pennintouch
Photo: Joy Lee

Penn is in the process of replacing Penn InTouch, but many current students will not get to benefit from the new and improved system.

The "Next Generation Student Systems" project is currently developing a new online registration and information system called Pennant to replace Penn InTouch. However, the final version of the system will not be available until the end of 2020

The first Penn InTouch system was first launched in 1993. Students had to visit Houston Hall to use touch-screen kiosks to change addresses, print bills and add or drop courses. At the time, students could also use the Penn Automated Phone Registration System to register for courses. 

The online version of Penn InTouch was first launched in 1995. Since then, the system has been updated various times, but hasn't undergone a major update since 2008, when the underlying technology for the site was redesigned. 

Director of Student Systems and NGSS Project Manager Rob Tisot was one of the principal architects of the original Penn InTouch. He said the current system has some flaws, such as the fact that students can’t use the back button or have more than one window of Penn InTouch open at a time.  

Penn InTouch is currently supported by a single mainframe service, Tisot said, which means that the system can only handle so many users at once. He added that administrators began limiting the number of users after they realized that the site would crash each time an inordinate amount of students would log on at once, such as on the first day of classes.

Tisot added that the registrar’s office upgraded the number of concurrent users that the mainframe can support by 50 percent last week. Now, up to 1,200 users, including both students and faculty, can use the site at once. 

That is 5 percent of Penn's overall student population, which is 21,358, and 11 percent of the undergraduate student population, which is 10, 468.

Camille Rapay

Tisot added that administrators created a time limit for the site, meaning that users who have been inactive for as little as five minutes can be automatically signed out, so that more people can gain access to the site on busier days. 

Tisot also added that as a web based server, Pennant should be able to handle more concurrent users. 

University Registrar Adam Sherr, said the new system will include a revamped user interface and some new features to better suit student needs. 

Pennant will replace the aging mainframe used by Penn InTouch with Banner, an educational software system used by Yale University, Texas Tech University and the University of Georgia, among others. 

Sherr said that the University is also working to make Pennant more mobile friendly, revamp the user interface and potentially incorporate new features, including personalized course recommendations and a section that shows the possible academic repercussions of dropping a course. 

The University also hopes to design a system which will not only benefit current users, but be flexible enough for any changes in the future, Sherr said. 

College sophomore Philippe Atallah said he sometimes finds Penn InTouch hard to navigate and is glad that the University is replacing it.

“When I was trying to register for classes, [Penn InTouch] would not save my progress and made me start over multiple times,” Atallah said.

College sophomore Aleksei Queirolo agreed, adding that he finds the site to be inconvenient, "ugly" and slow. He also noted  that Penn InTouch could be slow to update when it came to scanning various forms such as required medical documents. 

Tisot said the University will continue to listen to student feedback regarding Pennant.

“Pennant will be the student experience of the future,” Sherr said.

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