Sunday, August 20

Mariah Furtek: Implementing MyUCLA notifications would alleviate enrollment stress


(Harishwer Balasubramani/Daily Bruin)

(Harishwer Balasubramani/Daily Bruin)


A group of students sit huddled around laptops, faces lit by the harsh, sickly glow of the screens. Their fingers move feverishly to refresh the page.

No, they aren’t scanning Craigslist in a desperate effort to dump their Coachella tickets after learning Beyoncé won’t be performing. They’re frantically refreshing MyUCLA to see if any spots have opened up in their spring quarter classes.

Unfortunately, this is a regular sight. While the rest of Los Angeles may be experiencing blooming flowers and seasonal cleaning, springtime at UCLA brings the crushing realization that the hastily assembled class plans born of inopportune enrollment times are this coming quarter’s new reality.

This spring sadness doesn’t have to be the case. If UCLA were to integrate a simple notifications feature into the enrollment section of its MyUCLA website, students could assemble their class plans and receive automated updates about the status of the classes they were watching. These updates would tell students when spots become available in a class, or when a class is near capacity.

These notifications may sound trivial, but they would fundamentally improve the enrollment process for students. As of now, students lie in wait for hours like predators, biding their time until enrollment opens up, and then they pounce, frantically smashing the refresh button until they have reserved themselves a seat in one of the sought-after prerequisite courses. This primitive method of attack puts students who do not have countless free hours to spend waiting and refreshing at a significant disadvantage.

“During enrollment season, refreshing the page takes priority,” said first-year psychobiology student Maya Kandah. There was a two-week period after winter enrollment when she would refresh the MyUCLA site at least three times a day to see if her classes had become available.

[Selby Kia: UCLA should alleviate late enrollment time with surveys, petitions]

“Constant checking is the culture here. It’s expected that you aren’t going to get your classes,” Kandah added.

Our class sign-up process doesn’t have to involve such ulcer-inducing stress. Building a simple notifications system into MyUCLA would completely eliminate the time-consuming page refreshing. It would also significantly decrease enrollment stress by helping students better understand their class plans. If students were aware of when a class was about to fill up, for example, they would have more time to make alternate plans. Similarly, if students were notified when a spot opened up in a class they were trying to enroll in, they would have a greater chance of getting their ideal schedule.

The information needed for this proposed feature already exists on the website: The same tools MyUCLA utilizes to report class availability numbers can be tweaked to notify students of any changes to the number of open seats.

If this kind of notification system sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Avid online shoppers like myself are accustomed to companies providing updates about items in their carts. Frequent flyers are similarly well-versed in the price and availability tracking services that sites like Google offer. The proposed service is also already offered by ClassScanner.com, but this external source has limited efficacy.

Though this notification system is a standard feature across the board in the commercial sector, UCLA has yet to incorporate it into its own website. Student leaders in the undergraduate technology field here at UCLA believe this feature could easily be integrated into MyUCLA’s code base. Vic Yeh, fourth-year computer science student and president of Association for Computing Machinery, one of the largest student-run tech communities in Los Angeles, said UCLA definitely has the technological capacity to code for this notification system.

 

Ricky Yingjia Lee, fourth-year computer science student and president of Upsilon Pi Epsilon, an international honor society for the computing and information disciplines, agreed that the enrollment website should have this notification function.

Of course, naysayers may argue that incorporating this tool into the MyUCLA site isn’t necessary to even the playing field for enrollment. The reality, however, is just the opposite. In a last-ditch attempt to gain any possible advantage in the enrollment race, students have started developing their own “screen-scraping” programs, which systematically search the MyUCLA page for class availabilities without the hassle of having to manually refresh the page.

“You can finish a scraper within twelve to fifty lines of code. It is quite common for CS students to build their own scrapers their freshman or sophomore year to track their classes,” Lee said.

If the demand for a notification system is so high that students have actually begun building their own, it is past time that UCLA adds this functionality to its website.

Integrating this notification feature into MyUCLA might be a long process. In the interim, UCLA could publish statistics regarding the number of students who have a specific class saved in their planner to give students a more realistic understanding of their enrollment chances, which is crucial at a large school like ours.

These features aren’t just abstract web design concepts. They’re legitimate tools to improve the student experience. UCLA clearly has the technological capacity to improve transparency in the enrollment process, and the administration claims it wants to help students make better-informed decisions, so incorporating a simple notification system seems a no-brainer.

Small changes such as these are not rocket science, but they would represent, in the words of Neil Armstrong, one small step for MyUCLA and one giant leap for Bruins.

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