A trip down memory lane

While finishing up an application for next year, I went through my “Actually useful” folder inside my “Documents” folder on my computer. I was looking for my CV at the time, but I found some amazing stuff in there.

I found a file in there named “09.05.22 UWO parting survey.txt”. I had forgotten this for years, but shortly after I graduated, UWO sent me an email, asking me for any feedback I had for them regarding my experience as a student there. Did I ever. I must have been angry when I wrote this thing. It’s in three chapters, and I quote the entire thing at length for your enjoyment.

Chapter I – the water situation

There is nowhere to get potable water in Talbot College for less than $2. One day I had a twoonie, and I was very thirsty, and the only way for me to get something to drink was to get on a bus and go to my home. It was a half-hour wait, and a 15-minute bus ride.

The water fountain in Talbot College has been broken since (at least) my first year, 2003. It has been broken so long that the custodians put a big clear plastic bag over it and a sign that says, “Temporarily out of service,” which has since been vandalised to say, “How long is temporary?” “Months,” and “I think it has to do with the $2.75 for a bottle of water in the cafeteria.”

Of some historical interest, that same cafeteria in Talbot College actually burned to the ground and was built again. And in the time it took you guys to do that, the water fountain was never fixed.

In case you were wondering why I do not just go to the tap in the bathroom, there is a gross smell in the 2nd-floor men’s bathroom in Talbot College. I’m serious. Try going there and filling up a water bottle. Tell me if you want to drink the water. You don’t. It’s nasty.

Chapter II – WebCT

I think I have complained about WebCT in every course that has used it. The following are a *few* of the problems with WebCT.

1. Basic unusability

WebCT crashes my browser. Always has, and after three revisions (WebCT, WebCT Vista and WebCT OWL), I’m reasonably convinced it always will. It would crash yours too, if you gave it half a chance. Many of the problems with WebCT flow from the fact that WebCT crashes my browser. For example, WebCT tests that crash in the middle of tests, and then won’t allow me to finish, because my session has ended or something.

To add to the basic unusability problem, every time I want to log in, there’s a certificate that I have to say I trust and a pop-up thing that I have to get rid of. Minor annoyances, I know, but it’s just two more unnecessary steps between me and my schoolwork.

2. Inability to reliably communicate course content

In my first year, I took a critical thinking course, and my prof would post notes on WebCT, and because he used logical operators, it got all messed up going from his computer to WebCT and then to my computer. WebCT continues the tradition today with professors who post their notes as .docx files, which no one can open unless they pay for a copy of Microsoft Word, which of course, I can’t afford because OSAP has started to withdraw money from my account prematurely. (See chapter III.)

Further, when profs have some documents scanned as PDF’s, they are scanned at ridiculously huge sizes. This isn’t a problem if you just print them off, because your printer will automatically scale your PDF to the size of the page, and you won’t even notice. But if you’re trying to save money, and trying to actually follow the Department of Philosophy’s guidelines on the use of paper, and you take notes on the PDF itself and read it off your computer screen, then what you’ll notice is that when a document has been scanned to a PDF at an inappropriate size, and you add a notation to the document, the notation is *tiny*, because the width of the letter M is 5cm or something. And so when a normal-sized notation is added to a page that size, it is small, and useless. I can send you an example if you don’t understand what I’m talking about.

3. A potentially infinite source of new examinable content

In some of my bigger classes, professors would make TA’s available on WebCT to answer our questions. That’s fine, but then in-class, the professor would spend half his time referring to discussions that had occurred online, and the answers that the TA’s would post immediately became examinable material. I am not exaggerating. This actually happened to me. I don’t like the fact that, by the use of WebCT there is a potentially *infinite* source of new examinable material that I have to be constantly checking.

4. Hidden “features”

WebCT has a million places for professors to hide things that I should have known about. (But they were on WebCT, so of course I knew about it, right? :| ) Did you know that WebCT has a calendar? It does. And a professor could put a test date in there, and I wouldn’t have the first clue until it was too late. Do you know what “campus bookmarks” in WebCT does? No one does. I graduated last month and I just discovered *now* (while answering this survey question) that I can receive emails through WebCT. It says that my inbox has 20 unread emails. I would have liked to know during the school year about the typo in assignment 8. And you know what? It looks like there’s a separate WebCT inbox for every single course!

What is a “learning module”? Who knows? What is the difference between “notes” and “course content”? I’ll give you $2 if you can tell me off the top of your head. I’m not asking for better education on WebCT. I’m asking for less WebCT to be educated about.

5. Classroom experience

I think what really bugs me is that if I wanted to take an online course, I would sign up for an online course. I am paying for an in-class experience. I want an in-class experience.

6. It’s difficult to administer

Professors hate WebCT as much as students. I have had some profs at Western who preferred to put their materials on their own password-protected site. Students liked those better too. Less extraneous stuff to navigate around.

Conclusion: Please do not allow professors to include mandatory WebCT evaluations or materials. The problem is not how WebCT is used. The problem is WebCT itself. Please make professors and students very happy and make it go away.

Chapter III – OSAP

I don’t know if you have the power to do anything about this, but every year, I have to go to the Registrar’s Office and tell him, “O great Registrar, please tell OSAP not to start automatically withdrawing money from my bank account again this year!” And then I fill out forms, and then if I’m lucky, the Registrar’s Office tells OSAP and then they know that I’m still a student, and I don’t have to pay back my OSAP.

This is rather minor compared to the WebCT issue, but do I seriously need to remind you guys that I’m still in school?

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The Grey Literature

This is the personal blog of Benjamin Gregory Carlisle PhD. Queer; Academic; Queer academic. "I'm the research fairy, here to make your academic problems disappear!"

4 thoughts on “A trip down memory lane”

  1. I wish they’d asked me, I would have had a similar rant…about the health sciences building, WebCT, and TA’s who have never taken the course they’re teaching (because TA’s in Health Science apparently need to teach, not just mark).

  2. It just feels cathartic to write it out sometimes, even if you never get to send it. I was lucky. They asked me for my feedback.

  3. I still have nightmares that I signed up for an online class and never made it to the exam. Eventually I reach a point in my dream where I just say “Fuck it”.

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