PRESTO proves problematic

by Benjamin Clark

Students and faculty will be forced to deal with the frustrating limitations of the College's Banner and PRESTO systems in the upcoming class registration.

Banner, the College's information sharing software, will not allow professors to reserve portions of classes for designated groups in the PRESTO registration software. As a result, multiple classes will be made consent only.

Aside from the software difficulties, the Center for Information Technology has addressed other problems with its database server, Bravo. CIT has updated the hardware and memory of Bravo, and has been testing the system to work out its bugs. The Registrars' Office has also extended the registration period to limit the number of users logging into PRESTO at any one time.

The main problem with Banner is that it will not allow professors to reserve a certain number of seats for first-years or majors. "The computer didn't know how to count, basically. It kept adding a student beyond that limit. In order to avoid that problem, they had to make the system allow fewer options this time around," said English Professor and Department Chair David Walker.

CIT Project Manager Monica Wachter said, "This has necessitated the use of consent for many courses which would otherwise be controlled by reservation limits."

The English department, for example, made all of its 300-level classes consent only, to insure that seats were reserved for English majors. Majors will now have to solicit Consent Access Labels from their professors prior to registration. Walker said, "This is providing a good deal of extra work for everyone in the department."

This problem is not isolated to the English department. According to Professor of Biology and Department Chair Catherine McCormack, the biology department has made some classes consent only, while others will remain open. "We're finding that the whole consent process is very awkward," said McCormack. "We're hoping this can somehow be fixed."

Wachter said, "It is unfortunate that we have to resort to a workaround but our vendor, SCT, is diligently working on the problem and we expect that the reservation limit feature will be in place for April registration."

Beyond the Banner limitations, CIT made a few adjustments to Bravo database server in order to correct some problems that arose earlier in the semester. Registration sessions were slow, and both faculty and students discovered they often could not even connect to PRESTO. "We also observed some problems with the way the webserver software was connecting to PRESTO; the problems were with processes called 'cartridges.' These cartridge problems explain why some faculty and students received 'unable to connect' error messages," said Wachter.

According to Wachter, CIT replaced Bravo's two CPUs with two new units, which should increase Bravo's processing speed by 40 percent. They also added 1.5 gigabytes of memory to the system.

Wachter said, "In addition we made changes in the webserver software intended to reduce the number of 'unable to connect' errors, performed database tuning and took steps to speed up the course search function."

The Registrars also spread out the registration period. Registration will begin

Monday, and stretch all the way to Nov. 22. "This will limit the number of people attempting to register during each window and will hopefully alleviate some of the heaviest load on the system," said Wachter.

CIT held three information sessions with faculty and departmental staff this week to walk them through the PRESTO consent process. The Registrars office has asked departments to grant consent via PRESTO, rather than handing out CALs to students, which then need to be entered into the PRESTO system by the Registrars office.

CIT has tried to address all of the problems that faced PRESTO users at the beginning of the semester, but it remains to be seen how well the system will handle registration this time around.

Wachter said, "Our feeling is that these changes will improve PRESTO's performance. However, the real proof only comes when hundreds of students access PRESTO simultaneously during the real registration in November."

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Copyright © 1999, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 128, Number 8, November 5, 1999

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