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iSIS: A Year in Review

Campus | April 28, 2014

To the rest of the world, Isis represents the mythical Egyptian goddess of motherhood and fertility, or the jihadist group that is taking over large swaths of territory in Syria. But to a small and increasingly selective (cue this year’s admission statistics) group of people known collectively as “Jumbos,” the word iSIS represents everything one could most possibly abhor—or love. Some consider iSIS akin to magic, while others are hesitant to even call it functional. If you fill a room of Tufts students to the brim, you’ll hear loud and heated arguments on everything from Israel to divestment; but the one thing that will unite them all (aside from Beyoncé) is the acknowledgement of iSIS’ digital dominance. In a world of oh-so-smooth Apple and Google software that knows what you want before you want it, iSIS is a warm and friendly reminder of the good old days—the days when computers loaded pages at a glacial speed, and when the notion of “user interface,” or “user” for that matter, didn’t exist. But design and speed aside, iSIS does its job.

On the Tufts IT website, there’s a tab titled “Timeline” that leads to a crafty page dedicated to what most iSIS-haters oft overlook. The timeline is dotted with 14 bold check marks, each noting a successful point in iSIS’ infancy. From Financial Aid Student Interfaces to Course Enrollment to Transcripts, the progress made deserves its rightful checkmarks. Like that of Blue Ivy Carter, the short but well-documented career of iSIS is well on its way to academic stardom. But like any digital ride, there have been bumps along the way.

Credit: Eva Strauss

Credit: Eva Strauss

Like Isis, the protective goddess of motherhood, iSIS doesn’t want you making any mistakes. You need to make each selection a hundred times until you’ve ended up with Chinese 1 instead of Comp 11, you’re registered in a class in the Veterinary School, and you have to make it back in time for Econ 5 which begins fifteen minutes later in Cohen. The amount of time spent clicking around on iSIS, from “Enrollment” to “Select Classes” to “Select Subject,” can feel like a small exercise routine. (Click the back button for another round).

The “Shopping Cart” feature is one that is particularly handy because it allows you to put courses into a virtual “Shopping Cart,” and then when you’re ready to “Check-Out,” it’s just a click of a button thereafter. The questions every Tufts student probably asks at some point during his or her registration are why on earth it’s called a “Shopping Cart,” and why does such a redundant step exists between choosing the class and actually enrolling in it. On the iSIS FAQ section, one question reads, “The term “shopping cart” sends the wrong message.  Can we change this to something less commercial?” The automated answer is sympathetic, but unmoving: “Not only would [changing the name] be an expensive change for Tufts both upfront and at each upgrade, but many experienced consultants rightfully point out that the ‘shopping cart’ concept is one very familiar to today’s students as a simple assemblage of items they have chosen and want to save to consider, rather than a commitment to buy.” Controversy aside, the “Shopping Cart” is a somewhat refreshing reminder that someone is trying to keep up with the times.

If you click on “Plan,” you’ll find the option to “Create a What-if Scenario,” an incredibly complicated feature that doesn’t really do anything. In an ideal world, it lets you plan out your schedule over a set of semesters so you know you’re achieving your degree requirements. Sadly, that’s only in an ideal world. What it actually does is have one of those ceaseless loading signs (throwback to the days of Windows 98), and creates a what-if scenario which goes something along the lines of “WHAT-IF I keep acting as if I am loading, how long will it take this Jumbo to crack?” But when the “What-if Scenario” finally loads, there is a surprisingly helpful set of steps available that will eventually link a student to a human being. The “submit request” option is sent through the complex twists and turns of the site, ultimately leading to a person willing to help. While there is a balance of necessary patience and impatience with some (or most) of iSIS’ features, the results are often positive.

But registering for and planning classes is only one of many functions iSIS serves to the Tufts Community. Whether we like it or not, iSIS continues to digitize the old-accountant positions in the administrative building on Boston Avenue. iSIS subtracted close to $60,000 dollars from the bank accounts of many Jumbos this year, and next year, it will take 4 percent more. We use iSIS to pay our bills and discover our grades−the two areas where the program is found to be dreadfully efficient.

iSIS has its own Narnia’s closest in the little tab aptly titled “Additional Resources.” Here students will find everything they’ve always wanted, but never thought iSIS had. “Additional Resources” can help you feature yourself in your hometown newspaper or give you democracy’s foremost power: the ability to vote. Whether you love it or hate it, iSIS really is an all-pervasive program: just as housing depends on it, your past, present, and future lie among its complex servers.

This year was iSIS’ first in action. Before that, the portal was supposedly much worse, and even before that, you had to queue up for hours on end to work with an old librarian who took three hours to register each student—or something like that. Perhaps in the next year, iSIS will improve its design and its speed to better serve the students and faculty. There’s no doubt that the iSIS staff has worked hard for four years (remember the checks) and a software such as this can only get better. No doubt that with time, finesse, and continued polishing, iSIS will transform into that slick and graceful software that everyone dreams it to be.  iSIS, for all intents and purposes, is a freshman in the Tufts Community−the only freshman who doesn’t plan on graduating anytime soon.