File photo: Sidney Smith Hall. Mallika Makkar/THE VARSITY

Following developments discussed in January 2015, details of the new Course Information System (CIS) have emerged. 

According to Susan McCahan, vice-provost of innovations in undergraduate education and vice-dean, undergraduate, in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Toronto, the goal is for the new system to be integrated with the Accessible Campus Online Resource Network (ACORN) and to house course information, such as past syllabi and information about the types of assignments students can expect to be assigned in class. 

“Our initial sense was that it would be seamless with ACORN, it would appear to the student to be the same system, or very closely related or integrated in some ways.” 

McCahan also said that the primary beneficiaries would be students who are still browsing different courses and contemplating which ones to take. “I think the real advantage is not for the student who is in the course… but for the student who is thinking about what course to take,” she said, adding that course information would be available starting from the moment a student obtains a spot in the course. 

The CIS is different from course evaluations that are conducted online when courses finish. McCahan explained that course evaluations only reflect the response from students to the questions that are on the evaluations systems and that the CIS would reflect grading schemes, due dates, assignments, and weighting of grades, all of which is required by the faculty from instructors. “We would be looking to collect this information in a way that allows us to have it go straight into a database and therefore make it more readily accessible back to students… It’s about collecting the same information we currently collect but putting it into a system that allows it to be organized and fed back or accessed by students more effectively. ”

Among the challenges of building the database is finding the most efficient way to present data that the faculty already collects. “This information is part of what is collected by faculties to make sure that courses are meeting basic requirements within a faculty,” said McCahan. 

Abdullah Shihipar, president of the Arts & Science Students’ Union (ASSU), said that the more streamlined approval of syllabi would help alleviate issues outlined in the ASSU’s Syllabus Report. “The fact that approval of syllabi will also be streamlined is good news, as our Syllabus Report showed last year, there were issues with compliance of faculty rules in some syllabi. We hope that this will help to reduce these issues,” he said. “This is a step in the right direction: as it gives students a better idea of what the course will be about and allow them to make decisions about whether or not they want to stay enrolled in it, thus hopefully making the course selection process a little bit smoother.” Shihipar also confirmed that the ASSU has been involved in the discussions and consultations with the faculty about the CIS over the past year. 

McCahan said that the faculty was still exploring its options. “[The faculty] has not yet come up with a feasible pathway, or a pathway that they were committing to follow when I came into my position just a few months ago.”

Although McCahan was reluctant to give an anticipated launch date, Shihipar said that he expected the system to be rolled out in the next couple of years. “We know that the Course Information System will be implemented within the next year or two,” he said.

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