In December of 2020, Boston College launched EagleApps, a groundbreaking platform to manage academic and enrollment activities for students, faculty, and administrators. Sponsored by the Office of the Provost and Information Technology Services, EagleApps is designed to provide a “one-stop shopping” approach that integrates course and program management, registration, financial aid, advising, payments and billing, academic records management, and other vital functions. Two of the project’s key figures, ITS Director of Project, Planning & Portfolio Governance Denis Walsh and Student Services Information Systems Director Jennifer Mack, recently spoke with Boston College Chronicle editor Sean Smith to give an update on EagleApps’ first year, and what to look for in the months ahead.
Q: Let’s set the context: Why undertake this project? What issues are being addressed through EagleApps?
Mack: This was a strategic decision on the part of the University, made a decade ago, anticipating a number of needs and trends in student services. BC had been working on academic and enrollment management tasks through the University Information System with a mainframe computer that is about 40 years old. There was no way to do advanced course set-up for a more robust registration process, no integration with the vendor products that had emerged in key areas of student services. The mainframe is simply not as popular a technology as it once was in higher education, and it was vital for BC to move on to a new, more efficient means of serving students, faculty, and administrators.
Walsh: The new generation of applications puts greater power and flexibility in the hands of users and how they choose to run their businesses, so it was in BC’s best interests to go in this direction.
Q: What was the plan for introducing EagleApps?
Walsh: This is the most transformative project undertaken in my more than 25 years at BC, one that involves many hands and moving parts. The feeling was that the transition from UIS to EagleApps would be best accomplished gradually, following the academic operational calendar, rather than all at once. So in December of last year, we introduced the module for curriculum management and course offering—providing support for courses, requirements, competencies, and learning outcomes and objectives, among other things. The course information and scheduling and planning and registration modules came in March and April of 2021, academic records and transfer articulation were among the modules that came into use in May.
Integrations of EagleApps with other critical systems and applications such as Slate—BC’s applicant/admissions management software—Financial Aid, and the other EagleApps modules of degree audit, transcript, grading and graduation and student accounts version 2.0 all went live over the summer of 2021.
Mack: Some of the modules were “homegrown,” but others involved integration with vendor products. For example, the degree audit and transfer articulation module: Through a combination of EagleApps with the product uAchieve, users manage students’ progress and ensure their degree or program requirements are on track; also, transfer coursework, transcripts, and exam credits are automatically evaluated to determine equivalent credit and degree applicability.
Q: The roll-out hasn’t been completely smooth, however—correct?
Walsh: Unfortunately, and we fully acknowledge this, there were some serious problems in the launching of the first EagleApps modules last January. We saw some serious performance issues with registration for summer 2021 and had to bring that module off-line. As a result, there were delays in getting some EagleApps features up and running. We know this was a terrible inconvenience for the BC community, and we’ve been working hard to make sure that we minimize any impact to business operations.
The fact is, it’s natural to experience bugs when you’re dealing with a complex system like this, and you’re converting from a 40-year-old mainframe—one that, in its day, also had bugs.
Mack: Since December of last year, when EagleApps first launched, there have been 76 separate releases of code—an average of more than one release a week. During that time, we’ve moved more than 3,000 changes into production.
This is the world of software development, which is different than the world of the mainframe. As anyone who uses a personal computer knows, there will always be releases of new patches and updates to support applications and other products, and that’s part of what we’ve seen with EagleApps. It’s frustrating when things don’t go right, of course, but on our platform, there are many layers that users might not see.
Q: How are things going now?
Mack: We have now finished three registration cycles under EagleApps: Summer 2021 was rough, fall 2021 was better, and spring 2022 has been much smoother. The spring 2022 planning and registration cycle had an increased number of total students registering in the system with a higher volume of course adds and drops. Additionally, during the most recent registration, there were only a third as many work orders related to EagleApps—though not all were necessarily confined to registration modules—submitted to EagleApps Production Support and the Student Service Information Systems team. The ability to identify and resolve issues was much faster, and the coordination and communication was more efficient and effective.
Numbers aside, we’re seeing some of the benefits of a more modern platform. For example, if I’m a student getting ready to register for the next semester, I can create multiple plans for the upcoming term with variations of schedule and courses—do I want Monday-Wednesday-Friday or Tuesday-Thursday? Then, after showing these to my advisor, I choose one and hit “submit.” EagleApps will verify ahead of registration if my plan has any problems, so if necessary I can go with one of my alternatives.
Here’s another example: BC used to have to print out thousands of degree audits, each with its own access code to clear them for registration, and hand the print-out to every student. Now, all degree audits are electronic and saved to student accounts on EagleApps; and starting with summer 2022 registration, clearance will be submitted by advisors electronically as well.
Walsh: There is so much more flexibility all around for students, faculty, and administrators alike, and as refinements to EagleApps continue and people get used to the system, we’re confident that the University community will reap the benefits.
Q: What should we look for as regards EagleApps this coming year?
Mack: In January, we’re going to establish an advisory council of users within the community—students, faculty, staff, administrators. This will provide a valuable conduit for real-time feedback on EagleApps. It’s very important to us that people know we’re listening and we want to get a full picture of how this system is operating. We are also aligned, committed, and focused on stabilizing the product and releasing critical enhancements to support the critical operations of the University.
Walsh: We’ll continue to work closely with our team of 100-plus people, including BC staff and outside vendors, who all deserve credit for their commitment and incredible efforts in undertaking such a massive project. We’re grateful to the University community, which has been very patient in going through this transition with us.