Tuesday, December 04, 2012


I finally gave in and left some feedback on one of the BCEdplan's feedback forums, specifically the one on Student Information Systems (I think today is the last day for input).  The government is looking to replace our cumbersome and oft-maligned student data tracking system (BCeSIS) over the next couple of years.

Well, the short version of my feedback is... make sure the replacement learns from the mistakes of BCeSIS.

Here is a sample of concerns that occur to me when reflect on BCeSIS.

  • pretty much universal agreement that BCeSIS failed to reach basic benchmarks for functionality and reliability
  • the system satisfied some office/administrative needs (a key user group), but was a disaster for marks and other needs of teachers (the other key user group) -- the Ministry appeared to have had only the first of these user groups in mind when they looked for a system
  • piloted in one of our rural secondary schools (McBride), yet the district ignored all the feedback from the teachers there and pressed on with early adoption and implemetation
  • the brutal interface and user experience at every level... slow, illogical, and difficult to navigate, no flexibility for alternate schedules, etc... this list could be VERY long
  • unwillingness in the first 5 years to allow data exchange between BCeSIS and the marks program that most of the district's teachers were using.
  • we had 1 techie and 2 principals, a crew of SASOs and trained secretaries assigned to BCeSIS (plus some of the tech support coordinator's and the FOIPPA officer's time) and yet there was still no way to address bugs in the system as all changes were handled at the parent company level
  • all the training time they allocated for the teacher marks portion was wasted as teachers stopped using it shortly after, if they even bothered at all... the cost of the principal's salary and the release time for dozens of teachers was close to useless
  • I think sometime in the first year they clarified a process for gathering input that would results in annual changes if the parent company agreed it needed fixing... a full year from problem to possible solution
  • many of the promised features in BCeSIS never came online or never worked... club & team databases, fee collection, IEPs were delayed for years, data exchange, parent contact module, etc.
  • constant browser issues, as they only developed it for one browser -- using a standard PC and the default browser (Explorer), logging in requires acknowledging warnings of virus-like activities and authorizing permission for unknown operations; doing this seems exactly like what we're not supposed to do according to our acceptable use policy, and yet we are required to use BCeSIS
  • one positive note: using BCeSIS is like working with a living artifact, a sentimental reminder of the glory days of archaic computer programming and a greyish, dehumanizing user interface. Every time I use it I feel like I am back in Computer Science 11, 1986.
A former colleague, John Vogt, has prepared a more substantive critique of BCeSIS implementation. He has shared it with school trustees, the BC Ed forum, and others (including myself) and has given me permission to share it here.

By way of introduction, John has a great way of offering substantive critique of educational planning in our school district balanced with powerful suggestions, a positive and dedicated example in his own practice, a willingness to conduct inquiry and research when others practice resignation, and wit. A personal role model for sure! Here is what John had to say:

I am a retired SD 57 teacher currently working as an instructor for the UNBC School of Education. I was working at DP Todd during the implementation of BCeSIS. Because of my 25 years of experience in working with computers in schools, I was asked to assist with the DP Todd implementation. I was also a member of a PGDTA technology committee which spent time looking into issues surrounding the BCeSIS implementation.

The implementation of BCeSIS in SD 57, and more generally in the province was deficient in many respects. I was reminded of this recently while reading a Prince George Citizen article reporting on an SD 57 trustee meeting where student information systems were discussed. It is always dangerous to jump to conclusions on the basis of a newspaper article, but as reported, presentations to the board regarding BCeSIS and its hoped-for replacement did not appear to fully recognize, analyze, or learn from problems in the implementation of BCeSIS.

A variety of problems with BCeSIS were correctly predicted before implementation in SD 57. A combination of issues (detailed in this Dropbox file) resulted in those predictions being ignored by local decision makers. The result was considerable angst among classroom teachers. A new student information system will face the same issues. If leaders in SD 57 fail to be proactive in working with employee groups to better understand the problems of the past, they stand to repeat them in the future.


Anonymous said...

I can't understand why PowerSchool or SASi weren't / aren't potential primary choices for replacement of BCeSIS.

They've been around forever ...

Thielmann said...

As a colleague of mine noted, "BCeSIS already meets a significant subset of what is posted specs, but fails miserably as a program. I think I now appreciate the process that resulted in BCeSIS. The proposal is sent out, companies check boxes as appropriate. A powerpoint presentation is made and the winner is selected. There does not seem to be anything here about actual functionality."

Meeting the specs on paper is one thing, but when implementation results in a comedy errors, the problems with the quality of the product are compounded. Sadly with BCeSIS we had a poor product with a poor implementation. I wish this wasn't such a common pattern in our system.