Alex Beutel's Blog

Duke’s new ACES

July 21st, 2008 · No Comments

As a rising sophomore at Duke University and a web programmer, I was naturally excited to see the update to our new Automated Computer Enrollment System (ACES). However, upon seeing the update, I was quite disappointed to say the least. Not to add to the moaning and groaning coming from plenty of my classmates, but I’d like to make a few technical points about this supposed upgrade. First, why PeopleSoft 9? It was released two years ago, which in web development is a long time.  Additionally, from what I have read, it was known for its security, which I had believed was the point of Shibboleth in which case there was no need for PeopleSoft. Partially as a result of it being so old, it uses horribly inefficient, old web development styles. There is no AJAX at all anywhere on the site, nor many iframes. Rather, the site is a few large frames and nearly every click requires a full page load – as a matter of fact almost every link is a full form submit. And, simply as a matter of design, it is heavy and ridiculously inefficient to navigate. To get to anything takes numerous unnecessary clicks and page loads; and there is no one definitive place to do any specific action – enrolling can be done in two DIFFERENT locations that look nearly identical, so I ask – why two spots then? And, of course, Duke didn’t set it up quite right yet so as a result most classes are displayed with sections and times from old years. To say the least, it is a mess and essentially unusable.

As I have done before, I would like to ask Duke to push the envelope on this project. The administrators have on their hands literally hundreds of students who clearly care about this system, viewing the site within the first 24 hours of it being released and posting their opinion eagerly on their Facebook status, creating the Facebook group, and e-mailing the registrar. Both I and a rising Junior independently created webpages to build a graphical schedule despite the old system being lost, and another one of my friends told me that he was planning on doing the same thing, and now planning on helping me out to enhance mine.  Without a doubt students and teachers, want things to change and apparently are willing to put at least some thought and time into it. However here is the killer, there are too many hurdles. In the three days that the link to my schedule generator has been posted on Facebook there have been 125 visits and 160 pageviews, but only 56 graphical schedules actually generated. Why? It is a simple flaw of my site, it is pain, god knows how many clicks, to actually download the iCal file and upload it to my site as compared to the simple old system of refreshing a single page. So here is what I would like from Duke – LET us help out, just do the one thing we can’t, take down the barriers. Make a system for us to easily access a logged in user’s data and customize the way its displayed, let us take all of the data for all of the classes and create our own systems of searching and testing out schedules – neither of these tasks seem to be much of a privacy concern.  My friend Nick Bottenus created a system for testing out different schedules, but again it could have been far more effective if it had better site integration.  Hell, even allow students to choose other interfaces for registering for classes; take some of that load off of your servers that manage to nearly be brought down to a halt each semester on those splendid 7 AM morning rushes, always nearly as chaotic and clearly effective as the free Homecoming t-shirt give away this year.   Use the internet to its strengths, and likewise the students, and prove that Duke is a place of innovation, action, and on the forefront even in class registration.  Having a development platform for class registration, now there is something different I didn’t here on a college tour.  Administrators, you have it easy, an open opportunity.  There are willing and able students who want to help, all you have to do is let us.

Update: Nick Bottenus and I have created a new version of the schedulator, enjoy:

Update: New version of the Schedulator and a new address:

Tags: Duke

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