U.Va. to Implement New Student Information System

February 17, 2009

February 17, 2009 — Say goodbye to ISIS. Say hello to "the SIS."

The difference is more than just a letter. The new Student Information System, which goes live in March, is how University of Virginia students and faculty will manage students' academic progress, from course advising and registration to financial aid.

"It's powerful," said Carole Horwitz, communications manager for the Student Systems Project.

(The Student Center online demonstration can be found here. The Faculty Center online demonstration can be found here.

Course registration has been done online for many years now, she said, so the changes that the SIS represents are more evolutionary than revolutionary. Students who have tested the new system, she said, are not blown away by the changes.

"We don't want it to be a big deal. It's not going to be a revolution. It's going to be a reliable, effective way to do business," she said.

The rollout of the SIS is the latest phase of the Student System Project, a three-year effort to replace and integrate the administrative information systems that track students at various points in their careers. The first phase rolled out in July, when the new online admission application went live, and subsequent phases track a hypothetical student throughout his career, from applying for financial aid, to course registration, to making tuition payments, billing and cashiering to entering grades.

ISIS, the old course-enrollment system, has been in place for decades, in various forms. "The technology has become outdated and obsolete," Horwitz said.

"I think the new system does a good job of addressing the problems that I've heard some people complain about with ISIS," said Tom Madrecki, a third-year Arts & Sciences student who has seen a demonstration of the SIS.

Madrecki expressed some concern that the faculty might be more reluctant to adapt, having already been asked to shift from the Instructional Toolkit to Collab for course management.
"There are going to be a few growing pains," acknowledged Kathryn Thornton, an associate dean in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, who has advised the Student System Project on the design and implementation. "A year from now, we'll barely remember the green screen of ISIS.

"... We've outgrown it. The world has moved on since then, and we're taking a giant step to catch up."

Under the Student System Project, prospective students who request information about the University create a single electronic record that will follow them through applying for admission and financial aid, enrollment and graduation (essentially, that ominous-sounding "permanent record" that principals supposedly use to scare miscreants straight).

There are three categories of users for the SIS: students, faculty and administrators.

Students and faculty enter through a portal site, first using NetBadge to authenticate their identity, then landing on their own individualized home page.

Students will be able to choose from a menu of fairly self-explanatory functions, including "Manage Course Enrollment," "Monitor Academic Progress," "Manage Student Finances," "Manage Financial Aid Awards" and "Update Personal Information."

Course enrollment is perhaps the star of the March rollout. It required the creation of an online course catalog, drawing from a database of 37,000 courses, and a new four-digit course numbering system, Horwitz said.

One interesting feature: A student can call up a page that tracks her progress toward fulfilling her degree requirements, seeing which ones she has met and which are still unmet. For the ones that are unmet, the system can suggest current classes that will fulfill them and then allow the students to register for them.

Faculty users have a different list of functions: "View Class Lists," "Submit Grades" and "View Your Advisees' and Adviser Details." The last function allows faculty advisers access to their advisees' complete academic record.

The grade-submission function allows professors to enter students' final grades by hand, or to upload them from Collab. Either way, it does away with the need to submit paper degree candidate grade sheets.

For faculty, the SIS does offer many of the same features as Collab, including viewing class lists and creating student e-mail lists. However, the SIS has several unique functions, including the ability to view weekly teaching and exam schedules, grant enrollment permissions, build a course waitlist, approve final grades, search the course catalog and schedule of classes, and release advising holds.

Administrators will have a different set of functions, including adding faculty and courses to the system. There will be separate training for them, Horwitz said.

The March rollout will be accompanied by a massive publicity blitz, including table tents in dining halls, lip balm and thousands of business cards, she said.

The system was purchased from PeopleSoft Campus Solutions. Dozens of University staffers — some on long-term loan from their home departments — have worked on the Student Systems Project, assisted by a consulting firm, CedarCrestOne, which has helped implement similar systems at other colleges and universities throughout the country, Horwitz said.

In addition, the Student Systems Project has sought and received input from hundreds of students, faculty and other stakeholders, Horwitz said.

"The complexity of this – how many populations?" she said. "Just think of students – undergraduate, graduate, professional; then you have international students. All with different situations." Every discrete function had to be built and tested, she said.

"I like it because of how it deals with grad students," said Thornton, the engineering dean. "There's just so much more information in it than ISIS."

— By Dan Heuchert