Columns, Opinions

Meszaros GS: Centralize access to online tools

By
Monday, November 26, 2018

Preregistration for spring 2019 courses took place just a few weeks ago, a process that reminded me of the number of different online tools required to navigate my Brown education. While registration seemed to occur without incident, it highlighted one aspect of these online tools that could easily be made more straightforward and intuitive: the lack of a centralized method for accessing each online system.

Many aspects of managing my Brown education are accessible through online portals. However, these systems are all distinct and feature separate login screens, different points of access and distinct names. Remembering where to find each piece of information and which site needs to be accessed is sometimes challenging. Providing students with a centralized access point for all pieces of their online education would reduce frustration and ensure that nothing is overlooked.

For preregistration, my primary point of contact with Brown’s online systems was Courses@Brown, which allowed me to view classes and eventually select and register for my courses of choice. To pay for my classes, however, I needed to visit the Billing Center, where I pay my tuition and associated fees. Of course, as a student employee I also needed to check in with Workday to monitor my payslips and verify when I could make a payment. I needed to see my finalized class schedule to avoid conflicts with other academic and extracurricular activities, which I access through Banner. Once classes get going, I’ll need to check the online course management tool, Canvas, where my professors upload electronic copies of syllabi and course readings. In order to print this material, I need to add money to my Bear Bucks account through the GET Portal and send these documents to the printer via MyPrint. Then, of course, there are systems like the Health Portal, which stores records of immunizations and allows me to make health services appointments, or the Health Insurance Portal, which allows me to see my coverage, find doctors in the area and manage Brown University Health Insurance plans for my spouse and me. The list of different online systems and identities to manage is clearly non-trivial.

Each online tool has a reason for existing, and I appreciate the fact that I can take all of these actions online. However, with so many different web tools, there needs to be an easy way to find and access all of them. Currently, each online portal requires a separate login and is reachable from separate launch pages. Finding the required page is often only accomplished with the aid of a Google search. Navigating online systems does not need to be this complex. Implementing a centralized access point for all these functions could reduce the number of necessary logins and make finding specific options easier for students. Obfuscating usability in this way contributes to lost information and incomplete tasks, from failing to submit necessary documentation to not taking advantage of available options.

Case in point: I’ve set up multiple Brown email aliases, something I found I could do when exploring some online portal over the summer. Other students have seemed surprised by this, unaware that it was a feature offered by the University. Making features difficult to find prevents students from taking advantage of them. Consolidating online functionality and creating a centralized point of access can increase general use and help make functions that once were difficult to find common knowledge. I unfortunately am unable to remember where I found the email alias functionality, and so I suspect my interlocutors forgot about this quest. Not setting up multiple email aliases isn’t a big deal, but what about cases where the functionality in question is more important? What about when it’s an international student submitting visa-related tax forms on Workday or a trans student identifying a chosen name in Banner? Ensuring ease-of-access for all of these online tools isn’t merely a matter of convenience but could contribute to student well-being.

Importantly, it’s not that the current systems are unusable. Students, myself included, are able to navigate these sprawling online spaces regardless of how unconnected each node is. But it doesn’t have to be a mess of unconnected endpoints. Other universities have created systems that are more centralized — I myself have experience with more coherent systems at the University of Chicago and Eastern Michigan University where almost all online tools are accessed through one central hub. Creating a centralized access point is an easy action that the University could take to make the process of using these online tools more intuitive and ensure that nothing falls through the cracks.

E.L. Meszaros GS can be reached at e.l.meszaros@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.