Following the Roadmap Creates Dynamic Student Information Systems at MIT

Published in IS&T News on December 22, 2011

Adapted from a letter to Faculty on December 1, 2011 from Dan Hastings, Dean for Undergraduate Education; Christine Ortiz, Dean for Graduate Education; and Marilyn T. Smith, Head of Information Services and Technology.

A little over a year ago, if you asked faculty, students and staff to describe their experiences with MIT’s Student Information Systems, you would probably hear words like paper-based, outdated, time-consuming, and inflexible. Today, significant progress has been made to modernize these systems and enhance the user experience. If you asked faculty, students, and staff the same question now, you would hear something very different: digitized, online, paperless, robust, efficient, flexible, and streamlined.

Why the difference? The Education Systems Roadmap [PDF], approved by the IT Governance Committee in September 2010, set direction and prioritized nine key areas for improving the user experience and increasing self service.

Online Grading
Each semester, more than 39,000 grades are submitted. Online Grading replaces the paper-based submission process with an efficient and flexible web-based application.

In the new online system, grades can be reported 24/7 and are posted every 15 minutes. Defined roles allow many users to enter grades while ensuring all grades are vetted by approved faculty. The system also enforces the Faculty Rules and Regulations on grading, such as limiting each subject’s grading mode and the student’s grading option (i.e., Junior-Senior P/D/F).

Twenty-four departments are taking part in a pilot this fall, and initial feedback from faculty has been positive. The plan is for all grades to be submitted online by summer 2012.

Online Registration
In September 2011, Online Registration Phase I was piloted with seven departments. Participants were surveyed and 88% found the system easy to use and navigate. Students and advisors make changes to an online registration form populated with pre-registration data, and the advisor formally approves the selections online. Continued face-to-face meetings between students and advisors during the registration window enable informed academic planning.

All departments will be participating in the pilot in spring 2012.

Paperless Undergraduate Admissions
For the class of 2015, Admissions moved to a paperless process. Paper applications were converted to scanned documents and all applications were reviewed online via an eFolder model, which opens an entire application with one click.

The new system significantly reduced paper and processing time in the review process.

All-Electronic Graduate Admissions System
Last year, MIT had 22,220 graduate applications, the largest number in its history! Across more than 40 graduate programs, a variety of electronic, paper-based, and hybrid admissions systems were used. In considering these diverse processes, departments raised many systems-based issues and noted an urgent need for an improved infrastructure.

Adoption of a web-based system – developed in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) – provides a customizable platform that will improve efficiency, reduce processing times and paper use, streamline the review process by faculty, and improve the applicant experience and recruitment competitiveness.

The transition began during summer 2011. In addition to the three graduate programs that already had the EECS system in place, ten graduate programs moved to the EECS system during the fall 2011 admissions intake.

Online Financial Aid Decisions
MIT’s practice has been to notify admitted and current students of financial aid decisions via paper mail. In 2012, a new system will provide access to decisions online, eliminating paper and allowing students to receive their awards sooner. Decision for continuing undergraduates and all graduate students will be online the following year.

Electronic Ordering and Delivery of Transcripts
In the past, students and alumni had to submit paper forms to request paper transcripts and these requests would be processed during business hours. An Online Transcripts system launched in October 2011 allows either paper or electronic transcripts to be ordered 24/7. In many cases, the certified and secure eTranscripts are delivered to the recipient within 30 minutes.

Stellar Next Generation
MIT has been considering options for a more robust Learning Management System (LMS) to replace Stellar. At the direction of the Steering Committee for Learning Management Systems under the MIT Council on Educational Technology, IS&T conducted an evaluation of Blackboard in spring 2011. The evaluation highlighted systemic issues coupled with limitations in core functionality and extensibility.

Based on these findings, a Modular Service Framework is being developed as the foundation for learning management at MIT. The Framework will gradually replace Stellar functionality with a set of discrete, flexible web services.

Details can be found in the Blackboard 9.1 Experiment: Analysis and Recommendation Report [PDF].

Classroom Scheduling
The technology that supports MIT’s classroom scheduling is outdated and needs to be replaced. Staff from the Registrar’s Office and IS&T are nearing the end of the requirements phase for a new system. This will be followed by a plan for design and implementation.

Digital Forms and Petitions
Digitizing forms and petitions is an ongoing effort to reduce paper and streamline processes across the Institute. To date, over 30 academic forms have been identified and during the next year five forms will be digitized.

Moving Forward
Evolving MIT’s student system will help deliver the kind of experiences that keep students engaged and on track for success, as well as support instructors and advisors.

To follow the progress of Education Systems Roadmap projects, visit the IS&T’s News site for updates posted regularly in the Business and Education Systems category.