EASI at UTSU Street Fest 2018

Why is ACORN slow on enrolment day? Can I automatically enrol in my courses? Can U of T buy better servers?

These were just some of the questions asked at this year’s University of Toronto Student Union Street Festival (UTSU). Held on September 12, the ACORN team, from Enterprise Applications and Solutions Integration (EASI), answered thousands of questions for five hours.

“Our participation in the UTSU Street Fest is important because each year we hear from students about their needs, goals, issues and ideas relating to important initiatives at U of T,” says Michael Clark, Manager of User Experience & Process Design with EASI.

This year, the ACORN team fielded in-person “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) style questions, with representation from EASI’s business analysts, developers, as well as user experience and process designers. This allowed students to inquire about everything from long-term infrastructure improvements to the details of everyday course enrolment.

So, why does ACORN perform more slowly on peak enrolment days?

On these days thousands of students log into the system, but it can only handle 700 concurrent users. The new system, which will go live on November 19, features a new infrastructure and code base and will be able to handle 15,000 concurrent users.

During Street Fest, ACORN staff also recruited students for the ACORN Student Advisory Team for research activities and tests. When students join the team, they can expect to attend 45-minute sessions that will directly inform improvements to ACORN and applications like the Financial Planning Calculator and GPA Calculator.

“We want to continue to build a community of students who are interested in improving student services,” says Laura Klamot, a user experience designer with EASI. “This includes recruiting students from all divisions, years, programs, campuses and also students with accessibility needs.”

In the near future, the student team will test improvements to ACORN’s mobile experience, U of T Map integrations within ACORN, live chat support with registrars and other U of T advisors, and integrating U of T’s Timetable Builder tool within ACORN.

“The input we received this year was consistent with previous research we’ve conducted with students, and will help keep us on course towards realizing improvements to U of T’s online student experience,” says Clark. “As well, it will help inspire future initiatives, leveraging the latest capabilities that EASI and the Next Generation Student Information Services Program will have to offer.”

ACORN enrolment: From ‘Black’ to ‘Grey Friday’

It was a tense day full of careful monitoring, communications and coffee consumption. On August 3, over 35,000 Faculty of Arts & Science students logged in to ACORN during the largest enrolment day for U of T.

The system successfully handled the massive number of logins during the Faculty’s “priority drop” enrolment period. Now, a day that was previously known as “Black Friday,” when the system crashed in 2015 and 2016, has become “Grey Friday.”

This year’s peak enrolment day became brighter due to the efforts of staff from Information Security and Enterprise Architecture (ISEA), Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions (EIS), and Enterprise Applications and Solutions Integration (EASI) at Information Technology Services.

Let’s take a look at how the day played out:

Pre-Enrolment Preparation

Laurel Williams preparing for the big day

“Look! There’s a squirrel on my coffee just for ACORN. I was up at 5:30 a.m. and decided to pick up my favourite coffee. It’s such a big day that it’s important to stay fueled,” said Laurel Williams, Information Technology Analyst with EASI. “All of the teams involved are critical to this process. I’ve been working on this project for three to four months and each year we enhance our preparation.”

See how how the team holds up under pressure during Grey Friday (video by Alex Dault)

9 a.m. – First Round of Enrolment

Within the first five seconds of enrolment, 1,000 fourth-year students had logged in.

“I would like to be in the same room as the mainframe to see it smoking!” said Williams.

The mainframe, which looks like a giant, black refrigerator, weighs 1,014 kg and has been working hard since 2012.

In November, the NGSIS Platform Modernization Project will replace the mainframe with faster and more secure Linux servers and a new code base. It will be able to handle 15,000 simultaneous logins compared to the current 700.

“The new platform will be a lot faster – we’ve removed major bottlenecks in the design and we’re expecting a much better experience next year,” said Frank Boshoff, U of T’s Enterprise Architect.

Twenty minutes after students started enrolling, ACORN was back to normal with near instantaneous login.

“It’s great that we’ve cleared the first round with lots of time to spare. This session was easier to handle because there were fewer students applicable to login, but wait until 11 a.m. – when we have our largest round of enrolment,” said Sarosh Jamal, Project Manager/Analyst with EIS.

Part of the team assembled at 215 Huron Street included Frank Boshoff, Sarosh Jamal, Andre Kalamandeen, Gerry Lindo, Paul Day, Laurel Williams, Titus Hsu, Mike Clark, Miki Harmath and Parani Vinayagamoorthy. 

10 a.m. – Second Round

“Wow, we have 3,390 third-year students logged in already at 10 a.m!” said Williams.

By 10:30 a.m. that wave of students had luckily decreased to 1,695, and fifteen minutes later the system had recovered and was ready once again.

While answering students’ questions on Twitter, Facebook and Reddit, Mike Clark, Manager, User Experience & Process Design with EASI, enrolled in his own courses.

“We’ve made more important improvements to ACORN and its underlying infrastructure for this year, and our goal is that the system will perform even better than last year because of those changes,” said Clark.

These improvements included optimizing Weblogin to better handle the large volume of login requests, as well as a ‘webload management day’ waiting page where if students tried to log in to ACORN before their scheduled start time, their session would be kept active and prevent Weblogin from having to process repeated login attempts.

The team also increased the duration and volume of cached registration information in the system to improve performance. And if an individual student made an unusually rapid number  of requests, they would be automatically prompted to prove that they were a human via a “captcha.”

How did these improvements help students?

“Compared to last year, we see that more users are spending a longer time actually logged in the system with fewer logins overall, rather than more time spent attempting to login as in previous years, so that’s a really good sign.” said Jamal. “This year, Andre Kalamandeen and the larger developer and test teams helped tune the system so that students enrolled approximately a minute faster.”

Just before the third, and most intense, round of enrolments for second-year students, the team welcomed a surprise visitor.

“I used to have to line up for hours to enrol in classes,” said Bo Wandschneider, U of T’s Chief Information Officer. “Things have really changed since then, and we hope that next year will be even better.”

11 a.m. – Third Round

As expected, the third round of enrolments pushed the system to its limits.

“To prepare for the heaviest loads, we run tests to simulate student logins,” said Williams. “Every time something breaks we try to mitigate the issue.”

The team used live data to monitor the load on the system, as well as its performance

The User Experience & Process Design team was on-hand to assist students, via email and social media support. The team had also produced pre-enrolment information to help manage students’ expectations and provide best practices on such a busy day.

Ibraheem Aziz, a fourth-year Rotman Commerce student, reached over 13,000 students on U of T’s Instagram – providing enrolment tips to students 

“On the morning of, we were online from 8:30 a.m. until mid-afternoon responding to urgent student questions, as well as engaging in broader discussions about the overall experience that students had,” said Clark. “Luckily, we didn’t see any outright crashes this year and came away with an objectively improved system from previous ‘priority drop’ days.”

At 11:26 there were 3,608 active users who needed to clear the system to accommodate the next round at 12 p.m.

“How low can we go? There are a lot of pending enrolments and we have to clear this session before 12 p.m.” said Vik Chadalawada, Senior Manager of Student Information Systems with EASI.

At 11:41 a.m., there were still 2,975 users, but everyone breathed a sigh of relief as the number of active users dropped to 1,688 by 11:53.

12 p.m. – Fourth round

With the nail-biting part of the day over, the fourth round was a breeze.

“Phew! It’s over!” said Williams.

After an intense four hours, the team gathered for a celebratory lunch.

“Way to go everyone! We all worked really hard to make this happen,” said Chadalawada. “We had a plan, we came prepared and it was well executed. We stayed collected as a team throughout the whole process, doing everything we could to mitigate any issues while tackling social media at the same time.  Hopefully the next year will see us evolve from a Grey Friday to a Blue Sky Friday.”

Thank you to everyone on the Grey Friday team, including Client Services Representatives and registrars across the University:

Frank Boshoff
Mike Clark
Paul Day
Zunan Dong
Paul Fardy
Miki Harmath
Matt Hendrickson
Titus Hsu
Sarosh Jamal
Andre Kalamandeen
Gerry Lindo
Jose Parada
Ian Scott
Ted Sikorski
Ken Tsang
Parani Vinayagamoorthy
Matt Wilks
Laurel Williams
Mike Wiseman
Mike Wyers

NGSIS web services: Real-time data, real-time results

Is a student registered, enrolled in a particular course and succeeding academically? In the past, academic advisors would have to consult multiple computer systems as well as ROSI, U of T’s official student information database, for any recent changes.

Now a new solution, called web services, provides staff with real-time data to help create a seamless student experience.

The solution, introduced by Enterprise Applications and Solutions Integration (EASI), provides an instant, secure link to ROSI for specific student information. Currently, U of T divisions rely on large data downloads called batch downloads.

“These batch downloads lead to out-of-date information, a huge duplication of data, and security vulnerabilities – as soon as the download is completed, the data starts becoming stale,” says Frank Boshoff, U of T’s Enterprise Architect. “When divisional applications use web services, they help provide accurate information to students and decrease the number of calls, emails and face-to-face meetings.”

The new approach is based on RESTful services – Representational State Transfer – which is used to build lightweight, maintainable and scalable web services. It allows other authorized systems to access pertinent ROSI data, and authorized systems can update ROSI, potentially saving significant administrator effort.

Batch jobs have to download all records – sometimes thousands – to determine which records have changed. web services works on a record-by-record model and only retrieves necessary records.

While this technology won’t replace batch downloads entirely, it will help when real-time transactions are a priority.

EASI recently introduced web services to the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering, and plans to roll them out to other divisions in the near future.

“We wanted to more tightly integrate our local systems with the data from ROSI and other local and institutional systems of record to improve the user experience,” says Dan Pettigrew, Director of Administrative Systems and Associate Registrar at the Faculty. “In the past, staff sometimes had to consult ROSI and other systems manually because the downloaded ROSI data they were seeing was potentially out of date. We really needed a holistic, real-time view of the student experience.”

On the front lines, web services are already making an impact.

“This has been a dream of mine – it makes our jobs easier and the student experience so much better,” says Leslie Grife, Assistant Director, First Year Academic Services with the Faculty. “Now the Faculty’s Academic Advising system connects directly to the ROSI database. And soon several of our other online services will as well. We can advise students with accurate data, helping them to make better informed decisions.”

In the future, the team will work with U of T’s Information Security and Enterprise Architecture to add an extra layer of security, called OAuth 2.0.

“It comes down to getting the right data to the right person at the right time with minimal effort from the user,” says Boshoff. “Web services enable real-time access to data, which improves the user experience, reducing annoyances and irritation for students, staff and faculty. Things work better when they are designed to work together.”

New Course Information System to streamline syllabi, exams process

It will save U of T instructors and administrators hundreds of hours of work, and is projected to save the University over $280, 000 annually. The new Course Information System (CIS), with core functionality set for completion by the end of 2019, will streamline syllabi and exams processes for instructors and administrators, and help students to make better-informed decisions about their education.

The system, created by Enterprise Applications and Solutions Integration (EASI) in partnership with the Office of the Vice-Provost, Innovations in Undergraduate Education, is currently being piloted in three divisions on two campuses.

“In the past, the decentralized process of creating, collecting, reviewing and approving syllabi and exams was paper- and pdf-based,” says Mark Johnston, CIS product manager. “This online system streamlines several disparate processes for instructors and departmental staff, and ensures accuracy and security. Overall, it will free up faculty and staff for more important activities.”

The system is a new product developed by the Next Generation Student Information Services program, which creates technological solutions to provide students, faculty and staff with a supportive educational environment.

It is divided into three modules for instructors to submit syllabi-related materials, pre-exam and final exam details.

When creating syllabi, instructors can immediately see whether they are meeting divisional and University guidelines. They can also select from a list of pre-written, standardized policies and statements, or use them as the basis for personally crafted statements, and the system will help instructors schedule important course milestones around holidays and important University dates.

Instructors can also submit details for their exams, including logistical information, duration and required equipment.

“This system is especially useful for new instructors,” says Johnston. “They might have to submit syllabi and exam details soon after being hired, and just as the term starts, and we’re helping them to quickly navigate the process.”

For final exams, instructors can upload their exam and printing instructions and either submit them for divisional approval or to an approved print location.

The project has been in production for 18 months and has been piloted with the Faculty of Arts & Science, the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering and the University of Toronto Scarborough.

“Our goal is to make the administration of courses easy for instructors,” says Professor Susan McCahan, Vice-Provost, Innovations in Undergraduate Education, and project co-sponsor. “The information needed to set a final exam or create a syllabus will flow through an integrated system. We anticipate that this will allow instructors to spend less time on logistics.”

Beyond streamlining processes, the system will help local academic administrators collect and analyze data to make evidence-based decisions.

“We want to provide divisions and units with a suite of tools that will help align course-related business practices, and help them to better understand the academic activity within their units’ courses and programs,” says Julian Weinrib, Special Projects Officer with the Office of the Vice-Provost. “We believe this will help spur important conversations locally, and ultimately help students to better understand and curate their academic experience.”

Similar to the process of building the student information system, ACORN, the team began the project with extensive interviews across the three campuses.

“We’re basing our development on a user-centred approach,” says Johnston. “It’s important to research, build, test, launch and then start all over again to ensure we’re developing an intuitive and informative system.”

In the future, the team will continue to build out functionality while onboarding new divisions. New functionality will include a detailed class list with students’ names, year, programs of study and photos. It will also include tools for an instructor to create their course syllabi directly on CIS and a syllabus archive and repository. In addition, the system will streamline over 18,000 accommodated tests per year at the St. George campus, and will link to Quercus, eMarks, ACORN and Degree Explorer.

“The promise of CIS is to build out useful, usable tools for instructors, departments and divisions from a centrally supported platform that integrate well across our three campuses and the complimentary systems surrounding CIS.”

User Acceptance Testing Launches

On June 25, Enterprise Applications and Solutions Integration (EASI) welcomed the first group of users to test the NGSIS Platform Modernization Project.

This phase of testing includes initial preparation for registration.

“We were excited to start the first of six phases today,” says Richard Chow, an information technology analyst with EASI, and the testing lead. “Participants are setting up students and courses for future registration sessions, and ensuring data accuracy.”

If a user finds a bug in the system, their names will be entered into a bi-weekly draw for one of two $10 Tim Hortons gift cards.

“We’ve really tried to make this a fun process!” says Kelly Jay, senior information systems analyst with EASI. “We have a piñata, beach balls and snacks at our testing location in 215 Huron St. This is an opportunity for users to see how the system is performing and to also build community.”

Next steps for testing include registration preparation, student enrolment, marks, awards and convocation.

EASI has created a roadmap to measure progress through the six phases.

The roadmap shows User Acceptance Testing progress – credit Alex Dault

“Testing today went really smoothly,” says Chow. “Everyone could familiarize themselves with the new tools, and we expect all users to adapt to the new system quickly.”

NGSIS Platform Modernization Project kicks off User Acceptance Testing

Having converted 2 million lines of code and executed over 1,300 test cases, U of T’s Information Technology Services is excited to announce that User Acceptance Testing for the NGSIS Platform Modernization Project will begin in late June.

During this phase, over 100 ROSI users from across all three campuses will put the new platform to the test using their business process expertise.

“EASI and Information Technology Services have done a great job at setting up the new infrastructure, security and code,” says Sinisa Markovic, assistant university registrar and director of operations at Enrolment Services. “Now, as users of the system, it’s our turn to test it and ensure a smooth transition to the new system.”

Donald Boere, registrar of Innis College, agrees.

“This is the exciting part for end users of ROSI. EASI has assembled a team of functional users who will work together to run those complex ROSI transactions they know so well through the new platform.”

The Platform Modernization Project involves structural changes to ROSI to improve system performance and capacity, and real-time integration with enterprise systems.

So far, the project has involved over 30 staff members from EASI, Information Security and Enterprise Architecture and Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions. They’ve built the new system and are now testing its integration with other systems, including ACORN, ROSI Alumni Transcripts and ROSI Express.

“This project is the culmination of lots of planning – it’s one of the largest University-wide initiatives undertaken since the original implementation of ROSI,” says Cathy Eberts, executive director of EASI. “It requires a lot of user feedback and it’s truly a partnership between information technology and our divisional end-users.”

User acceptance testing will run from June to September, and will follow the basic flow of U of T’s academic cycle. Users will attend workshops related to their business areas and will work with specific checklists for each ROSI module.

The goals are to review a wide breadth of execution paths, uncover specialized business processes that may not have been tested, and confirm the usability of the web-based application.

“We’ve combined our strategy, based on best practices, with a solid test plan,” says Mike Wyers, quality assurance lead at EASI. “Richard Chow, an information technology analyst at EASI, created the test plan and is a true subject matter expert – he understands the big picture and details of ROSI – so the test plan will help us collect feedback at every step of the process.”

Benefits of the NGSIS Platform Modernization Project:Permits 15,000 students to access the system via ACORN simultaneously versus the current 700.

    • Provides new option for PDF output
    • Allows for a modern file management interface
    • Opens up the potential for live integration between divisional systems and ROSI
    • Helps U of T stay at the forefront of technological innovation

Next steps for the project include performance testing and go-live planning.

“As part of the performance testing, we’ll simulate 15,000 concurrent registrations. The current system can only handle 700,” says Philip Millenaar, project manager with EASI. “We’re also planning several dry runs to test out cutting over to the new environment – we want to make sure that we’re a well-oiled machine before the go-live date.”

What can testers expect as part of the process?

“Beyond testing the system for specific business processes, we want to ensure the testing is fun,” says Eberts. “We’re offering rewards, and it’s a great way to bring the ROSI community together.”

Learn more about the project.

New U of T exams app saves time and trees

It’s the most stressful time of the year – final exams. Now, a new U of T application will help to ease anxiety by speeding up exam attendance, improving student tracking, and enhancing the overall staff and student experience.

The application, called Exam Invigilation, was recently piloted with over 500 students at the Faculty of Arts & Science (A&S). It was developed by U of T’s Enterprise Applications and Solutions Integration (EASI).

“In the past, staff used the small photo on the TCard to confirm a student’s identity, and they relied on a paper-based registration process,” says Vik Chadalawada, Senior Manager of Student Information Systems with EASI. “Now, they can quickly scan the student’s TCard, confirm their identity on a tablet that displays large photos, and accurately track student information.”

The technology relies on a Bluetooth scanner that links to the tablets and connects to Student Life’s TCard photo database. During its recent pilot with A&S, the application saved staff over half the registration time, compared to the previous process.

“Our goal is to let students focus on writing their exams, which is the culmination of a lot of hard work,” says Christine Babikian, Associate Director, Scheduling & Examinations at A&S. “In the past, staff would walk around the examination room and ask students to sign a registration sheet. Now, they can avoid interrupting students by silently scanning their TCards.”

As a backup, if students forget their TCard for their exam, staff can manually register them by checking a piece of official identification against the TCard photo database.

The application also allows staff to track student information in real time. It shows how many students have checked in for the exam and which ones are late or absent. Staff can view a student’s entire exam history to see patterns of absences or lateness, and it can track seat numbers, helping staff to investigate possible academic offences.

“Any approved staff can easily log in to the student information system and follow up with students who didn’t write the exam,” says Paul Day, an Information Systems Analyst & Client Services Representative with EASI. “There’s no longer any paper-based back and forth between the exams, registrars and academic integrity offices.”

The application is based on a model originally developed by the University of Toronto Mississauga with Cesar Mejia, Associate Registrar of Scheduling and Systems Management. This version was instrumental in helping EASI to develop an enterprise-wide level solution for U of T.

And the University of Toronto Scarborough was the first to pilot it in 2016 and 2017. The EASI team initially worked with Naureen Nizam, UTSC Associate Registrar and Director of Systems and Operations, to use it with 1,106 students in courses ranging from chemistry and biology to psychology and sociology.

What’s next for Exam Invigilation?

A&S plans to use it in large examination locations in December 2018. The team at EASI also plans to incorporate information from Accessibility Services so staff know which students are writing exams at different locations.

“We’re excited about how this application could be implemented for all other divisions having similar challenges within U of T,” says Chadalawada. “It is yet another area of systems innovation that we are proud to have within our solutions portfolio at EASI.”

ROSI CAB: Why collaborative change works at U of T

It has helped to manage students’ course loads better and ensure they receive their OSAP funding sooner. And those are just two of the 30 changes that the ROSI Change Advisory Board (CAB) has implemented over the past two years – enhancing ROSI functionality and improving the overall student experience.

In May 2016, Enterprise Applications and Solutions Integration (EASI) created the CAB to evaluate and prioritize faculty and division requests to change ROSI, the student information system.

The board was originally formed to manage ROSI change and enhancement requests that were backlogged due to the resource-heavy implementation of updates instituted by the Ontario Universities’ Application Centre (OUAC) – the centralized admissions process for all provincial universities.

“While keeping our focus on the OUAC project, we also wanted to solicit advice from a collaborative team of technical staff at EASI and functional users from registrars’ offices around the University,” says Vik Chadalawada, Senior Manager of Student Information Systems with EASI and founder of the board. “It was important to examine common requests for ROSI enhancements across various divisions and decide which solutions would provide the most benefit to the University.”

To realize the goals of this cross-functional group, Chadalawada worked with Sinisa Markovic, Assistant University Registrar and Director of Operations at Enrolment Services, and Donald Boere, Assistant Principal and Registrar of Innis College.

“This board really bridges the gap between the technical and functional staff,” says Markovic. “It engages the people who understand the work and its impact, and it promotes communication and collaboration.”

Out of a large number of requests from University staff, how does the board select the most important ones?

“Each year we take all of the requests and create a roadmap, which is a living, breathing document,” says Chadalawada. “The CAB reviews a requirements prioritization matrix, and the EASI team then decides what’s possible, what are small wins and what are related items – by doing A you can solve B, C and D.”

Each ROSI change goes through a careful review and approval process


Some of the implemented changes include placing a cap on the maximum number of courses students can sign up for in a four-month term instead of an academic session, helping students select lecture-specific tutorials and labs, and improving how the University confirms enrolment for OSAP recipients.

“For the OSAP Confirmation of Enrolment change, we enhanced the matching process and reduced the number of manually confirmed students from 2,000 to 500. This has resulted in 1,500 students receiving financial aid weeks sooner and the administrative processing time decreasing significantly,” says Markovic.

While the board was initially formed to provide insights into priorities, everyone involved soon discovered it was much more.

“As a byproduct of reviewing enhancement requests, members are helping to chart a course for proposing larger information service solutions that can positively impact the experiences of U of T students, faculty and staff” says Donald Boere, Assistant Principal and Registrar of Innis College and chair of the CAB.

Along with Boere, Rodney Branch, Manager of Client Services and Process Integration with EASI, helps to facilitate the board. He works with Miki Harmath, Manager of Application Development and Matt Hendrickson, Technical Lead with EASI to provide expertise with planning and implementation.

The team continues to host monthly meetings, providing insight into enrolment and directions that the student information systems need to take.

“It’s important to tap into these communities. They’re not just here to tell us to change a specific function or create a new feature within an application,” says Chadalawada “The broader purpose of this group is to educate us on where IT development needs to focus its time, energy and money to improve the overall student experience and that contribution is absolutely invaluable.”


EASI would like to thank the ROSI Change Advisory Board:

  • Donald Boere – CAB Chair and Assistant Principal and Registrar, Innis College
  • Rodney Branch – Manager of Client Services & Process Integration, Enterprise Applications and Solutions Integration
  • Vikram Chadawalada – Senior Manager of Student Information Systems, Enterprise Applications and Solutions Integration
  • Miki Harmath – Manager, Application Development, Enterprise Applications and Solutions Integration
  • Matt Hendrickson – Technical Lead, Enterprise Applications and Solutions Integration
  • Kelly Jay – Senior Information Systems Analyst, Enterprise Applications and Solutions Integration
  • Tamara Jones – Associate Director, Enrolment Services & Records, Faculty of Arts & Science
  • Sofia Joot – Assistant Registrar, Records & Enrolment Services, John H. Daniels Faulty of Architecture, Landscape and Design
  • Josie Lalonde – Associate Director, Student Services & Senior Manager, School of Graduate Studies
  • Tim Linden – Registrarial Administrator, Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education
  • Gerry Lindo – Project Manager, Enterprise Applications and Solutions Integration
  • Sinisa Markovic – Assistant University Registrar and Director of Operations, Enrolment Services
  • Andrea McGee – Registrar & Assistant Dean, Students, John H. Daniels Faulty of Architecture, Landscape and Design
  • Mari Motrich – Application Developer & Data Analyst, University of Toronto Scarborough
  • Neil Neebar – Registrar & Director of Enrolment Management, University of Toronto Mississauga
  • Naureen Nizam – Associate Registrar & Director of Systems & Operation, University of Toronto Scarborough
  • Dan Pettigrew – Director of Administrative Systems & Associate Registrar, Information Systems, Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering
  • Joanne Sukhai – Information Systems Analyst, Enterprise Applications and Solutions Integration
  • Ryan Woolfrey – Associate Faculty Registrar & Director, Registration, Enrolment, Scheduling & Systems Management, Faculty of Arts & Science


Streamlining OSAP, simplifying the student experience

From tuition and financial aid to fees and incidental costs, many students struggle to figure out the actual cost of university. But U of T is implementing an online statement to make this process easier, helping students plan their finances and academic future.

In July 2018, students will have access to a simple snapshot of their net cost of tuition and fees in ACORN. The summary view will also show an estimate of the amount students will owe once they receive aid from the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP).

“This statement gives students easy access to their OSAP aid amounts,” says Farah Ally, Project Manager with Enterprise Applications and Solutions Integration (EASI). “It helps them know how much government financial aid they are eligible for before they register, and it gives them a comprehensive picture of the actual cost of their education before the start of the school year.”

The changes were mandated by Ontario’s Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development, and EASI is partnering with Enrolment Services and others across the University to bring them into reality.

“Making these changes has truly taken a team effort. They don’t just affect OSAP administration, they  affect business processes within Enrolment Services, Student Accounts, EASI, and the academic divisions,” says Donna Wall, Director, Financial Aid & Awards at Enrolment Services. “It was important to have expertise at the table from all of these areas.”

Wall also participates in a Council of Universities working group, which advises on this and other sector-wide issues.

As part of the Ministry changes, U of T and all other Ontario postsecondary institutions will directly receive students’ OSAP funds to apply against student tuition and other fees. This streamlined process will save students the extra step of paying their U of T fees after receiving their OSAP funding.

To make sure the changes will be effective, EASI’s User Experience and Process Design Team interviewed and conducted usability tests with students.

“We went through several rounds of testing with students to design something that works well,” says Laura Klamot, a User Experience Designer with EASI. “It’s an iterative process – we keep simplifying and refining the design to make sure we communicate the clearest possible information to students.”

In ACORN, students will be able to see their outstanding balance and net cost of attending university

And in July 2018, students will benefit from that design.

“When I receive OSAP it can be difficult to get a realistic estimate about the cost of attending university,” says Ibraheem Aziz, a third-year Rotman Commerce student. “It will save so much time to see all information in one location at the same time.”

Ally agrees.

“We want students to be focused on their academic studies, and anything we can do to make financial planning easier for them is a priority for us. This is an exciting initiative that will help to provide clarity and transparency about the out-of-pocket cost of tuition.”

Top five FAQs: NGSIS Platform Modernization project

Enterprise Applications and Solutions Integration (EASI) and Next Generation Student Information Services (NGSIS) have been working to modernize U of T’s student information system, ROSI. This project involves converting over 2 million lines of code and replacing the mainframe server to improve system performance and capacity and real-time integration with other applications.

Throughout October and November 2017, the EASI team met and consulted with 21 academic divisions and 6 administrative units. Here are the top five FAQs – visit www.sis.utoronto.ca/ngsis for the full list.

  1. When is the NGSIS Platform Modernization being implemented?
    The change from the mainframe server to the more efficient and robust server infrastructure, as well as the updated code, is  scheduled from end of day November 16 to the morning of November 19, 2018.
  2. Which systems will be affected from end of day November 16 to the morning of November 19?
    ROSI and ROSI Express (admin facing)
    • ACORN, associated applications and SWS (student-facing)
    • Other systems dependent on the mainframe and connecting to ROSI and ROSI data:
    • Degree Explorer
    • MyRes
    • eMarks
    • Varsity Blues Registration System
    Note: The Learning Portal will not be affected.
  3. After the cutover, will other student- and staff-facing systems be different? ACORN, Degree Explorer, and Course Finder will operate in exactly the same way, as will ROSI Express, eMarks, StarRes, and MyRes.
  4. Will I be able to use the function (PF) keys?
    Most of the function key actions will require the use of mouse clicks. You can still use the “enter” key for most enter functions, but many keyboard functions (like paging up and down with PF7 and PF8) will require a mouse click.
  5. Can users still type direct commands to get from menu to menu?
    Direct commands will still be the main way of navigating around ROSI. You will type menu selections, then use mouse clicks for paging, returning to a previous screen, etc.