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ITlt: GATEWAY • volume xcvni number 5 


WebCT deserving of more hatred 

“I'm pretty sure the saw was invented because 
trying to rip a tree in liali'with just bare liands was 
something very few people could do. So how is it that 
those beliind the University's online application W eb 
Course Tools (W ebCT) get away with calling tJieir 
program a 'tool?"' 

C orrect me if I'm wrong, but 
isn't a "tool" something 
designed to make tasks easier? 
Wasn't the hammer invented because 
pounding nails into the floor with 
one's forehead was a little too demand¬ 
ing on the skull? 

I’m pretty sure the saw was invented 
because trying to tear a tree in half 
with just your bare hands was some- 
tiling that very few people could do. 
So how is it that the people behind 
the University's online application 
Web Course Tools (WebCT) get 
away with calling their program a 

As it happens. I have the pleasure 
this semester of being registered in 
a first-year course, and chuckled to 
myself when my professor told the 
bright-eyed freshmen that all notes 
would be on, as lie put it. "the spawn 
of Satan known as WebCT." 

The freshmen innocently tittered at 
this comment thinking this was just 
a joke; 1 chuckled knowing that they 
would soon discover it wasn't. For 
those who've never had the pleasure 
of using WebCT before, allow me to 
break down the procedure into three 
simple steps: 

I) On the login page, enter your 
CCID and password. Hopefully, this 
will be one of those days where 
WebCT actually recognizes it. 

2) After a brief wait (usually six or 

seven millennia), your "blackboard" 
should have loaded. This is your 
personal homepage on WebCT, and 
it’s as archaic and outdated as it 
sounds. On it, you will find links to 
each of your courses that use the pro¬ 

I should note at this point that 
you will only get this far if you have 
a web browser compatible with 
WebCT, you have cookies enabled, 
java installed and enabled, and you've 
turned off your pop-up ad blocker. 
Basically, to use WebCT, one must do 
everything they can to expose their 
computer to viruses and spyware— 
well, everything besides browsing 
free porn sites. 

3) Select a course, and follow the 
links to the lecture notes you desire. 
Click on the link for these notes, 
and wait a few more millennia for 
them to load. Which they usually do. 
Eventually. God willing. 

Now if. for whatever reason, they 
don’t load. I’m afraid that’s the end of 
the line. Don't even think about click¬ 
ing on “save target as" and seeing if 
that works, because "no such inter¬ 
face is supported." If you want to see 
notes, you have to see them using 
the WebCT program first. If it isn’t 
working, you couid contact AICT 
or the WebCT help desk, but they'll 
likely just assure you that there's no 
problem, and that even if there was. 

it probably originated with the user 
(read you). 

Now, I've taken a few computer 
courses in my time, and I can even 
do some coding and programming, 
so when told I don't know how 
to use a computer. I'm offended. 
Furthermore, I really don’t think 
it's because my brand-spankmg-new 
computer doesn't have enough RAM. 
orthat it can't processquickly enough. 
The problem either lies with WebCT, 
or Windows Vista, or E-leaming, or 
Blackboard Learning, or whatever 
"catchy” name they're calling the 
minion of Lucifer today. 

After WebCT has failed me once 
again, I cry quietly inside—or, alter¬ 
natively, bubble witli rage. Feel free to 
do either—usually. I go with bubbling 
with rage for the rest of the day. 

So. to the University administration: 
If you realiy want the U of A to be a 
worki-renowned institution. WebCT 
(and Bear Tracks) have got to go. 

Instead, there should be a single, 
functional site where students can 
go to check their email, register for 
courses, download notes, and pay 
tuition. Until you understand this, 
our university and its students will 
just be seen as dimwits living in 
the primitive days of "blackboards” 
who. like stupid tools, pour money 
into the pockets of WebCT and its 

The frustrations of snail mail can now 
be experienced online thanks to U of A 

I t exists among us, completely 
undetected, while we're hypnot¬ 
ically distracted by something 


Day by day, it chugs along, hoping 
that nobody will notice it and expect 
it to change. It breathes a quiet svord 
of thanks to others like it for the 
recent attention they've Ireen receiv¬ 
ing. happy that our eyes are being 
directed far. far away front its own 

But though its powers are lim¬ 
ited and people are frequently frus¬ 
trated by it. they say nothing. Olliers 
just ignore ii or pretend it doesn’t 

This scourge is closer to us than 
we can imagine, and it's not going 
anywhere soon. Students on tills 
fair campus liave been embroiled 
in a discussion about Bear Scat and 
Bear Tracks, but have forgotten that 
there’s another University computer 
service that truly deserves our atten¬ 
tion. I suggest that students take off 
their scat-covered blinders and turn 
their indignation towards the true 
bane of a U of A student's existence: 

Bear Tracks is a dream compared 
to the useless WebMail. My unsuc¬ 

cessful attempts to send attachments 
with it are outnumbered only by 
Lindsay Lohan’s failed attempts to 
dry out. And how often is WebMail 
"temporarily unavailable" or pain¬ 
fully slow? 

What's more, the U of A green and 
gold interface is butt-ugly, and the 
abundance of folders has always baf¬ 
fled me. WebMail is way more convo¬ 
luted than it needs to be. which makes 
navigation tedious. 

Until students stop 
complaining about 
Bear Tracks and turn 
their attention to 
WebMail. this train 
wreck will continue 
frustrating students. 

Some may ask why 1 don’t just use 
another email service. 1 do—but 
I like using my U of A account for 
things like job applications. I prefer 
to deal with all my professional com¬ 
munications through my WebMail 
account, as I feel that a university 
email address projects a more busi¬ 
ness-like image. 

But perhaps the best thing about 
my other email account is the sheer 
amount of spam that I receive. 
Nothing beats reading a really stupid, 
funny, or nonsensical subject line 
on a spam message. I mean, how 
can WebMail's spam filters deprive 

us of reading hilarious subject lines 
such as. "Hottest new offer but 
without any results” or “No no 

While I don't actually open any of 
that spam, some of those messages 
are so chock-full of suspense that 
they've come close to convincing me 
to open them. Take, for instance, a 
message with the subject line: “My 
name is. Can I ask you?" The antici¬ 
pation to find out what this mystery 
person wants nearly kills me, and 1 
struggle with the temptation to open 
this message. It's not easy. But if 1 use 
WebMail, that mystery is completely 

Until students stop complaining 
about Bear Tracks and turn their 
attention to WebMail, this train 
wreck will continue frustrating stu¬ 
dents. And really, is Bear Tracks all 
that bad? Sure, it’s far from perfect, 
and it could definitely be organized 
better, but I've never had it seize up 
on me or fail to perform a function 
that it's designed to do. 

like many of you, I use my email 
several times a day. but 1 certainly 
don’t access Bear Tracks with that 
same frequency. Email is often a con¬ 
venient way for students to commu¬ 
nicate with professors or to take part 
in some components of course work, 
so it’s much more crucial to have this 
working properly than the seldomly 
used registration software. However, 
until that happens. WebMail will keep 
clunking along under the radar, and 
students will simply have to grin and 
bear it. 




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