Saturday, March 21, 2009

do androids dream of technical difficulties?

Trying to submit my thesis electronically was one of the more exasperating technological experiences I have had in the course of my college career. I am not so ignorant as to expect that all technology should function correctly all the time, but I feel it is not unreasonable to expect a system used by so many students to work correctly at a time when students are most likely to be using it (i.e., when they are trying to meet deadlines for graduation).

In order to submit electronically, I had to convert my thesis document to a pdf. I don't own a copy of Acrobat, so I was instructed to use the library's multimedia lab to do the conversion. After converting my document, I went to the ETD website to submit it, but was unable to log in to the system - it refused to recognize my username/password combination. (Incidentally, I had the same problem on February 2nd, when I took the class on how to convert Word documents to pdfs. At the time I assumed it was a temporary hangup somewhere in the system.) Tech support told me to call Grad Studies. Grad Studies told me that many students were having this problem, and some of them had been able to work around it by changing their password and trying again. This didn't work for me, so I called back to Grad Studies and asked them whether I would still be graduating in April if the problem didn't get cleared up and I was unable to submit. They said someone would call me back and let me know.

On a whim, I tried to log in again when I got home. This time it worked. Great! I submitted the pdf with no problems. Shortly thereafter I got a call from Grad Studies. They were very interested in the details of what did and didn't work for me, which led me to believe they were still trying to figure out what was causing the problem. It's good that they're trying, but if they've been working on it for over a month and still haven't even figured out exactly what the problem is, maybe it's time to seek outside help.

After several days of constantly checking and re-checking the status of my submission, I found that it had been disapproved by my department. However, the status page gave no indication of why it had been disapproved, or how I could find out. I wasted several hours vainly searching the ETD page and the university website for information. Finally I ended up on the phone with Grad Studies again. They patiently explained that the email I had received included the details of why the submission was disapproved. Funny, I never got that email. Grad Studies apparently got a copy of it, but I didn't. Would I like them to forward their copy to me? Yes, yes I would.

Back to the lab at the library to correct the pdf. This time I was able to log in to the system, but when I tried to submit my information, I kept getting an error page. I didn't even bother to call anyone for help. I dumped the pdf onto my jump drive, went home, and was able to resubmit without any more glitches.

My electronic submission was eventually approved, and I met all the deadlines - barely - for April graduation. At some point in the process, one of the Grad Studies people gave me a little lecture on "leaving ourselves extra time to meet our deadlines." This did not make me happy. Yes, it's wise to plan extra time into one's schedule in case unexpected difficulties should arise, but all the difficulties that arose in this instance were caused by a system that she and/or her office were responsible for maintaining. I felt like I had showed up late for an appointment because the buses were running behind schedule, only to have the bus driver lecture me for not planning ahead better.

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