2012: ‘MyCampus, but not as we know it’


Oliver Milne

The issues which made the implementation of MyCampus almost farcical when it launched in September should be resolved by the beginning of the next academic year, according to the university’s vice principal of learning and teaching, Frank Coton.

Coton, who was speaking at the principal’s ‘question time’, said that next year MyCampus would return but “not as we know it”. He claimed that MyCampus would feature an updated user interface which would solve many of the more egregious issues that caused chaos at the start of the year, as staff scrambled to ensure students would be registered on the correct courses and tutorials.

However, despite Coton’s positive outlook, this does not appear to be a viewpoint shared by most university staff. The results of a feedback survey conducted by the Student Lifecycle Project – the internal group responsible for overseeing the project – reveal anger from staff towards the project and those responsible for overseeing it.

Most advisors and administrative staff who responded appear to share the opinion that despite attending various training sessions aimed at making the system more clear, little has been achieved. One advisor has said: “I have been to five three-hour workshops and still am not much further forward”, whilst another staff member explains that “the answer ‘I don’t know’ is a common one when questions are raised at so-called ‘training sessions’.”

Another grievance has been the limited access that staff have to the system, which they view as preventing them from fixing problems students are having. An administrator from the medicine, veterinary and life sciences department has described it as being “one of the biggest problems” with staff not having the “appropriate access levels to make appropriate changes”.

A number of basic operational problems have also been brought to light by despondent members of staff. There are numerous complaints on the way the system runs, with advisors raising issues on the various complications encountered with students trying to enrol. One inconvenience raised by an arts administrator was that of students having ‘holds’, which meant that “students were at a disadvantage when choosing tutorial slots”.

Much of the staff criticism casts doubts on Coton’s assessment that the current issues with MyCampus usability is one of user interface, with one advisor in the social sciences department claiming it is an issue with the “system architecture [which isn’t] user-focused; it is counter-intuitive”. Technical complaints aren’t a new addition to staff criticism of MyCampus. Dr Paul Cockshott circulated an email which contained a range of issues raised by members of the department of computer science. The email revealed that staff members in computer science had predicted many of the failures and described them as “being covered by the first classes of our undergraduate software engineering courses”.

Staff feedback is also highly critical of the university’s Senior Management Group (SMG) with Dr Cockshott’s email describing it as part of “the SMG’s need to command and control us more effectively”, a view which appears to be shared by many of academics who have filled in feedback forms – with one member of staff who wished to remain completely anonymous saying: “No one really cares about what MyCampus does to academics, administrators and students. All that is important for the SMG is to get the numbers they want out of the system … teaching and research is being damaged – if you care, do something about it.”

The problems with this software package, produced by Oracle under the name of Campus Solutions, aren’t just limited to Glasgow. The Glasgow Guardian has been in contact with sabbatical officers at Queens University Belfast, Liverpool John Hopkins University, and the University Of Manchester, all of whom have experienced similar difficulties with the package which continued to plague the system in years that followed its initial implementation. Queens University’s vice president of welfare, Adam McGibbon, told the paper: “We’ve had issues for the last three years and only now are we starting to see some improvement.”

One of major complaints levelled at WebSurf, the predecessor to MyCampus, was its inability to handle the increased traffic produced when exam results were published, resulting in the entire system being inaccessible. With January exam results fast approaching it remains to be seen if MyCampus will outperform WebSurf and ensure the system is usable when traffic increases substantially as students attempt to get their results for the first semester.

For comments and discussion on this article, see the page for our MyCampus December feature.