Enrolment Services, the project also involved close collaboration with EASI teams, including Technical Solutions and Architecture, and Access and Production Control. 

“Over two years June worked with many teams to push this project forward and help our users and OUAC align on outcomes,” says Matt Hendrickson, technical lead with EASI. “She was tremendous at gathering requirements, learning the technology to map everything out and completing the project before the deadline this fall.”  

Cheng will be retiring from U of T in January 2023 after 33 years of service. Her goal before retirement was to complete this project as well as train other staff who will be supporting this and other systems she’s currently supporting.  

“I’m happy to be able to complete the project on time and that it’s working well!” says Cheng. “While these behind-the-scenes projects aren’t as visible, they’re just as important as other Student Information System projects because they are part of the core student record system that supports all applicants, students and registrarial staff.” 

U of T launches updated Degree Confirmation app

The University of Toronto has launched a new version of the Degree Confirmation application, helping prospective employers, educational institutions and identity verification companies verify graduates’ credentials quickly and accurately.

The updated application provides an improved user experience along with automated search and matching capabilities that drastically reduce manual administrative processes.

“The previous application was complex and required organizations to enter a lot of information perfectly – keystroke for keystroke,” says Samantha Smith, assistant director with the Office of Convocation. “Now we’ve simplified the information required and we’ve streamlined processes to provide timely confirmation, ultimately helping graduates move on to their next steps.”

Instead of typing in a graduate’s full name, partial date of birth or student number, exact degree title and year of graduation, the updated application simply requires a graduate’s first and last name, partial date of birth, and if available, student number. Once personal information is provided, the application verifies credential information using U of T’s Student Information System.

If an organization is unable to verify a graduate’s credentials, due to multiple possible matches or a single partial match, the request is automatically sent to the Office of Convocation for follow up.

The streamlined process also allows organizations to submit multiple confirmations in one batch, pay for all confirmations at the same time and receive PDF and email receipt for their records.

To revamp the application, Enterprise Applications & Solutions Integration (EASI) worked in partnership with the Office of Convocation to research best practices at other educational institutions, analyze requirements and create prototypes for testing. They also worked closely with U of T’s Freedom of Information and Protection Privacy Office to ensure compliance with The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA).

“This project is a great example of collaboration between different areas of the university,” says Evan Moir, product manager with EASI. “It was really important to focus on a user-centred approach and to fully understand business needs through research and usability testing.”

This user-centred approach, and improved search and verification process, has drastically reduced manual workload for the Office of Convocation, which receives over 7,500 degree confirmation requests each year.

“In the past we would have between 600 to 780 follow-up requests per month. Now, we have between 250 and 350, and the system helps us conduct those follow ups quickly,” says Smith. “Degree confirmation requests peak in spring and fall which coincides with convocation and graduates applying for jobs. This updated application has reduced a significant workload during our peak time but as importantly, offers a fast, convenient, and reliable service.”

The Office of Convocation is responsible for the logistical details of the student and guest related elements of convocation for all university campuses and federated colleges. Annually, this totals 20,000 students and 40,000 guests. The office is also responsible for the reissue of degrees and diplomas, and certification of degree letters.

To date, the application has been highly successful. Since its launch in March 2022, 83 per cent of all degree confirmation requests were automatically resolved by the system, with only 17 per cent requiring manual follow up by the Office of Convocation.

“We’ve been really pleased with the updated application and we want a system that reflects well on the university,” says Smith. “The application provides quicker degree confirmations for organizations, lessens the workload for our staff, and ultimately provides timely support for our graduates to pursue further education and careers.”

Planning for the future: U of T launches new student timetable builder app

Selecting the right courses, scheduling around personal commitments and balancing life as a student can be a tough task. But planning ahead just became easier with the new Timetable Builder application. This application provides one convenient location for University of Toronto students to search for courses and easily create, optimize and share their intended course schedules.

After a successful pilot at U of T Scarborough, as well as extensive consultations across all three campuses, Enterprise Applications & Solutions Integration (EASI) released the application in June 2022.

“The previous timetable systems each provided students with partial information, forcing them to consult multiple sources,” says Rodney Branch, manager of client services and process integration, Student Information Systems. “The new Timetable Builder combines the best functionality from the earlier pilot with U of Scarborough, divisional applications and the now retired Course Finder.”

Using the new application, students can search for courses across divisions with greatly improved filtering and can view near real-time information about course sections. They can also manually or automatically generate a visual course timetable based on their preferred course sections and time preferences.

A screenshot of the application showing course details in one screen and a visual timetable in another screen.

As students add courses to their timetable, they can see all details including, day/time, location, instructor(s), availability, waitlist details, enrolment controls and delivery mode. Students can also see a visual representation of their timetable, making it easier to optimize their schedules.

To date, the application has been released to U of T Scarborough, U of T Mississauga, the Faculty of Arts & Science, the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, the Faculty of Music, and the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design. In the future, it will be released more broadly across U of T.

User experience was a major focus leading to the success of the project. EASI’s User Experience and Process Design team conducted university-wide interviews with students and created several prototypes for usability testing.

“At the beginning of the project, we conducted an environmental scan within and outside of U of T to see what timetable applications students were using,” says Stefanos Kythreotis, junior user experience designer with EASI. “It was challenging because each tool was unique and each division had its own requirements. To create an effective application, it was important to fully understand the student and staff perspective.”

In addition to the student facing application, staff can use the Online Administrative Student Information System (OASIS) to access the administrative interface. This interface gives academic divisions the ability to create a “legend” of division-specific information that will be displayed with each of its courses, as well as functionality to create and edit course or section-level notes individually or via a batch file upload.

Over the course of the project some potential future improvements were identified by the team and participating divisions. These include exporting a created timetable into a student’s ACORN enrolment cart, and the ability to prepopulate the timetable with courses a student has already enrolled in for the current session.

“The greatest benefit for students and staff is that they will only need to go to one place to search for courses across U of T,” says Branch. “I want to thank all of the divisions for their input and helping to optimize the application. We look forward to releasing this more broadly across U of T and streamlining the planning process for all students.”

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.

2015 Review

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.