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Showing posts from September, 2012

Starting a new academic year

We always plan to have the IT systems run smoothly at the start of the academic year.  This is the time when many new students first come to the university and find their way around, when personal tutors discuss their students' academic plans, and when the new systems we have implemented over the previous year come into full use. 

It is usually this last point that can throw a spanner in the works.  This year, we installed a new learning environment, replacing the aging WebCT with Learn 9; we applied the annual upgrade to the EUCLID student record system (which is needed to cope with changes in government regulations, let alone improvements in functionality); we rolled out the first version of software to support personal tutors; we upgraded several databases from Oracle 9 (which is no longer supported) to Oracle 11, and we continued to upgrade our Cold Fusion servers. Although we test each of these systems, we can be caught out when staff and students start to use the systems in…

Start of semester problems

I was perhaps tempting fate with my previous post on this blog, as we had a crash on our student record system yesterday, in the middle of Freshers' week.  As the staff were mainly using the Personal Tutors system at the time, they saw this new system as the problem, and indeed we were investigating that as a potential cause ourselves.

In fact the new system was not the problem.  The cause of the crash was actually a change we made to the database parameters back in May in order to improve the performance of a search operation on the student hub - the part of the student record system that gives academic staff information about their students.  Although we tested the change at the time, it was not possible to exactly duplicate the usage we see at the start of the new academic year.  It turned out that the high load on the student hub, combined with the high load on other areas of the system, was overloading one area of memory and causing the whole system to back up.

We changed the…

Enhancing Student Support: Personal Tutors

Our new system for Personal Tutors system launched last week, as part of the University's Enhancing Student Support initiative. From now on, each student will have a Personal Tutor who will help them get the best from their courses, become more confident learners and meet the challenges and opportunities of University life.

Applications Division have implemented a simple IT system to support scheduled and ad-hoc meetings between undergraduate Students and their Personal Tutor or Student Support Team.  Both tutors and students can record notes of their meetings, which will then be available to those parties to view.

From our perspective, this project was made challenging by the tight timescales and ongoing discussions about the requirements.  The Personal Tutors system will affect staff and students throughout the university and was initiated late in the academic year, which left us little time to find out how people wanted it to work.  Different people had different ideas about wh…

Load testing and MyEd

One disappointment in the run-up to the new semester was that the upgrade to our university portal failed its load test.  In other words, when we tried running ithe new version with automated tests that simulated the number of staff and students who would be using it in real life, the time it took to display the login screen was too long to be acceptable. Hence we decided to delay the upgrade.

The good news is that we have found the cause of the problem and we have a fix. So we should be able to give staff and students the enhanced version sometime around the middle of the semester. 

An underlying point is that these tests are an important part of our quality assurance process. The portal is used every day by thousands of people and the poor performance we were seeing would have significantly affected their work.  We can take some satisfaction from the fact that we did catch the problem before putting the new system live.

Ideally we would have run the load tests earlier so that we wou…