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Farewell to ROSI, U of T's student web service

The ROSI mascot from orientation in 2004 (photo by Katie Babcock)

After 19 years, ROSI Student Web Service will officially be retired on Feb. 15. In its place, ACORN has now become the primary student web service since launching in 2015 – with more than 12 million logins in the past year.

U of T’s Enterprise Applications and Solutions Integration (EASI) kept the two systems running concurrently to help students make the transition. Now, ACORN is ready to take over.

But how did we make the leap from long lineups and paper-based registration to technology that revolutionizes the student experience?

When ROSI was nearing the end of its lifecycle, the project team decided to rewrite the code with contemporary best practices and student expectations in mind. These included using inclusive design principles for accessibility, improving mobile usability, and making the process of planning and enrolling in courses more helpful and personalized to each student.

The team engaged hundreds of students through interviews, usability tests and other research activities.

“Our goal was to improve the student experience using the web service in a number of different ways: planning for and conducting course enrolment, understanding and accessing financial information, as well as increasing the visibility and engagement with student life services,” says Michael Clark, manager of user experience and process design with EASI.

“ACORN provides a cohesive experience that helps students navigate an otherwise complicated network of resources across the university.”

Students register for classes, using paper, at U of T Scarborough in 1969 (photo courtesy of University of Toronto Scarborough Library, UTSC Archives Legacy Collection)

The ACORN project team within EASI partnered with Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions and with Information Security and Enterprise Architecture to launch the service.

“ACORN is a more highly polished and functional website than ROSI could be during its time. Students can see if there’s room in a course and how long a wait list is – there’s much more transparency to the process,” says Karel Swift, who was U of T’s university registrar and led the functional development and implementation of ROSI. “Fees can also be paid in the same place as course and program selection – it truly is a one-stop shop.”

The past

Before 1974, students registered through an entirely paper-based system.

The university moved from this system in 1974 to enter students’ paper-based course selections into computers. In 1978, staff transcribed 31,400 students’ selections.

 Students waiting in line outside of Woodsworth College, formerly the Drill Hall, to register for classes in 1988 (photo courtesy of Richard Chow)

“In the 1980s, students used to wait in long lineups to have their paper course selections processed in the computer system,” says Rodney Branch, who worked in college registrars’ offices at the time and is currently manager of client services and process integration with EASI. “They would then have to line up separately to pay their fees. The lineups would go out the door, down the hall and onto the sidewalk.”

Donald Boere, registrar of Innis College, remembers ACCESS, the Assisted by Computer Course Enrolment and Scheduling System used by the Faculty of Arts & Science starting in the late 1980s.

“In the summer, students wrote their options for timetable scenarios on paper forms, and all these requests would be typed into IBM dedicated terminals (pictured left) by staff, though in later years, students with touch-tone – not rotary – phones could enter their own requests through the Student Telephone Service. Resulting timetables were mailed to every student. For changes, there was a second round, called Mini-ACCESS, and students got new timetables during Registration Week. It was pretty cutting-edge for its time.”

Anil Purandaré was one of those students. “During my first year, I was anxious and pretty naive about the process. New College had a large sign that said, ‘Don’t Worry – We’ll Help You.’ It was lovely to meet people, but increasingly complex registration required a more effective process,” says Purandaré, now a doctoral registration specialist at the Office of the Registrar and Student Services at U of T's Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE).

“ACORN has made the registration process much more student-friendly. When you’re anxious, and perhaps naive about the process, that helps a lot.”

ROSI was introduced in 1999 and was used, along with the ROSI telephone service, to enable 54,132 students to register in real time.

The future

In 2016-17, 88,766 students enrolled at U of T. To accommodate increasing numbers and enrolment complexity in the future, Information Technology Services will implement a new computing platform in 2018. This upgrade will improve system performance and capacity, allowing up to 15,000 students to register simultaneously for classes during peak registration times.

ROSI, now called ROSI Alumni Transcripts, will continue to exist in a simplified form for alumni to view their academic history, request transcripts and reset their PIN. Staff will still use the administrator-facing ROSI to manage and maintain students’ records, and ACORN will evolve to serve students’ needs.

“ACORN will continue to be timely, personalized and helpful – with improved accessibility, mobile optimizations, financial tools and additional complementary tools, including the Grant Application, GPA Calculator and Financial Planning Calculator,” says Clark. “We’re the hub in the wheel of student services and we’ll be strengthening that core to consistently improve the student experience.”