March 5, 2008

University to Replace Bear Access Software

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Bear Access, which has served the University for more than 10 years, will soon become a part of Cornell’s history.
After Spring Break, Bear Access will be completely replaced by PeopleSoft, a web-based administrative system that is used in more than a thousand schools. The current Just the Facts will not be available between March 11 and March 23. Starting March 23, students will access their personal, academic, bursar and financial aid information via PeopleSoft. This new system will also facilitate future pre-enrollment from April onwards.
“[With Bear Access,] the most common complaint is that you can’t use it on a Macintosh,” said Griffin Wilson ’10, who works at the Cornell Information Technologies help desk.
With PeopleSoft, Macintosh users will no longer encounter this problem. As PeopleSoft is accessed via web browsers, it is “platform independent,” according to David Yeh, vice president of Student and Academic Services, who advocated for the systemic change.
This April, students will also have more time to plan their schedules. The pre-enrollment period will be extended from five days to ten. Similar to the past eight years, though, pre-enrollment will begin at 6:30 a.m.
However, Yeh said, “We’re not fixed at 6:30 a.m. I’m very open to the best start time.”
With the new system, the capacity of the new pre-enrollment site is also expected to be much greater.
“We want 3,000 students hitting [the same page] at one time,” said Yeh.
Yeh confirmed that in the upcoming pre-enrollment, students will be able to make use of five new features — a course-specific waitlist, auto mated section enrollment, swap, reserve capacity and dynamic dates.
Instead of boundlessly hitting the “add course” button, students can choose to be placed in a course-specific wait list that will automatically enroll them when room becomes available.
When students choose to enroll in a discussion section, the automated section enrollment feature will simultaneously place the student in the lecture. Similarly, when students drop a section, they will also be dropped from the lecture.
The swap feature will enable students to drop one class from their schedule and add another simultaneously, if room is available in the new class.
The reserve capacity feature will allow colleges and faculty to allocate room to particular types of students in a course. For example, in a class of 20 people, the faculty can specify that 10 students have to be from a particular college. This feature also enables the colleges to learn about the demand of different courses. According to Yeh, the capacities will only be visible to departments and colleges.
The dynamic dates feature will allow the University to make adjustments to special courses’ add/drop dates and grading information.
An extra wish list feature will also be available in the fall for Spring 2009 pre-enrollment. According to Yeh, students will be able to draft their schedules in a wish list before pre-enrollment. Although the wish list does not bind students to any course, they can directly import the wish list to their official schedule once pre-enrollment begins.
The new system has gone through “extensive testing,” but Yeh warned that issues could still occur when it is implemented because the system is “very complicated.”
“This is an on-going effort … I guarantee that there will be bugs. Students will be very critical, and they should be. I would want to hear their feedback,” said Yeh.
Unlike Bear Access, the University did not develop the system. It is purchased from PeopleSoft Inc., a company founded by David Duffield ’62 in 1987. According to Yeh, Cornell had already considered replacing the existing system in the mid ’90s.
“We realized that we have to replace our system … [but there was] no system to support the complexity at Cornell,” said Yeh.
Since 1995, Cornell had been observing how other schools implemented PeopleSoft. At that time PeopleSoft was not a web application but a fat client, so it had to be installed on the computer.
“About three years ago, it became very apparent that we [had] to change … We [also] have the right mix of people and resources and [the software reached] maturity,” said Yeh.
He mentioned that Cornell is also looking into another system. Cornell currently contributes to the development of the Kuali Finance System, which is part of Kuali Foundation. According to its website, Kuali Foundation “is a non-profit organization responsible for sustaining and evolving a comprehensive suite of administrative software.”
But Yeh stressed that it would be “another fifteen or more years” before another possible systemic change.
“Planning and implementing such systems are very time-consuming, costly and can be disruptive across the entire campus,” said Yeh. “It’s very clear that we’re sticking with PeopleSoft for now.”