October 25, 2001

Course Exchange Process to Move Online by Next Fall

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The two hour-long waits and sleepover parties that accompany course exchange at Barton Hall each semester will soon be banished forever if all goes according to schedule.

Administrators have targeted the fall 2002 semester to be the prospective start date for online add/drop procedures, according to David S. Yeh, assistant vice president of student and academic services and University registrar. After testing a working version of the add/drop software last February in an online simulation, the University Registrar’s Office, in conjunction with Cornell Information Technologies (CIT), is currently designing software for widespread use.

“This is a significant change in the way we do things and we need to make sure it is thoroughly tested before it is applied,” said Yeh. “There is a strong desire to make things work properly before they are in place.”

The new software is intended to make the entire add/drop process accessible through the CoursEnroll program, according to Yeh. Currently, participating in course exchange requires that students meet with individual department representatives at Barton Hall early in the semester. The online procedure would replace the traditional method by making it possible to add and drop courses online, as well as view the number of remaining seats available in specific courses.

“They really want to do it right and there are people working on it full time,” said Abeezer Tapia ’02, chair of the Student Assembly committee on information and technologies.

The ability to add and drop courses from personal computers will save students the inconvenience of the long lines usually associated with course exchange, according to Tapia.

The push to make online add/drop procedures operative comes after CIT programmers spent much of the past year perfecting the online enrollment software.

When a new version of the University’s CoursEnroll debuted in fall 2000, a combination of outdated software and low capacity servers resulted in frustrating three hour waiting periods for students trying to register. For the spring 2001 semester, the system was revamped and problems of long waiting periods and system failures were alleviated, according to Mark Mara ’69, CIT director of integration and delivery.

“Our statistics show that the performance of the software was dramatically improved,” said Mara. “Wait times went from over an hour to sub-one minute. Even in the worst cases, wait was just over a minute.”

The challenge for programmers was designing software to handle the peak load of approximately 3,000 students faster and more effectively without breaking down, said Mara. By “queuing” students as they signed on, the program was able to handle the heavy traffic while avoiding server overload. Due to its initial success last semester, no changes were made to CoursEnroll for the current registration period, barring several minor upgrades.

Preliminary feedback from Monday’s senior registration shows that the process once again went smoothly, according to Rick MacDonald, director of CIT information technologies.

“There was a flurry of activity Monday morning, but then it died down without any problems,” said MacDonald. “We expect it to be the same way next Monday morning and the Monday after that as well.”

In addition to the major software upgrade, students also responded favorably to the increased interactivity of the CoursEnroll process, according to Mara. Now students can watch the queuing process in real time with statistics detailing the number of users accessing the system and estimated wait times.

“One student wrote us an email telling us the new software took all of the fun out of registration because everything actually worked!” said Mara.

Archived article by Jason Leff