April 8, 2008

New CoursEnroll Software Causes Distress, Difficulties

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When Jason Cohen ’09 logged into the new PeopleSoft replacement for Just The Facts at 6:30 yesterday morning to sign up for his fall semester classes, he expected CoursEnroll to be a breeze. What he found, however, was a stress-inducing procedure full of bugs and glitches that didn’t allow him to finalize his schedule until 1:30 in the afternoon.
With the University’s newly implemented and more technologically advanced system in place, Cohen, along with most juniors and seniors, had hopes of a quick and easy process. Many students have lauded the replacement of the old Just The Facts, calling it long overdue, but few expected that the newer system would — at least for the moment — be harder to navigate than the old one.
“Likening my CoursEnroll experience to the Holocaust may be excessive, but due to the system’s efforts to impede my signing up for ENGL 4580: Imagining the Holocaust, I may never know for sure,” Cohen lamented, clarifying that he was unable to add his choice senior seminar on the Holocaust.
According to David Yeh, vice president for student and academic services, the system began to slow down at 8:30 a.m. after about 1,100 students had submitted requests. People also received error inputs as they were submitting their course choices.
“It was a particular fault in the program that allowed enrollment to work because of the number of people looking at specific courses. It locked everything up.”
Yeh and his colleagues decided to freeze the system when they realized it was beginning to impact the rest of the Cornell network.
“We were also affecting other areas of campus because PeopleSoft is an integrated system,” Yeh said. “[This included] human resources, payroll, financial aid and other networks. It was a rippling affect.”
Coders for PeopleSoft looked at the problem and created a “patch,” to fix it. It is in the process of implementation, and the system may be back up and running by today.
[img_assist|nid=29634|title=Yesterday’s CoursEnroll|desc=The events of CoursEnroll as it unfolded yesterday.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]“At this moment, we’re satisfied that all the functionalities are working. Tomorrow morning, early, we’ll do some load tests before we decide to put it back up … once we’re confident that it won’t affect people the way it did today.”
Yeh said that although the system was marked by a number of problems, nearly 3,200 students out of the approximately 3,700 who needed to enroll were able to do so successfully. Course requests that were not approved before the system went down were entered into the system automatically.
Meanwhile, the registrar’s office had a busy day answering students concerns.
“I think that everybody’s been affected the same way, since the problems are affecting everybody,” said Sally O’Hanlon, Arts and Science college registrar, adding that she received a lot of calls from frustrated students yesterday.
Cornell announced at the beginning of March that PeopleSoft would replace Just The Facts. The system -— which includes new features like course waiting lists and the ability to directly swap one course for another — was implemented over Spring Break. However, the preparation for the replacement began back in 1995 when Cornell administrators began watching how other schools used PeopleSoft. Cornell and company began to develop the new program together. Yeh did not know how expensive the program was to develop.
PeopleSoft — started by David Duffield ’62 — is one of the largest platform creators for universities in the country.
Though a lot of work has been done to set up PeopleSoft, Yeh told The Sun in March that the system would nonetheless require fine-tuning.
“This is an on-going effort … I guarantee that there will be bugs,” he said in March. “Students will be very critical, and they should be. I would want to hear their feedback,”
With large systems like PeopleSoft, it is nearly impossible to get everything right on the first try, according to Andrew Myers, computer science, who works on building trustworthy software systems.
This kind of project is tricky, he said, “especially with a system like this that’s integrating many different subsystems. It’s also difficult to fully test them ahead of time.”
Myers noted that often the only way to perfect a system is to implement it and then go back and correct the problems.
Some students’ class registrations went smoothly, though. Will Colton ’09, a computer science major, had little difficulty adding his classes.
“I looked at the site the night before to make sure I knew what to do,” he said. “[Yesterday] I followed the directions that they gave to me, and I was able to add everything perfectly fine.”
However, the frustrating CoursEnroll process angered many students.
“They had us get up earlier this time to make sure we log in and everything,” said Dana Lipperman ’09. “I logged in ahead of time, but any time I pressed a button I had to re-login. I kept seeing this error message, so after like 10 times I gave up on it. It usually takes me 15 minutes.”
A Facebook Group was also created yesterday called “Cornell must be held accountable for PeopleSoft issues.” At the time of publication, it had 68 members.