Graduate Union News

camsis

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CamSIS (Cambridge Student Information System)

Introduction

The CamSIS system has been under development by MISD since 2003, and is to become a unified student records system for the whole university. Various modules have gradually been brought online, including graduate admissions in November 2004, and the current graduate self-service section in October 2005.

Information is stored in a central database, with staff and students accessing it via a web-based interface. Further details of the project can be found on the CamSIS Project website, and the GU also has a page about CamSIS for Current Graduates.

Log in to CamSIS (Raven password required. What is CamSIS?)

Problems with the Web Interface

When the current graduate ‘self-service’ section went live, several people reported that the interface was poorly designed, hard to use, and lacked compliance with web accessibility guidelines. Robert Whittaker (GU IT Team) emailed the CamSIS Helpdesk detailing several concerns on 9th December 2005. A forum thread was started on the issue, and a further email listing specific issues was sent on 19th January.

The initial email prompted a private CamSIS meeting which discussed issues with the interface, but this concentrated on the ‘graduate admissions’ interface, rather than the ‘current graduates’ interface. The specific problems have all be logged in the CamSIS tracking system for prioritisation and (hopefully) action. However, as of the end of February 2006, the Project manager was unable to provide any estimate of the likely time scale for improvements to be made.

GU Council Motion and Response from MISD

On 31st January 2006, the GU Council passed a motion criticising the interface calling for improvements, and requesting graduate representation within the management of the CamSIS Project. The General Secretary wrote the the CamSIS Project Director, and a reply was received on 27th February.

Other Developments

As a result of informal discussions elsewhere during March 2006, we can report the following encouraging developments:

  • The Deputy Director of the Computing Service has confirmed that the University Web Accessibility Policy does indeed apply to the CamSIS web interface, and has ensured that the Deputy Director of MSID is aware of this.
  • The Board of Graduate Studies has agreed to invite the Graduate member of the Board to attend future meetings they may hold at which the graduate interface for CamSIS is to be discussed.
  • The Graduate Union will be involved in testing the upgraded system, probably some time in May.

The GU has also obtained a copy of a report Usability Issues in the CamSIS Implementation written by Dr. Blackwell, a lecturer here in Human-Computer Interaction. The report criticised current the usability of the interface and made a number of recommendations. MISD have so far not responded to a request for details of whether they have followed these recommendations.

Minutes of the Information Strategy Group (ISG) meeting on 16th May reveal that the ISG agreed to add additional members to the CamSIS Project Board:

The Secretary reported that currently there were no regular users of CamSIS on the Project Board. Therefore, noting that the number of daily and regular users of CamSIS was due to increase substantially, he felt that there would value in inviting senior users to the join the Board membership, one from a College and one from a Department (a provision for which was already in the TOR of the Board.) He felt that they would be able to provide guidance to the Board with setting development priorities. […]

The Information Strategy group endorsed the proposal.

Unfortunately, the GU Council’s request for a student representative doesn’t seem to have been considered by the meeting.

The planned upgrade to CamSIS has gone ahead, with the new interface becoming live on 25th July 2006. A first look, shows that the menu system is much improved, though there are still problems with un-natural terminology, reliance on javascript, and a lack of semantic markup. The interface still does not comply with the University’s Web Accessibility Policy.