Code improvements streamline performance, maintenance of required Canvas compliance courses

Recent source code revisions have improved the performance and maintenance of the enrollment process for compliance courses that all incoming degree-seeking undergraduate students at the University of Wisconsin–Madison take when they first arrive on campus.

The changes, which rolled out in February, will allow the developers tasked with supporting enrollment in compliance courses on Canvas like University Health Services’ AlcoholEdu, GetWIse, and U Got This! to more quickly implement necessary enhancements and build similar courses in the future.

The Office of the Registrar supports Canvas by providing enrollment and curricular data for all students and instructors who need to have access to courses in the learning management system (LMS). That support includes enrollment for two types of Canvas courses: those for the University’s catalog of more than 9,000 traditional classes and those for educational programs on Canvas that do not exist in the Student Information System – including the UHS compliance courses. Previously, these extracts came from the same application engine and couldn’t be run independently of one another, which posed a number of challenges.

As they worked on a project to separate the extracts, developers from the Office of the Registrar’s Application Development and Technical Services team recognized other benefits that their work could provide. The team then spent several months rewriting and testing code before implementing the revisions.

“It was obvious looking at the code there were opportunities for improvement,” says Maria Peters, a software engineer/developer who worked on the project. “We identified that separating the processes would reduce confusion, improve usability for whoever runs these processes, improve ease of troubleshooting and maintaining code on the part of developers, and ensure our customer, Canvas, had no further issues receiving the extracts they were expecting.”

Separating these extracts also made it possible to fully automate a part of the process that had been manual, allowing RO staff to redirect their efforts elsewhere.

While students won’t notice any immediate front-end changes, behind the scenes, the simplified code will allow developers to ensure a smoother student experience. If and when other compliance courses – like a proposed module on campus sustainability – are added, a vastly simplified process will allow developers to release a more polished end product to the campus community more quickly.

In its role supporting the University’s teaching and learning mission, the RO supports Canvas in ensuring the right students get access to the right courses on time, so that they can access necessary learning materials and complete required training.