Thursday, November 24, 2022

UPLB Student Registration Systems: 1996-2022

(Please note that this post is just based on my recollection of events. Here's my 2012 post about UPLB student registration.)

I have been part of UPLB for more than 20 years already, both as a student and as a faculty member. I have witnessed two main modes of the student enrollment (aka registration), manual and automated. In this post I'll try to discuss the different systems I observed and experienced. I will not be specific about dates since I am not good with it. Let's get started.

Simply put, the registration process enables students to select the subjects they will take for the incoming semester. The official document that contains this is the Form 5. One interesting aspect of the registration process in UPLB is that there is no guarantee that a student will be able to get all the subjects he/she needs for the incoming semester. This is due to a lot of factors, e.g. limited number of slots per section, schedule conflict with other subjects, and seasonal subjects.  

When I was a student in the mid '90s, there was a hybrid enrollment process. Students submit a Write-In paper form that contains the subjects and sections they want to enroll for the upcoming semester. The Write-In form will be encoded to the computer and used as input to a FORTRAN program called REGIST, which was developed by Dr. Ricolindo L. Carino of the Institute of Computer Science (ICS).  To my knowledge, this process was in place until I graduated in 2002.

After graduation, I became an instructor in ICS where my colleague Rodolfo N. Duldulao Jr. (Duldz) started developing an in-house system to track enlistment to Computer Science subjects. The system used the Apache-MySQL-PHP tech stack for web apps. This in-house system became popular and was extended to provide an online mechanism for the Write-In process in the entire UPLB. This online system became SystemOne (S1). More features were eventually added to S1 which was deployed during registration period. Note that the initial course assignments in S1 were still generated by REGIST. 

REGIST attempts to "solve"  course/student assignment (or student sectioning problem as I formulated it in my MS thesis). It became an academic research topic for a few MSCS students. Approaches such as Tabu Search, Ant Colony Optimzation, Simulated Annealing, Genetic Algorithms, and Multiagent Systems (my study) were tried but they never really replaced REGIST.

S1 evolved to become the main system for online Write-In and eventually for enlistment of courses to serve the entire UPLB students. After Duldz left UPLB, another colleague, Rommel V. Bulalacao (Bulacs), took over the development and operations of S1. Bulacs was a volunteer developer of S1 while he was still a student. REGIST however remained to be the main system for automagically assigning students to classes. Several improvements were also made by Bulacs for S1v2. Dr. Carino still provided support, though limited, for REGIST through the Registrar's office. I also coauthored a short paper which identified the performance bottleneck in S1v2 prompting its rewrite to a more modern tech stack, Node.js. This rewritten version (S1v3) however was short-lived. 

When Alfredo E. Pascual became UP president, he initiated the e-UP program. There was a strong push to deploy a unified enterprise system to support all university operations, including registration. This led to the deployment of the Student Academic Information System (SAIS) in UPLB. Key persons in SAIS deployment in UPLB were Dr. Jaime L. Caro(ITDC) and Dr. Myrna Carandang(UPLB Registrar). SAIS is still the current system being managed and operated by ITDC with a local team in UPLB housed in the Registrar's Office. SAIS is more of a "shopping cart" application where students "add to cart" the subjects they want to enlist. There is no global course demand prediction as with the case of REGIST. This resulted to a lot of problems. One of which is that regular students were unable to enlist in subjects because there is no "hard constraint" to prioritize them. Another is that departments were not able to properly predict course demand to adjust their course offerings. 

I also recall a system being deployed in Graduate School by a team led by Mr. Li Bolanos. I don't have the details  about the system though but I think it was written using PHP and MySQL. 

More recently, under UPLB Chancellor Dr. Jose Camacho Jr., an ad hoc committee was formed to oversee the development and implementation of the UPLB DX Academic Management Information System to replace SAIS. The committee is chaired by my colleague who is also the University Registrar, Prof. Margarita Carmen S. Paterno (Marge). Other colleagues involved are Prof. Danilo J. Mercado (ITC Director), Prof. Reginald Neil Recario, and Prof. Monina Carandang. Mr. Li Bolanos is also a part of this team. A version of DX AMIS for Teacher's Prerogative (using PHP-Postgres on VPS) was deployed during the First Semester AY 2022-2023. However, SAIS is still the main app for registration.

All deployed systems, from S1 to DX AMIS, encountered availability problems during peak hours of the registration period due to large amount of network requests.