Information technology tools and resources at the UW
Course Registration via MyUW
Like Getting Concert Tickets
Jill Yetman, Project Team Lead for MyPlan, half-jokingly compares course registration to getting tickets to a concert. Imagine that your favorite, wildly popular band has just announced its concert dates. You go to the online ticket site, choose the seats, enter a credit card number, and wait, fingers poised over the keyboard, for the clock to strike the minute when you can press Buy, and land those seats. Feeling tense? A little nervous?
Now imagine those seats are spots in a course you must have for your major. Imagine how critical the need for a clear, clean user interface that makes it easy for you to register for a course (that many other students also want), and to know whether you’ve succeeded in registering. Imagine the load on the servers when 6am strikes on the first day of registration and all those fingers start clicking.
Since 2013, the MyPlan and MyUW teams have been collaborating to address those needs, to streamline online course registration, and to reduce–maybe just a little–the anxiety that goes along with registering for classes.
The MyPlan and MyUW teams have shared this vision for some time. Jill Yetman, Technology Manager in the Student Program unit; Karin Roberts, Service Manager for MyUW; and William Washington, User Experience Designer for MyUW, began meeting a couple of years ago, combining their shared understanding of the student experience. Wanting to enhance the knowledge each group had accrued about course registration, they started talking about how to provide a smooth, consistent registration experience. The initial work was guided by key questions: When registering for courses, what tasks do students need to complete, and when do they need to complete them?
A quick user study by the MyUW team in December 2014 added incentive for this work. Students reported that they consider MyUW the most important tool they use. Students reported visiting MyUW several times a week to meet information needs, specifically, for starting course- and registration-related workflows.
Exploratory conversations led to design work in February 2015, when Sean McCann, User Experience Designer for MyPlan, met with William to review the research data that ACA’s Assessment and User Experience teams had collected. This data provided many answers to those key questions, and gave the designers a foundation to begin creating workflows and wireframes for processes that might help simplify and streamline course registration.
An early iteration of registration assistance on MyUW mobile showed students their registration holds (students cannot register for courses if they have outstanding financial obligations or have not fulfilled a requirement, such as obtaining a vaccine) and registration data (which courses, of those a student has indicated she wants to enroll in, are actually available to be registered for). But Sean and William felt that MyUW mobile could provide something more useful for students. In conversations and design sessions team members advocated for surfacing the most useful data. “We reviewed use cases and walked through wire frames to understand the business logic and to bring forward the most critical data into MyUW mobile’s interface,” recalls William. The next obvious step was how to help students get to MyPlan directly from MyUW mobile. As MyPlan increasingly becomes the primary destination for student registration (in part because First Year Program orientations teach students how to register using MyPlan) helping students get there via their mobile devices just makes good sense.
The workflow that William and Sean designed is largely based on ACA’s earlier research with students. “We wanted to design something that would allow students to click rather than have to enter text.” That seemingly small visible difference requires significant design and engineering work that lies beneath the interface. As the team planned what the course registration workflow would look like in MyUW mobile, they prioritized actions that would require less user input, for example, entering SLNs (the required numbers that uniquely identify courses and sections).
The feature shows information that indicates whether or not a student is ready to register, and if not, what the student needs to do. If a student has courses in her plan, MyUW mobile will surface those that are ready for registration.
Sharing Data via the API
After ACA and Student Program designers settled on a design, Student Program engineers created the API that integrates with the Student Web Service (the SWS, which provides access to information in the Student Database, such as course, section, registration, person, and term data). It’s this API that allows MyUW to interact and share data with MyPlan, and students to register for courses from a mobile device.
Karin Roberts expressed special appreciation for this aspect of the collaboration. “In order to support the high usage that MyUW will bring, the MyPlan team worked with the SWS team to re-architect the SWS infrastructure.” Jill concurred: “The calls to SWS made by this API go way beyond the usual requirements for SWS, so it has required integration and performance work on SWS.”
Challenge: Performance During Peak Registration Periods
Because there is probably no more critical task for a student than registering for courses, the MyPlan team has done all it can to ensure a reliable, trustworthy experience. Jill acknowledged that, while exciting, the integration of MyPlan and MyUW mobile also came with some unknowns: primarily, the performance when registration begins in earnest. To prepare for the increased demand, Jill and her team planned for the significant spikes in usage that SWS experienced as students register for that must-have course. For example, during Period 1 registration, the system could receive 50-80 requests per second on average. In order to accommodate that load, Jill explained, the system needs to be able to consistently process 200 requests per second. Because reliable, consistent performance is key, the MyPlan team, says Jill, spent at least as much time doing performance testing as they did on designing the original API.
Students can use the new feature now, when registering for Summer Quarter 2016 courses.