Ultra Vires


The Porcelain Inconvenience of Cognomos

 Why course registration sucks ass

Cognomos is a shit hole. Hear me out. Course registration is like defecating—we all need to do it, and, while it is never particularly pleasant, the degree of unpleasantness depends, in large part, on the technologies with which we engage for the purposes of accomplishing our end goal. 

In modern bathrooms, the abject realities of the human body are swept away so quickly, it is like they never existed. An ergonomic throne conceals a sophisticated plumbing system purpose-built to ferry your waste along a modern-day River Styx. It is wonderful, and it is totally unnecessary.

Well into the 2000s, my Canadian cottage had an outhouse in the forest. There were four weathered cedar-planked walls and a bench with a robin’s egg-blue plastic toilet seat plonked over a deep black hole. The inevitable cloud of mosquitoes was not part of the original design.

“A toilet seat,” you cry, “you bourgeois elite!” You are right, dear reader, to call out my privilege. I could have made do with just a hole. However, given the choice, I suspect that you would choose the discrete toilet and the mood lighting any day. In fact, I suspect that you expect that porcelain convenience.

Much like we take bathrooms for granted, we take for granted the seamless user interfaces of websites like Facebook and Google. These companies have spent millions of dollars on streamlining their usability. They employ entire squadrons of web designers whose job it is to maximize your happiness. That is the standard that we expect as end-users. So, it is shocking when we are confronted with web-based software like Cognomos. 

Cognomos is a metaphorical shit hole. It is probably “enterprise” software i.e. a more or less bare-bones system marketed to corporations which, the designers assume, will tailor it to their own needs. As is, it does the job but not in any intuitive way. It is designed to be used by specialists, not by unsophisticated users like you and me. It can, of course, be customized. User interface / user experience designers could make it more user friendly—but that is expensive.

I am not a software designer; I cannot provide a well-founded critique of Cognomos’s digital architecture. All that I know is that it has some infuriatingly bad features. Let us begin with the log-in portals. Why are there so many of them? It should be enough to log into the hilariously poorly named E.Legal. 

Want to register for courses? OK. You have to select enough courses so that you end up with twice as many credits as you can possibly take. So, first, you need a list of all the courses that could possibly interest you. There is no descriptive list of courses on Cognomos. You need to find the list of course descriptions on the law school website. The list that Cognomos does have is also spread unhelpfully over about eight pages and does not automatically sort them into any discernible order. There is also no way to sort the courses into any useful order. Cognomos does not divide the courses into fall and winter semesters, either. You need to figure that out on your own. (Pro tip: search “*1F” to display fall courses and “*1S” to display winter courses).

Once you have selected approximately ten extra courses that you have no intention of taking, you then need to order them according to your preference. This is where the fun really begins. On a separate page, Cognomos sets out four ranking categories: Favourite, Great, Good, and Acceptable. You get to rank one “Favourite” to prioritize that class. I am not sure what the restrictions are for the other categories; I put the rest of my ideal schedule into “Great”. That alone took considerable effort.

The ranking categories are boxes stacked one on top of each other. They do not fit all on one screen. That is frustrating, because the only way to rank your selections is by dragging and dropping them into the boxes. So, you have to click on a class, at the very bottom of the page, pull it up to the top of your screen, and then wait while it jitters up to the box you want.

This would be slow enough on its own, but another annoying idiosyncrasy stops you from making even semi-smooth progress. You cannot drag and drop more than three courses in a row. If you try to rank a fourth class, Cognomos just does not respond. You have to save your selection and reload the page. Remember, you have to select, and therefore rank, double the credits than you can actually take. So, this takes a long time and a lot of page reloads. Also, every time you save your selection, Cognomos sends you an email to tell you what you have just done. My inbox was overflowing with pointless messages by the end.

One of the most absurd parts of this process is that, after all that toil and drudgery, you have very little say in what courses you get. It is a lottery. I was lucky. I got most of the courses I wanted (and then, inexplicably, a few more, which pushed me to an impossible thirty-some credit year). Other people ended up with a semester’s worth of credits spread thin over the entire year and daunting waitlist positions for the rest of their choices. 

The waitlists were also plagued with technical problems. Those problems turned what should have been a simple automatic process into an administrative nightmare. Beginning July 24, the administration shut down the whole add/drop system for days just to try to rejig the waitlists.

Less structural (but similarly vexing) quirks included the way in which Cognomos displays students’ schedules and the process for managing courses already in your schedule. Cognomos displays all of your courses—fall and winter—in the same chart. The crowding makes it hard enough to read. Worse is that Cognomos only displays the course codes that no one has ever used for reference and which have no clear relation to the name of a course. What that means is that you cannot decipher your schedule at a glance. You have to hover your cursor over each class and wait for the pop-up window to tell you what it is.

To drop a class, you have to type “DROP [NAME OF CLASS]”, when prompted. You cannot copy and paste that text from the prompting window. Just let me drop the damn class!

I am going to stop here. There are other problems, but the point of this article is not to provide a comprehensive guide to areas for improvement. I simply want to assert that we deserve better. Cognomos is a shit hole. Course registration was a shit storm. The whole situation is a shameful testament to administrative mismanagement.

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