Tech problems at a tech school
With the start of a new decade, we thought about what changes we would like to see as students entering yet another semester of classes. As an editorial board, we believe it is important to discuss the reliability of the websites controlled by people at Rensselaer—department sites, course sites, Union sites, Student Government sites, club/organization sites, etc.—as well as the fluctuating Wi-Fi connection on campus. Both issues affect the daily lives of students and deserve a discussion.
If you go to the Union website right now, you will find that it is under construction. There is no set date for when the website will be live again, just that we can anticipate it is sometime this semester. Although it is normal for websites to be down from time to time for maintenance purposes, the issue lies in the fact that any information that was formerly available on the Union website is currently unavailable. Some organizations update their information on their respective Facebook pages, but what about those that don’t?
On a similar note, some of us have found that Degree Works—the tool that most seniors rely on to make sure they are graduating—does not accurately display how classes are applied to specific graduation sections. Even with all classes applied, Degree Works doesn’t show up as 100 percent complete. Some of us have a completion of 98 percent, which, as second-semester seniors, can be nerve-racking to look at. While we can cross-reference with other sources to make sure we are on track to graduate, it is more helpful to have one main source of accurate, personalized information.
Additionally, there are multiple websites that contain related yet different information, which makes it hard to know what is accurate and what isn’t. While understanding that requirements for specific departments change constantly, it would be ideal to only have to look in one location to find all requirements for completing a new major or minor, or just simply trying to graduate. In some cases, we found office hours or additional information for professors were not updated on the faculty page.
Along with unreliability, there are multiple instances of RPI websites that could better from some web design improvements. For example, the websites for both School of Architecture and School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences differ greatly from the websites for School of Science, School of Engineering, and School of Business. The architecture and humanities websites seem out of place with all of the other RPI department sites, which make them feel somewhat like an afterthought.
While not every website falls under this umbrella of poor design and execution, there are enough examples to justify a change. All we ask for is that the information provided on RPI websites be accurate. Reliable information is much more important than website design, and should be treated as such; a regularly updated, simple black and white HTML static page is more useful than a fancy website layout that isn’t properly maintained or is confusing to navigate.
Coincidentally, students attend RPI to learn about website design and user experience. Perhaps, the knowledge within our web development courses can be spread internally to support better websites. Furthermore, some of the more established websites developed by students within the Rensselaer Center for Open Source could be used as examples for improving institute related websites.
In addition to software issues, we have noticed hardware issues related to the Wi-Fi on campus. Many areas, including the McNeil Room in the Union and various classrooms within the Darrin Communications Center, Jonsson Engineering Center, and Russell Sage Laboratory, are affected by fluctuating Wi-Fi connections. At a technical university, we believe that it should be a priority to provide fully functional Wi-Fi that supports the wide variety of technical classes and projects happening on campus. Students shouldn’t have to worry about connecting to Wi-Fi in addition to the normal stresses of going to college.
These changes will not only make for a more pleasant experience for those already at RPI, but will give our school a better outward image to prospective students. Finally, we hope this draws more attention to how future websites are developed; people who create RPI websites have a responsibility to make them sustainable.