New NGSIS Website and Blog

Following McLuhan’s guidance that the medium is the message we set out to create a web space that has a more modern look and feel, provides useful and engaging content and would allow visitors to dig into the depths and complexity of this program if they desired.

Through this new site and blog, we aim to provide transparency to the what’s, why’s, how’s and when’s of the NGSIS program and its various projects.

The website offers layers of information intended to meet you at your level of interest and time available. At a glance you will find all in-progress projects with their completion percentages on our project list page. Further, you may wish to review a just the facts summary of each project or, for the ambitious, dive deeper into the narrative stories behind each project to learn more about why certain projects were initiated, the problem we were trying to solve and how we came to achieve these results. We have devoted time and energy into these stories because we think it’s important to share some of the lessons we’ve learned along the way and to share context for how certain solutions have come to be.

The blog is an opportunity for us to share aspects of the program in a more conversational manner. We will have regular updates on program activities, a regular series of post contributors and invite guests to provide their take on NGSIS related matters. If you’re interested, subscribe to our blog (below this post) to receive updates when a new post is up.

If you have any comments feel free to leave them or if you have an idea to suggest to NGSIS by all means let us know!

NGSIS at TechKnowFile 2014

TKF

TechKnowFile (TKF) provides a platform for IT Professionals and Administrative staff from Academia to discuss, share and disseminate innovative and pioneering views on recent trends and development in communications, IT, management and leadership.  On May 7th and 8th of this year, Next Generation Student Information Services staff showcased a number of their projects and development methods.  The following are their presentations:

Achieving efficiency through automation

AutomatedBilling

Student residence billing just got a boost

We are pleased to announce yet another enhancement implemented for the University of Toronto residence management software, StarRez.  In collaboration with residences across the three campuses, Student Accounts and Housing Services, has implemented a new automated billing process for student residence financial transactions as part of the Next Generation Student Information Services (NGSIS) program.

The need for a more automated process was identified in a 2012 residence fees process-streamlining report developed by a team including representatives from Student Accounts and residences. Prior to this enhancement, integration with ROSI was a one one-way feed of student data from ROSI to StarRez. With over 10,000 students residing in U of T residences, Student Accounts and residence staff were required to manually enter approx. 50,000 financial transactions into ROSI each year, including residence fees, deposits, meal plans and other miscellaneous charges such as lost keys or damages. A very labour intensive process, it also had significant opportunity for error and delays.

With the majority of residences now using the same management system (StarRez), Housing Services and the NGSIS team saw an opportunity to create an automated connection between StarRez financial transactions and ROSI student accounts.  This project has resulted in tremendous benefits, including improved accuracy and timeliness of posted charges, staff-time savings and an improved student experience.

Where students might have waited two weeks or in some cases significantly longer to see a residence deposit reflected in their ROSI account, they now see it within 24 hours.  And by eliminating manual entry of data, there has been a significant reduction in incorrect charges.  All this alleviates time spent by both students and staff to implement corrections or request adjustments.  This translates into improved student satisfaction — Student Accounts staff report that the number of student inquiries/complaints received regarding residence deposits this year has dropped, from a few hundred to none. And for each residence, the project has resulted in a savings of approximately one week’s worth of work, work that often accumulated during peak times. That equals approximately 400 hours saved annually across the 11 residences, time that can now be dedicate to other activities that ultimately deliver a better experience for the student.

For more information on the Automated Billing project, please contact: 
Arlene Clement
Director, Housing Services

Making the Fee Payment Process Easier

Invoice Improvements

Introducing a New Online Invoice and Improved Fee Payment Process Information

Five Ways We are Making the Fee Payment Process Easier to Understand

The Student Accounts Office in collaboration with the Next Generation Student Information Services (NGSIS) project team have revised your online invoice and other SWS screens.

  1. Online Invoice Improvements to make it easier to understand:
    • Clearer, better organized invoice with additional information
    • Campus Services and Student Society fee details are now displayed
    • Award disbursement method is now displayed e.g. to be refunded or debit/credit account
    • Refund payment disbursement method is now displayed e.g. cheque or direct deposit
    • Deposit payments are labelled as “academic” or “residence”
    • Subtotals and TOTALS are clearly labelled
    • For more information about these improvements, check the New Guide to Reading Your Invoice and Invoice FAQs. Click on the link at the top of the online Invoice screen.
  2. New Guide to Reading Your Payment Report. Click on the link at the top at the top of the online Payment Report screen.
  3. What are your fee payment deadlines for the upcoming Summer session? Click on the Minimum Payment to Register Deadline link on SWS Homepage to view registration and full session fee payment schedule.
  4. What is a debit account balance? Select the Financial Accounts tab to view an explanation of the debit account balance and a link to fee payment instructions.
  5. What is a credit account balance? Select the Financial Accounts tab to review an explanation of the credit account balance and a link to instructions for making a refund payment request.

New tool helps students transfer to UofT

TransferExplorer Screenshot

New “Transfer Explorer” shows whether course credits taken at other institutions are eligible for transfer to U of T.

University of Toronto has released a new tool on its student web service that will allow students (current and prospective) to check the eligibility of courses taken at other Canadian post-secondary institutions for transfer to the university. The functionality of the tool would also include credits for transfer between faculties at any of the University of Mississauga, Downtown or Scarborough campuses.
The tool features an easy-to-use interface that identifies the needs of the student and allows them to match a course code or subject with an institution or faculty. The tool is “public facing”, meaning that no log-in or authentication is required.

The tool was developed by the University’s Next Generation Student Information Services (NGSIS) program as part of an initiative that allows students to find information and to self-manage their experience at the institution.

To learn more about Transfer Explorer or NGSIS, please contact:
Tamara Adizes, NGSIS Communications
416-978-0299

A Vital Process: Process Streamlining Inspires Two New NGSIS Projects

 

Process Streamlining Word CloudIn February, In the Loop featured a story on ‘process streamlining.’ a methodology designed to incrementally improve a process. Goals include providing a better experience for clients of the process; releasing time for those delivering the process by making it more efficient,;and aligning the process with the organization’s vision.

This month, we look at U of T processes that have been streamlined using the process streamline methodology and how the recommendations led to two successful NGSIS projects.. These projects have already had positive impacts on staff and students in residence admissions and University Health Insurance Plan (UHIP).

Building Consensus on Residences

Back in 2010, there was a growing consensus among students and staff that the residence admissions process wasn’t aligned with the university’s goals for recruitment and conversion.

“There was an overall sense that [residence admissions] was not a student-centric process,” observes Arlene Clement, Director of Housing Services at the University.

The decision was made to conduct a process streamlining project to review the steps undertaken by first year students applying for residence on the St. George campus.  Arlene Clement and her team developed a Case for Action, which included staff and student feedback on the current process, outlining the compelling reasons for streamlining the process. The team also mapped out the existing steps a newly accepted student went through to apply for residence.

This work uncovered a brutally drawn out process with as many as thirty steps involved for a student to apply. In addition, a student would have had to complete multiple residence applications on various websites and via paper forms.

With the Case for Action in hand, Arlene and ten other stakeholders involved with the process (Resident Staff, Registrars, IT personnel) worked full-time for one week streamlining the process in sessions facilitated by JM Associates (JMA)

For Arlene, this week around the table was far and away the most vital part of the process:

“Getting everyone in the room for a week [ensured] everyone was on the same page… Process Streamlining built consensus around a working plan.”

That consensus would lead to the development of the new NGSIS tool, “MyRes.”

MyRes is a web application that drastically simplifies the process of residence application by putting all information about which residences a student is eligible for in one place. This means that students only have to fill out one application – on the web. And residences and Student Housing have access to near real time application information for making admissions decisions and long term planning.

UHIP

When students from other countries enroll at the University of Toronto, health insurance is likely the last thing on their mind. From the University’s perspective, however, students are required by law to be covered by some form of health insurance. While the majority of students from Ontario are covered by OHIP – and some from other provinces and countries also have coverage –the University offers UHIP to more than 11,000 students annually who aren’t covered.

UHIP was a great in theory, but when Miranda Cheng, Director at the Centre for International Experience, reviewed the program two years ago, she discovered it had many gaps and was prone to errors.

For one, the UHIP process was disconnected from actual University registration. Sun Life Insurance would be apprised of a student who had been granted admission to the university – whether or not he or she actually registered. Second, insurance (unlike tuition for a course) could not be refunded. Because of a lack of communication among divisions, money already paid a premium to Sun Life was being refunded out of the university’s coffers to students who had financially backed out of registration. Worst of all, some international students slipped through the cracks and and were attending U of T but did not have insurance coverage.

Sensing the need for action, Miranda pushed for a process streamlining project to address these issues. She had participated on a process streamlining team facilitated by Kevin Ciotta (JMA) only a short time earlier and was convinced that the approach was “a very powerful tool” to get stakeholders to agree on an improved process.

In conversations with John Marrazzo (JMA), it became clear that UHIP needed not one process streamlining process, but three. Miranda recalls that, initially, she resisted:

“When you’re buried in a lot of work you do whatever you need to do to keep afloat. So I have to give lots of kudos to John. He really pushed me to do the three projects to ensure that the results would be as helpful as possible.”

One project looked at university health insurance for the dependents of international students. The next was for single students who simply needed 12 month coverage. The final team addressed students with adjustments or who were on approved leave (co-ops, exchanges).

The team’s recommendations resulted in a plethora of improvements for U of T’s UHIP. Several identified the need for better data management.  With these recommendations, the NGSIS Student Accounts team was able to enhance the communication of student admissions data to Sun Life.  It also developed a report for Cheng’s office to identify students on UHIP who had financially cancelled registration. These small improvements have already palpably improved the UHIP process by providing more accuracy in student coverage and improved accounting.

Short Term, Long Term

In both of the above scenarios, an NGSIS technology project was part of the solution – but not the solution. Technology alone cannot patch up a process that isn’t effective and efficient. Changes in timing, training and documentation, where work is performed, and other elements also contribute to improving the processes. In addition, when stakeholders see only the part of the process in which they are involved, it’s difficult for them to understand the end-to-end process (from the student and institutional perspectives) and their role in supporting it. Assembling everyone in a room to look at all the steps in a process may seem tedious at first – yet it seems to be the fastest way to ensure that everyone can see that, for the student, it is one process. It also offers the opportunity for those involved to meet – in person – colleagues they may have only interacted with electronically. They also gain an appreciation for their colleagues’ goals and challenges – and the impact of their work on these.

As Proust once said: “The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”

Ordering a Transcript on ROSI just got easier

New Transcript Screens

The University of Toronto Transcript Centre processes over 71,000 transcripts through ROSI each year.  In order to create a more efficient and streamlined ordering experience for students, UTTC reviewed the current ordering process to identify desired improvements.  After extensive

consultation with stakeholders and users, UTTC partnered with the NGSIS user experience team to deliver a better transcript ordering experience for the community.

We are pleased to announce that as of October 18th, 2013, U of T students and alumni using ROSI to order transcripts will have a new transcript order interface with rich features to help make the ordering process easier and more efficient.

Students & Alumni can take advantage of the following new features:

  • Easier navigation and ordering process for transcript requests
  • – Request multiple transcripts in one order
  • – Ability to directly attach tracking forms to transcript orders (for students applying to graduate schools)
  • – Ability to manage, review and delete transcript orders

In partnership with NGSIS, UTTC is happy to deliver a contemporary transcript ordering process, built with a smart interface that recognizes the user’s essential information.

The University of Toronto Transcript Centre (UTTC) produces transcripts for University of Toronto students and alumni from most Faculties and Divisions.

For more details, go to: http://transcripts.utoronto.ca

Labour of Love

Degree Explorer for Students goes Live on Valentine’s Day

Student Face of Degree Explorer impresses early users and student testers

Last month, we looked at a powerful new web tool called Degree Explorer that had recently been released by NGSIS to administrators at the University of Toronto in the Faculty of Arts and Science and at the University of Toronto Scarborough to manage student graduation eligibility and confirmation process.

At that time, we alluded to another side of the Degree Explorer, one intended for students to use in tracking and planning their degree and programs.  This remarkable tool combines a student’s unique program information (marks, courses taken, transfer credits) with the rules and requirements built into the application’s administrative-end. The exceptions and confirmations logged in the administrative side of Degree Explorer are immediately available and visible to the student when looking at their degree assessment.

This convergence of data streams results in a tool that can tell students what requirements they still need to meet in order to be able to graduate. Furthermore, it allows them to propose hypothetical course of study and chart out their degree. A student considering a switch in their major or minor can add a hypothetical program- and see what additional courses they’d need to pursue it (and whether courses they’d already taken were applicable).

On February 14th, the student face of Degree Explorer went live to fourth year students in the Faculty of Arts and Science, the first stage in a staggered release to all students in the Faculty of Arts and Science and the University of Toronto Scarborough.

The tool has three main features: Current Status, Academic History and a Planner:

Current Status displays the student’s current degree and program as well as their estimated progress towards completion. Students can drill down to see all degree requirements for their program or degree and see which ones they’ve fulfilled.

Academic History allows the student to look at past courses, marks and comments as well as display advanced standing courses and transfer credits (if any).

The Planner enables students to see courses they have taken in the past on a year-by-year calendar and allows them to plan for hypothetical courses to take in the future. The student can use the planner to create up to five hypothetical academic plansas well as see whether  they meet  pre-requisites for courses they are interested in.

Degree Explorer allows students to visualize their academic trajectory in a way that was previously only possible with great amounts of paper and perspiration.

The tool proved immediately popular amongst students, at one point logging fifty unique student users within the first twenty-four hours of being online.

One early Arts and Science student user was enthusiastic enough about the new tool to send in the following feedback:

“This may be one of the most useful things that U of T has introduced to me. As a student who had an error in counting credits and almost not being able to graduate, this tool is super handy.”

Several student testers noted that their favorite aspect of Degree Explorer was that it was “comforting” to be able to see if they were on track to graduate.

Degree Explorer’s lead programmer, Blair Thompson, could not be more proud of what has been achieved:

“I believe that this is the best application I’ve ever worked on. We’ve had really good people working on it, a really good team of users and testers and very supportive management. This is a very advanced application both in terms of usability, look and feel and functionality.”

Small wonder that Degree Explorer is one of the brightest jewels in the suite of NGSIS applications being released this year.

An Introduction to Process Streamlining

As a process owner, it is without a doubt that your ultimate goal is to meet your client’s expectations.  To achieve this, you need to reduce the amount of time required to serve the client.   So, how do you begin to examine the possible ways to remove unnecessary complexities, increase adaptability to future needs of your client and reduce bureaucracy?  The answer is simple: Process Streamlining.

Process streamlining is defined as incrementally improving an overall process by improving or redesigning its individual steps and subprocesses.

If you take a moment and examine one task you do every day, do you feel that it could be done differently?  Is there a hidden path you could take that is more efficient?  Can you optimize the amount of time spent on a task in order to free more time for innovation?  This is the key focus of process streamlining.

Process Streamlining Word CloudTake the first step…

Get in touch with your process by taking some space away from it first.  It may sound like an oxymoron; but consider this.  Since you organization designed the process you use; how much has changed?  Do your clients have different needs and expectations now?  By giving your team an opportunity to step away from being immersed in the process, the opportunity presents itself to examine how efficient and relevant that process is against the new service level expectations.    Taking the time to map out how something works in order to identify gaps and bottlenecks can only have a positive effect.  You either identify what you are doing is correct or you find out how to better meet your client’s expectations.  It’s a win-win scenario.

See the Benefits

The process streamlining methodology provides a structured approach for revisiting, reviewing and improving the internal effectiveness and efficiency of a process for the your team while also evaluating and improving its value for clients.  So, what should you expect to see come out of this exercise?

Your team will be introduced to the concept of change management.   Although this is a familiar concept to many; it is an important aspect, as making changes is difficult.  That is why the process streamlining methodology is designed to give the team involved tools and resources to facilitate the necessary transition to an improved process.

Next, your team will be challenged to take a walk in their client’s shoes.  Doing this gives your them the opportunity to take a different perspective of the process.  Once this takes place, the perspective of completing tasks also changes and allows the team to refocus on the client.

Last, but not least, focus on the process by examining and fixing individual steps.    In many cases it could be that only a few steps deeply embedded in the overall process happen to create a negative experience for the client.  By separating the process with a focus on creating a positive end-result, your team can make significant impact.

In the next issue,  we will discuss how Process Streamlining  is utilized for NGSIS projects and review the typical timeline for this type of exercise.

Content contributed by JM Associates, experts on the process streamlining  methodology. Thank you.   

“Degree Explorer, I Presume”

Powerful new degree planning web application for students and administrators ready to launch.

Screenshot of Degree ExplorerAfter two years of weekly meetings, more than a hundred thousand lines of code and the efforts of a small but dedicated team of registrarial staff and software developers, the Next Generation Student Information System’s degree planning tool Degree Explorer is ready for a wide-release at the University of Toronto.

Degree Explorer, which began as a Degree Navigator replacement, has evolved into something so multi-faceted that it could be referred to as the “Swiss Army Knife” of degree planning.

Degree Explorer has two ‘faces’- a view for students and a view for administrators. The administrative view (now live) allows staff to quickly and easily ensure that a student meets prerequisites in order to take a class, or to confirm whether students have satisfied all requirements for degree and program in order to graduate. It works as a notification system informing students of their confirmation of program completion. It even has the ability to track exceptions made for individual students over the course of their  degree and apply them correctly to requirements.

Sinisa Markovic, Assistant Faculty Registrar with Arts & Science, who helped develop and test the application, has been very impressed with the developments so far:

“Each of our degrees come with a number of requirements that have to be completed in order for a student to graduate. Requirements include number of overall credits, credits by level of study, breadth, successful completion of program like Specialist, Major or Minor etc. It is Degree Explorer’s ability to assess each requirement and account for exceptions that makes it a truly extraordinary tool for administrators. It also serves as a central resource to track students’ academic progression and CRM (student relationship management tool) for advising.”

For example, a student in a history major who receives  special permission to take a second year seminar course as an alternative to a required “20th Century Canadian History” course, would have this exception recorded in Degree Explorer and upon his/her graduation Degree Explorer would automatically know to apply this course toward the appropriate requirement.

With over 400 programs offered through the Faculty of Arts & Science, and more than 40,000 enrolments in programs, Degree Explorer promises to be a welcome help to both staff and students.

Next up: A look at the even more impressive student-facing side of Degree Explorer and a conversation with its main programmer.