New Course Information System to streamline syllabi, exams process

Professor lecturing to class

It will save U of T instructors and administrators hundreds of hours of work, and is projected to save the University over $280, 000 annually. The new Course Information System (CIS), with core functionality set for completion by the end of 2019, will streamline syllabi and exams processes for instructors and administrators, and help students to make better-informed decisions about their education.

The system, created by Enterprise Applications and Solutions Integration (EASI) in partnership with the Office of the Vice-Provost, Innovations in Undergraduate Education, is currently being piloted in three divisions on two campuses.

“In the past, the decentralized process of creating, collecting, reviewing and approving syllabi and exams was paper- and pdf-based,” says Mark Johnston, CIS product manager. “This online system streamlines several disparate processes for instructors and departmental staff, and ensures accuracy and security. Overall, it will free up faculty and staff for more important activities.”

The system is a new product developed by the Next Generation Student Information Services program, which creates technological solutions to provide students, faculty and staff with a supportive educational environment.

It is divided into three modules for instructors to submit syllabi-related materials, pre-exam and final exam details.

When creating syllabi, instructors can immediately see whether they are meeting divisional and University guidelines. They can also select from a list of pre-written, standardized policies and statements, or use them as the basis for personally crafted statements, and the system will help instructors schedule important course milestones around holidays and important University dates.

Instructors can also submit details for their exams, including logistical information, duration and required equipment.

“This system is especially useful for new instructors,” says Johnston. “They might have to submit syllabi and exam details soon after being hired, and just as the term starts, and we’re helping them to quickly navigate the process.”

For final exams, instructors can upload their exam and printing instructions and either submit them for divisional approval or to an approved print location.

The project has been in production for 18 months and has been piloted with the Faculty of Arts & Science, the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering and the University of Toronto Scarborough.

“Our goal is to make the administration of courses easy for instructors,” says Professor Susan McCahan, Vice-Provost, Innovations in Undergraduate Education, and project co-sponsor. “The information needed to set a final exam or create a syllabus will flow through an integrated system. We anticipate that this will allow instructors to spend less time on logistics.”

Beyond streamlining processes, the system will help local academic administrators collect and analyze data to make evidence-based decisions.

“We want to provide divisions and units with a suite of tools that will help align course-related business practices, and help them to better understand the academic activity within their units’ courses and programs,” says Julian Weinrib, Special Projects Officer with the Office of the Vice-Provost. “We believe this will help spur important conversations locally, and ultimately help students to better understand and curate their academic experience.”

Similar to the process of building the student information system, ACORN, the team began the project with extensive interviews across the three campuses.

“We’re basing our development on a user-centred approach,” says Johnston. “It’s important to research, build, test, launch and then start all over again to ensure we’re developing an intuitive and informative system.”

In the future, the team will continue to build out functionality while onboarding new divisions. New functionality will include a detailed class list with students’ names, year, programs of study and photos. It will also include tools for an instructor to create their course syllabi directly on CIS and a syllabus archive and repository. In addition, the system will streamline over 18,000 accommodated tests per year at the St. George campus, and will link to Quercus, eMarks, ACORN and Degree Explorer.

“The promise of CIS is to build out useful, usable tools for instructors, departments and divisions from a centrally supported platform that integrate well across our three campuses and the complimentary systems surrounding CIS.”