New website has plenty of virtual bells and whistles — but will still have “hours of operation”

The university’s central hub for tuition payments and course registration, ROSI, is expected to be phased out and replaced by the Next Generation Student Information System (NGSIS) in the coming years, according to new information revealed in a presentation to the Governing Council’s
University Affairs Board (UAB).

The purpose of NGSIS is to improve service and enhance the experience of students, staff and faculty through the implementation of a renewed and expanded suite of student information services.

“NGSIS is about creating new ways to improve the access and interface to university services and transactions for students, across an almost unlimited set of domains, that is, it’s not only about course identification, registration, grades, and fees. We want to include as much as possible through a common interface,” said Marden Paul, director of planning, governance, assessment and communications.

He added, “The focus is on services, not systems. This is a very important point to the program.”

Vice-Dean Suzanne Stevenson explained the system and the research that went into creating it at a UAB meeting last week.

“At each kind of functionality, we researched what would best meet the needs of the U of T community, and also what are the resource issues, and what are the timing issues, and then we make a decision about how to deploy these very high-level approaches,” said Stevenson.

“We had to allocate significant attention to things that could have an immediate effect on students, on staff, and really let people know that we are listening to the needs of the organization and responding to those. And that they can see this kind of multi-year process that we would break things into and make positive changes as we could over time.”

Besides the long-term project of a replacement to ROSI, over 20 shorter-term goals have been identified by the administration in areas such as student life, registration, degree planning, curricular activities, student financial services, strategic planning, and divisional partnerships.

In response, plans are underway for a host of new services for students, such as a “one stop” registration page, electronic UHIP cards, a residence choice gateway, an online course-finder and degree explorer, a ROSI bookstore service, and improved Varsity Blues team registration services. Some of these services have already begun implementation. Administrators hope to reduce phone calls to the Student Accounts office and line-ups for UHIP, and enable the creation of a central database that can predict future residence needs.

“One of the things that some students find annoying as they’re burning the midnight oil with ROSI is that it actually doesn’t function for a lot of the night,” said Aidan Fishman, a student governor currently seeking reelection. “Does the new system plan to be 24/7 functional?” asked Fishman during the briefing.

“That is a very difficult question because any system has to have periodic times when it has to have system work of some kind. To not have that is very complex and to make that work right is very expensive,” said Stevenson.

Dr. Gary Mooney, another governor, said that having a system that worked 24/7 is becoming increasingly important.

“In a typical business, the day of the system being down is becoming less and less acceptable,” he said. “What was at one time tolerable — system maintenance and all that stuff ­— in the business world (and we are a large business) that is no longer tolerable and so we should try and work to have a portal that is open on a 24/7 basis.”

Fishman also enquired whether the administration was looking into creating an official timetable generator to help students prepare their course choices prior to registration.

“That was something we wanted to do this past year but the resources did not allow that,” was Stevenson’s response.  She explained that there were off-the-shelf products that provided services like this, but that they did not work well for U of T because of its size and the number of courses offered. “We did some practice runs where it would come back to us with 400 different possible schedules for the courses you had put in.”

Another suggestion brought up at the UAB meeting was a “push to iCal” option for course schedules. Chirag Variawa, a graduate student governor, explained that as a TA he had seen students at the beginning of the term trying to input things from ROSI to iCal on their phones.

Stevenson said that it was a good suggestion and worth looking into, adding that the faculty registrar was investigating ways to push an exam calendar to student phones.

Stevenson said that in addition to the current projects, they “are currently selecting other short-term projects. “We want to continue this kind of ‘what can we look at for the next year’ — things that can have a high impact while we still make a lot of progress on those longer-term planning and implementation-type projects. So we’re in the process of doing that over the next month or so.”

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