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New Service Provides On-Line Registration Information

By Eric Richard
Staff Reporter

MIT students yesterday gained full on-line access to the Student Information Service, an Athena application implemented by Information Systems for the Office of the Registrar.

The SIS currently combines class descriptions from the MIT Bulletin, transcripts, registration information, and data from the student directory. In the future, statements from the Bursar may be included as well.

The program allows Athena users to browse public academic information consisting of course descriptions and scheduling, as well as "Ask The Registrar," a compilation of stock answers covering basic information about cross-registration, graduation requirements, finals policy, and other data.

"Ask the Registrar looks neat," said Craig C. Wiegert '94. "It is a little less formal than the Bulletin itself, and puts a lot of helpful information together."

The system also contains private information containing academic records accessible only to MIT students who have established a second password through the registrar's office. Students will be able to view their past grades, degree audit, and subject registration, and will also be able to update their official directory phone and address information. In the future, the Registrar's Office hopes to enable students to use the program for pre-registration.

"I think the system is useful, and I think that it should have existed a long time ago," said Jonathon B. Weiss '93, who tested the program during its development. "Overall, having access to course and grade information on-line is something I appreciate."

"I believe any new initiatives to help students navigate through the registration process are a good thing," said freshman advisor Pascal Chesnais SM '88. "However, the advisor's role should not be diminished by such tools."

The program was developed through cooperation between IS and the Office of the Registrar. "There were a lot of players from IS working together on the Registrar's system," said Scott Thorne, the project leader from Distributed Computing and Network Service.

"We are basically seeing how well this system works and how it is received," Thorne said. "This is sort of a prototype to see if this type of project can be done."

Security major issue in development

"Security was quite an issue," Thorne said. "Determining how strict to be was the hardest problem."

The system for providing privacy and accuracy of information includes data encryption, redundant information checking, and the second password used to access private information.

In order to insure that people are not trying to gain unauthorized access to private information, the Office of the Registrar will send a verification letter to students who request a second password. Students must respond to this letter within two weeks or their new password will not become effective.

The same type of security is being used to insure validity of the directory information. Once a student alters his information, there will be a five-day delay, during which the Registrar's Office will review the changes.

Testing over the summer

Students living on campus during the summer session were allowed to use the system in order to test it out and respond to it.

"We have been getting a fair amount of feedback," Thorne said. "Most students think it is a good idea. Many have sent changes that they would like to see. When the Registrar's Office is ready to make new releases, they will take these comments and incorporate them."

Thorne acknowledged the existence of a few slight bugs in the system, saying, "Hopefully we can nail those down and get rid of them."