Why does it have to be so QHARD?

During the Add/Drop period, students relive memories both painful and pleasant of their relationships with QCARD

While QCARD is famously frustrating as a program, most will concede that it’s at least a necessary evil.
While QCARD is famously frustrating as a program, most will concede that it’s at least a necessary evil.

I am on hold. It has been this way for a long, long time. I stare out my window at the sunny English countryside, thinking sadly about the wasted day. Then the phone goes dead. I will not be receiving any technical support.

Later that day, I explained to a friend how I had woken up on the morning of July 14 full of anticipation and hope; my time ticket had arrived. Granted, it was at 12 p.m. Ontario time, and I was across the Atlantic studying in the UK for the summer, so I had had to wake up at 7 a.m. on a Sunday morning. Granted, I knew that at this point many of the 300-level courses I was interested in were likely to be full. Ignoring all this, I had woken up buzzing with anticipation, as visions of upper year seminars danced in my head.

Then, in computing terms, I was pwned.

In a situation familiar to most Queen’s students, I found myself battling with the Queen’s Computerized Access and Registration Database system.

Created before widespread internet use, the original QCARD program was not online.

“The first version of it wasn’t web-based, it was essentially accessing the mainframe directly and the web interface was added later,” said Rick Palmer, associate university registrar

(Information Systems).

However hard it may be to believe, it could be worse. Palmer said student registration for classes prior to QCARD involved mass amounts of students assembled in Jock Harty Arena, creating mountains of paperwork for the registrar’s office.

“The old system was completely paper based,” he said. “Students registered in the arena on a paper form. The goal was to remove the paper and simplify the process for everyone.” But Palmer said students would not see a new and improved QCARD any time soon. Rather, the Registrar is looking towards a replacement of the system at an indefinite point in the future.

“Likely no major changes to the existing QCARD mechanism will be made, but we are working towards the potential of replacing it,” he said. “That will be several years away but we are looking seriously at the option of replacing it with a more modern system.”

Courtney Langton, ConEd ’09, said, in an e-mail to the Journal, that she finds the program unnecessarily difficult.

“The first time I logged onto QCARD, I was with a friend who goes to Carleton, and she laughed when she saw it. The plain blue font with white background is bad enough, but I could get over that if it wasn’t for the fact that the layout is an impossible maze,” she said. “I liken it to the Department of Mysteries from Harry Potter—anything you need is located behind several doors, and you always get the feeling that the first door moves when you’re not looking, leaving you to click fruitlessly on three or four links until you finally figure out where your tuition fee information has been hiding.”

Langton said she created the Facebook group “1996 Called… They Want QCARD Back” after repeated struggles with the program.

“Inevitably, as soon as July rolls around and we start choosing courses, all anyone can talk about is how QCARD caused them problems. This way we have a forum for complaints—often I find that a good rant fixes most of the problem—and little-known information about QCARD.”

The group, 856 members strong, is peppered with rants from commenters upset with QCARD’s hours of operation, time ticket scheduling and several other registrar-related issues.

While many students at Queen’s would agree with Langton, there are those, like Julian Pileggi, CompSci ‘11, who appreciate QCARD’s intricacies.

Run by the University Registrar and maintained by University Information Systems (UIS), it has been in place since the early ’90s, and is by all accounts quite an advanced program.

“The QCARD program is run by CICS—Customer Information Control Systems, an information database used by banks, insurance companies and large institutions like universities,” said Pileggi.

Pileggi said he doesn’t see what the big deal is.

“I think it’s hard to use at first,” he said. “There’s a definite learning curve, but once you get used to it, it’s not so difficult.”

Pileggi said he understood the frustration of his fellow students, but ultimately felt that their criticism took things too far.

“I can understand where they’re coming from,” he said. “But it’s working and the problems that they are always having with courses are not problems with QCARD, it’s with the registrar’s office. As long as the system works, I think there shouldn’t be an issue. People are too dependent on instantaneous ‘point and click’ kinds of things, and QCARD is a little bit more complex than that, which I guess is something some people have problems with.”

Pileggi said his position as a computer science student allowed him a unique perspective on the occasionally heated issue.

“As a CompSci student I also realize that it’s taken, like, 30 years of programming to make QCARD work,” he said. “To update that system is a massive job, there’s nothing out there like QCARD, so they’d have to start from scratch.

“Since it’s such a custom job, it’s not like they can go buy something already made; programmers would have to spend a long time redoing stuff that has been done in the old system so that it would all be compatible.” Langton admitted that many of her problems with QCARD were not the fault of the program, but maintained that the interface was unnecessarily complicated and often quite frustrating.

“I can blame a lot of my QCARD disasters on my own technological ineptitude (like the time they thought I wasn’t registered because I hadn’t realized that I hadn’t completed all the steps to confirm my major), but I find it especially annoying that there’s no real way to know if you’ve done something right or not,” she said.

“I never know whether to call my department or the Registrar’s Office if I’m having a problem, and on several occasions both offices told me to call the other. When you work outside the country during the summer and travel a lot like I do, it can be next to impossible to get everything figured out in time to get the classes you want.”

Langton said it was disheartening that the school does not seem to be prioritizing a QCARD facelift.

“I think the problem is that we do see all the expansion going on on-campus and the updates of other websites at Queen’s, and none of the students really understand why there’s such a huge, glaring issue that’s being overlooked or ignored. That’s our perception of it, anyway, and until we hear otherwise, we have to assume that fixing QCARD is not a priority for anyone.”

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