By Mike Foster
What better way to make sure that the new uoCampus student information system is ready and fit-for-purpose than to get long-standing University of Ottawa employees to bombard it with every possible query?
In advance of the uoCampus launch later this fall, a special squad of experienced staff drawn from most faculties and services has been hunkered down in a test facility for more than six months. They have been clicking away at computer screens, making multiple requests ranging from the mundane to the bizarre, to explore and test every nook and cranny of the new system. Although many other staff members have tested the system on top of doing their regular jobs over the past 18 months, this team was dedicated to testing full time, with a view to becoming experts who will now train their colleagues.
The former system, which was created in 1994 to help manage student records, contained information on admissions, registration, transcripts, finances, graduation, timetables and courses. A more powerful and versatile system was needed to improve services to students.
The SIS Replacement Project began in 2012, with development starting in November 2014 and information sessions on how data would be presented to meet University of Ottawa standards beginning in February 2015. In July of that year, data migration testing began to ensure that information from the old system could be properly transferred to the new system.
March 2016 saw the start of functional testing to check that the system operated well as a whole. For example, it should generate a message and registration form when a student accepts their offer of admission, and keep a record of marks for a given course and indicate whether these results will meet program requirements. In June 2016, a phase of integration testing began to ensure that different computer systems exchange data correctly.
On February 29, 2016, this team of experienced employees started working their way through a spreadsheet of hundreds of scenarios – such as registering a fictional student in a course, then dropping it and changing programs – to see how the uoCampus system would respond. Consequently, the team members formed a special bond as they worked together for six months in their test room on the tenth floor, affectionately nicknamed “the attic” or “the bunker”.
Anne Théberge, an academic advisor in the Faculty of Health Sciences and one of the testers, said: “Anyone who has worked with technology still under construction could attest that some bad tests can turn into a bad day and even stretch out into a bad week. During these times, also known as la bibitte noire, words escaped us. We started speaking in sound effects. All of us now know that “mip meuh” means something isn’t working.”
Marc Phillion, normally an academic advisor in the Faculty of Science, added: “I think working in such a tight environment has been an advantage. When one of us reported a problem, somebody else would call out that they had already reported that bug. We learned from each other as we learned.
“And we did have fun to break the tension. Now as I go back to my regular position, I will be an expert in change of programs, training others how to use uoCampus.”
Phillion, Théberge and other testers have been training other staff in how to use the new system since July. The new uoCampus system is scheduled to replace the old SIS on November 7, 2016. Phase 3 courses for staff members on how to perform specific transactions and processes are set to begin on September 26. To see which courses you need to take and to register, log into VirtuO and review your learning roadmap.