MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XXVII No. 2
November / December 2014
Issues in Considering the Future
of MIT Education
Four New Members Elected to
FNL Editorial Board
The Future of MIT Education
Preventing and Addressing Sexual Misconduct at MIT: A Faculty Primer
Reflecting on "All Doors Open"
Are We Moving Toward a Two-Class
Research-Education Society at MIT?
8.02 TEAL+x: Students Say "Yes"
to MITx in 8.02 TEAL
Addressing Student Mental Health Issues
at MIT
Advising Undergraduates or Teaching a
CI-H/HW Subject? New Enrollment Tools Can Help
Transforming Student Information Systems
The A2 Problem Set in
Undergraduate Education
Work-Life Center Announces Senior Planning Benefit and Seminar Series
The Alumni Class Funds Seek Proposals for Teaching and Education Enhancement
Being "Nice" at MIT
from the 2014 survey "Community Attitudes on Sexual Assault"
from the 2014 survey "Community Attitudes on Sexual Assault"
Printable Version

Transforming Student Information Systems

Mary Callahan, Eamon Kearns

During the past four years, our community has experienced a transformation of MIT’s Student Information Systems (SIS). Antiquated, paper-based processes have been replaced by streamlined, digitized processes that have improved the user experience for faculty, students, and staff while providing better support for MIT’s educational priorities. This progress has been guided by the 2011-2014 Education Systems Roadmap.
The Roadmap was the outcome of a multi-year, user-focused analysis of MIT’s aging SIS, which identified five strategic priorities for modernizing the systems: digitize paper-based processes; enrich advising support; create a seamless user experience; ensure technical stabilization; and fulfill mandated changes. Projects were identified by aligning student, faculty, and staff needs, expectations, and pain points with these priorities. The resulting portfolio of projects covered a broad spectrum of systems that support the student life cycle.

The Roadmap was approved in September 2010 by the IT Governance Committee and an aggressive timeline has yielded significant benefits across the community of SIS users. Roadmap projects focused on digitization have had the most visible impact. The new systems have eliminated the need to physically manage and track paper.

Registration, subject add/drop, grade submission, and electronic transcript ordering are among the processes that were migrated to an online, self-service model. The new systems focus on facilitating a streamlined process, supporting informed decision-making within a secure environment, and enabling access any time from any type of device.

Faculty have embraced these changes, which were planned, piloted, and launched to minimize disruption and maximize potential benefits. Professor Krishna Rajagopal commented, “When Online Grading, Registration and Add/Drop were launched, in each case the transition from paper to the new online process was completely smooth, impressively so.” In describing her experience with the new Enrollment Tools, which facilitate enrollment in communication-intensive subjects, Professor Emma Teng noted, “The new system has made all the difference. It has eliminated the chaos and stress of trying to sort out student enrollments the first day of class, and streamlined the entire process so that I can focus on what I’m supposed to be doing – teaching.” Professor Alex Slocum added, “MIT’s online resources bring advisor administrative functions into the 21st century so we can act easily, quickly, and remotely on advisor tasks from registration to add/drop to managing our classes.”

Many of the Roadmap digitization projects also prioritized high-impact advising support. Integrated intelligent messaging provides automatic, subject-related and student-specific messages that inform academic planning. An early warning system monitors student performance and sends an alert when a student is struggling academically and may need help. A built-in communication tool enables students and advisors to connect online, a feature that is being used frequently. As an undergraduate advisor, Professor Krishna Rajagopal explained, “I have found that these new systems help me and my advisees to address straightforward questions quickly and efficiently online. This means that in our in-person meetings we have more time for real advising: talking through goals, challenges, and short- and long-term opportunities and options."

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Behind the scenes, Roadmap projects have modernized the technical infrastructure of MIT’s SIS to ensure a seamless user experience and the replacement of obsolete system components. These fundamental and broad-ranging changes have had a profound impact on the user experience and have been vital to the success of both new and existing systems. The evolution of components, such as authentication services, scheduling, and learning management modules, has resulted in a more sustainable environment that is flexible, eliminates redundancy, and provides the foundation for a consistent user experience in current and future systems.

While we celebrate the transformative progress achieved through the 2011-2014 Education System Roadmap, work on the SIS is a continuous process that needs to address evolving educational priorities.

We are developing the next phase of the Roadmap, 2014-2017, with a focus on continued modernization and support for new educational paradigms. Based on feedback from students, faculty, and our SIS partners in the Offices of the Dean for Undergraduate Education, Graduate Education, and Division of Student Life, four strategic priorities have emerged:

Support for Changing Academic Paradigms and Innovations: As MIT experiments with modularity as well as online and blended learning models, key systems need to provide the underpinnings to support these innovations. This could include the learning management system, scheduling system, and student accounts.
Lowering Barriers to Student Success: We should reduce barriers to help students succeed both academically and personally. This includes supporting advising and mentoring, creating a supportive environment, and reducing student stress. An important project in this area is the ongoing digitization of forms and petitions that replace the time-consuming and sometimes difficult process of manually gathering approvals and submitting paper forms.

Refreshing Signature Gateways: We should modernize and enhance the primary gateways used by students, faculty, and staff. Central to this priority is the development of the Student Dashboard, which provides a personalized, transactional hub that enables students to conduct key academic and administrative functions. The goal is to migrate many of the Student WebSIS functions to the Dashboard over time.

Implementing IT@MIT Vision: We will leverage platform technologies to scale capacity for projects and innovation within MIT’s complex ecosystem of IT service providers and IT service consumers. The vision focuses on excellence through modernization and providing innovative IT services that respond to the diverse needs of research, education, student life, and administrative functions. IT services will be packaged for intuitive, mobile, self-service use.

The updated 2014-2017 Roadmap, which will include a detailed timeline of projects, will be shared with the community in early 2015. We look forward to continued faculty involvement in the Roadmap projects and welcome your feedback any time.

In reflecting on the state of MIT’s SIS, Dean Christine Ortiz stated, “Recent enhancements to the Student Information System have enabled students to be increasingly well-informed and engaged in their academic progress and success. With community input, we will continue to evolve systems that help us to support students even better.”

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