UI suckiness: Quest, part 1

As a few people may know already, I’ve been having difficulty getting enrolled in classes this term. I’m a fulltime staff member with 5+ years of service; free tuition has been a perk of mine for 4.5 years now. (I’ve even taken a few courses.) I’ve broken this into an extended entry. I suspect this post may break RSS readers due to the screenshots included. Hopefully it won’t. (Edit: img tags badly break my default layout. I’ll use href instead, so you have to click but at least the archive pages don’t look like utter shit and the full screenshot is there.)


We have a system called Quest (based on Peoplesoft SA). It wouldn’t let me sign up for classes, telling me I was not authorized. So I fired off an email to the help address. I received a very poorly written (chock full of acronyms and contractions that were obvious to me, since I’ve spent literally my entire life around academics and academia) autoresponse. The next working day, I was told it was because I needed to apply for readmission, since I hadn’t taken courses in > 3 consecutive terms. So I did that – at least I didn’t have to pay for this, which confused me greatly because nothing seems to come free. I also concurrently complained to the one person I knew might be interested, the editor of the Daily Bulletin. He forwarded my response to another fellow (who I won’t name) who was very helpful and concerned about the content – I gather it’s been fixed now, although I won’t email again just to test it.
So, I was eventually told that yes, I would be considered for readmission, but not for Fall 2006 because “classes are full”. (*All* of them? Shirley they’d make an exception for a full time staff member who only wants to take one course and has an honours average? Guess not.)
And with that, I give you this.
Pardon the shouting, but: IN WHAT UNIVERSE IS AN ERROR MESSAGE LIKE THIS ACCEPTABLE?! I was using the fillin forms and dropdown boxes, for @PANTHEON’s sake! I can make a good guess as to what it means, but I strongly suspect your average first year student will not have a clue. I’m no Peoplesoft expert, but I strongly suspect that this could be made to be more friendly (and if not, why have we sunk 7 digits of Real Money and likely thousands of hours of staff time into this?).
I know I likely shouldn’t be writing this in a weblog, instead I should complain to the appropriate people (who?) or else just keep my mouth shut. But I’ve tried to do the right thing every time I want to take a course, and every time I’ve been screwed. So to hell with that. I know I’m supposed to focus on the situation, not the person (which I’m doing) and try to maintain cordial relationships, and all that HR jazz. But I’ve had it. Completely and utterly. It’s been suggested that I talk to the Staff Association (we’re not unionized) about things like this, although I really wonder what they can do when it seems that the general root of the problem is endemic to Registrar’s Offices at any university.
The specific issue here, which keeps tripping me up, is computers are supposed to make our lives easier. This is a way for the university to cut staff: we don’t need as many registrars, because the computer and TEH INTARWEB will allow students to register themselves, and take care of many common tasks without a Real Human having to lift a finger. But The Computer has been told I don’t Get To Take Classes, Especially Not For Free. (In fact, Quest apparently has no knowledge of staff whatsoever, despite there being enough of us to fill out a good-sized faculty of our own. I still have to do stuff By Hand and give it to Real People in order to not get fined for not paying the tuition I don’t owe – a Promissory Note, which I always want to spell “Promisorry”, as in “we’ll promise that you’ll be sorry”.) The computer is not helping me; in fact, it’s hindering me. And, not to speak ill of other staff members, who I’m sure work very hard, but other staff are not helping me at all either. I suggested that I just drop by the offices myself; no response. No response to my query about *all* courses being full too, and if I requested signing up for one that was not full, would that help.
Postscript: trying to reproduce the error, both in case somebody asked for a report and in order to try to collect a smaller screenshot, I couldn’t. It involved searching for the term number, then cancelling, after first having typed “PHI” instead of “PHIL” into the subject area field. Trying now, I get error messages as soon as PHI is left alone, but that’s still unacceptable: one of the links there is “Return to Academics”, which should return me to the previous menu, but won’t because I sinned with my entry in the subject area. Also note there’s no “clear entry” button. Fixing PHIL for PHI but leaving everything else blank doesn’t allow me to do anything either. I’ve not taken any UI design courses, but there’s so much wrong with this app that I suspect it could be used as a good “how not to do stuff” example. I don’t really care if it’s our fault, or if Peoplesoft SA really does suck that much. I do care that this reflects very poorly on a university that prides itself on technical achievement and excellence in the use of computers in aiding education.
“Give me something reproducible then, you arrogant ass!” you say. Ask, and ye shall receive only more closely cropped and from a better browser window size this time.
Maybe letters are left out to save bandwidth?
I could probably mess around some more and come up with still more, but what’s the point? I leave you to ponder: what rationale is there for the term numbers? Fall 2006 is 1069, Winter 2006 is 1061. I know the secret of the last 3 digits. I assume the first digit is for left-padding, but I don’t know for sure. What’s wrong with something like SPR2006, or even {1,2,3}2006 if some whole number is a requirement for sorting? 2006{1,2,3}? Anything.