Thursday, November 19, 2009

SIS, oh SIS...

No, I am not talking about my female sibling or anything like that but our one and only, terribly user-repellent SIS! For those of you not familiar with this bane in my life, it is the new Student Information System, or the site where students
  • Drop and add classes
  • Find the name of your advisor
  • Determine whether you have holds on your enrollment
  • View financial information
  • View a list of your classes, an unofficial transcript, an Academic Requirements report, and a list of your transfer of credit
  • Browse the Schedule of Classes using the Class Search
Do I know a lot of people whose financial aid has been messed up because of SIS? Yes. Is it user-friendly? No. Does it make your life really hard when trying to drop and add classes? Yes.

Financial aid has been extremely backed up, because of transferring files to SIS and that means a lot of financial packages were given late or mishandled. I experienced this over the summer, and some people still experience it today. While I do appreciate the work that the people at Financial Aid do, I do not appreciate the confusing labels of SIS. In my financial aid package, what does it mean to have charges listed under the title of "item"? Why is the money charged for the 2008 fall term paid by "Summer 09 Financial Aid'? What is a "Do Not Place Financial Hold"?

Perhaps the underlying point is that SIS combines so many features that it is slowed down by them and altogether it is a confusing hodgepodge. Dan Heubert of UVa Today blog lauds the fact that "SIS does offer many of the same features as Collab" and then lists eight features that SIS can do, as if this was some baby contest and SIS was coming in second to some gorgeous half Turkish, half Chinese baby. Does faculty really need to view weekly teaching and exam schedules, build a course waitlist, search the course catalog and schedule of classes, create student e-mail lists, AND release advising holds? From what I hear, professors are so baffled by SIS that they barely use a lot of offered features, and the ones that they need to use are being "difficult." Another example of the pointlessness of so many features is the fact that we need to pick out of the three terms ('09 Fall, J-Term, '10 Spring) each time we want to look or edit classes. Therefore, each time I want to add, swap or drop a class, I must select which term I want to look at. Instead of adding, swapping or dropping classes within a term, I must reselect the term every time I click add, swap, or drop. This gets annoying really quickly.

I think the fact that I am on 8 waitlists attests to SIS's inefficiency. What Dan Heubert of UVa Today blog calls "the star of the March rollout [of SIS]" is the course enrollment feature, but that is exactly what I hear most students complain about. It is a pain to enroll, because SIS is so slow in processing requests. Also, because of the way the system is designed, a lot more students are on waitlists, because we do not have paper course action papers anymore. What students need are flexibility and a quick turnover rate. Instead, with SIS, we are all on as many waitlists as possible to hold onto as many classes, because we are uncertain whether or not we're going to get into a class.

On the right column, why are there links under the title of "U.Va." and what is the difference between those and the links under the title of "Other U.Va."? There's another UVA?

Even a physics professor understood this sad situation and felt enough pity to create his own version of SIS. This professor, Lou Bloomfield, says that "the goal of this website is to help student and faculty realize the best educational experience possible," and ends with "I hope that you will find this website useful." Oh yes, Mr. Bloomfield, sir, I do. Extremely user-friendly, it clearly lists all classes in a easy-to-read format. You can check out his version of SIS here: []. From what I heard, it cost him nothing to make this. Did I mention that we bought SIS for millions of dollars that racked up tuition and we need to shell out a couple hundreds of thousand a year to maintain it? Oh my.