Thursday, October 23, 2014

so tired of faculty handwriting requested Web site updates - why do they do that? programming patty has typed her request to us...

So I’m a staff member who manages a university Web site, and I frequently get requests to update faculty pages, and I’m always happy to do so. Most people just send me e-mails that say, for example, “Add ‘basketweaving’ under where it says “Research Interests,” and remove “hamster husbandry.” Or, “I no longer teach Comp 101 so please remove it from the list of courses I teach.” Or something along those lines. A few even copy and paste their Web pages into a Word document, revise it, and send it to me. That’s fine too – the faculty pages are so succinct that it’s no problem to replace everything on the page with a fresh version, and often it’s easier to do that than to hunt down all the edits. My issue is with the 10% or so who want me to update their Web pages, so they print them out, handwrite the edits in a messy scrawl, scan it on our copier, which e-mails them a PDF, save the PDF to their computer, and then attach it to an e-mail and send me that. Of course I always ask, “do you have a typed version?” and the answer is always, “No, I do not.” (I would much prefer to just tell them to type it or else I won’t update the page, of course, but that would result in the usual “who are you to tell me what to do? I’ll just lodge a complaint with the dean about how useless you are,” and you have to pick your battles around here. )

Why do professors do this? Is it that much easier to print, handwrite, walk to the copier, scan it, e-mail to yourself, save to your computer, then attach to an e-mail to me? It’s not as if the faculty pages have some complex formatting that is hard to decipher unless you mark it on the printout. They look like plain old Word docs. I don’t understand why a good proportion of our faculty absolutely refuse to type edits, additions, deletions, and that sort of thing - even when it’s for their own Web pages. They know they will send the request by e-mail and that ultimately someone will have to type it. I do ask our student workers to type all the handwritten requests for edits, but I still think it’s crappy, self-indulgent behaviour. I myself would never expect someone to type my messy scrawl unless that was part of their job description.

It’s fairly trivial, as complaints go, but I just wonder about the reasoning behind requesting extensive edits but refusing to type them.

- Programming Patty

15 comments:

  1. I think that a lot of people don't really 'get' computers. The majority of our computer use is menu-driven GUIs and touch-screens. We see HAL from 2000 a Space Odyssey, or Watson from Jeopardy, or cartoon robots. And it's easy to forget that computers are machines who's whole function is to carry out boring repetitious, automated tasks very fast at the push of a button. (OK, maybe not their whole function, but a pretty basic chunk of it). Instead, they seem to think that computers are sortof-quasi-people, who have to be interacted with the way we interact with each other: My computer told me X, so I'm writing you this lovely handwritten note so you can tell your computer X.

    I'm always amazed when, say, the registrar's office tells me that they don't have time to go through all the student records in the computer and pull out the ones that meet some criterion. It's a mothra-fracking computer! It takes a few clicks.

    It makes me want to scream. Sometimes I do. Then I have to go and talk to the dean.

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    1. Hard to believe "typing" falls into that category. After all, these are PhDs, they do not accept handwritten documents from students, and they must understand the mechanics behind revisions along the lines of, say, insert an entire paragraph or list here (for minor edits, such as "add a comma here" or "delete this one word" I am fine with printouts, but long handwritten lists and paragraphs, I just don't understand the procedure by which they decided that typing into an e-mail is the more difficult way and instead they opt for printing, handwriting, scanning, e-mailing to themselves, saving to computer, attaching to a new e-mail to me).

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  2. I've had similar experiences with colleagues. It's about activation barrier.

    Unless a faculty member is actively searching for a job or for funding from an agency that's likely to google them instead of just reading their biosketch in the grant app, they likely don't give a tinker's cuss about their web pages; that's a marketing thing. Thus, anything that increases the energy it would take for them to send you the edits will also decrease the liklihood that they'll ever do it. So you'll have to accept whatever they're willing to offer, because the most important factor is not how hard it really is, but how hard they *perceive* it is.

    That doesn't mean it's hopeless. Imigine it from their standpoint, and imagine that you didn't know how to do some things that now seem obvious to you. Write a succinct How-To manual that gives them at least two ways to deliver the materials in a way that's workable for you. For example, for one method, you could describe how to save a web page as html and open it within Word to edit it directly. Also sell them on the idea that by them doing it this way, they better ensure it will turn out exactly how they want it. Make this document available some way.

    By showing how easy it is to get what they want, you'll lower the activation barrier for them to give you what you want.

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    1. I am trying to imagine it from the point of view of a PhD who does not know how to type and has never typed anything before. It is hard to accept that anyone could attain an undergraduate degree, much less a PhD, but still needs a succinct How-To manual about.... how to type? I mean, do I have to go to their desk and explain that depressing the "e" key results in the appearance of the letter "e" on screen whereas handwriting the letter "e" does not result in that? How can you get through a PhD program without knowing how to type, copy, and paste? Saving the page as an HTML document is not necessary, you can just copy and paste the page into an e-mail or another Word document or, since there are just three headings for degrees, courses, and research interest, just type an e-mail that says "put the following under 'degrees'" It's fairly short, however, some people have long lists of research interests, and others have long lists of courses they teach (mostly if they've been here for decades).

      Sure, I get that they don't care about their Web pages, no one is compelling them to care, but these are people who contacted me asking how they could update their pages, and when I replied "e-mail me your edits," I thought it was pretty clear I mean, "e-mail me your typed edits."

      I am not dismissing your suggestion, it's a good idea, but we are moving to an entirely new system, at which point they will (thankfully) be managing their own profile pages, if they choose to (if not, it'll just have the bare minimum information pulled from the DB).

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    2. You asked, so I answered. It's about perceived activation barrier. You'll encounter it again in some other situation, so maybe learning how to program the humans to get over their barriers could be a good thing for you.

      Some people just like to do markup directly on paper; that should be obvious from some of the submissions you got. Because I know that, and because I really really need people to deliver certain things, I "let" them give me handwritten hardcopy, even though I'm their frikkin boss and could "make" them type it. The ones that really puzzle me are those who type their submission into Word, then print it, cut the paragraph from the printout (with scissors!) and paste it onto my form (with glue!) right beneath the instructions that clearly say I'll accept it on another sheet of paper stapled to the form, or even in an email or email attachment. So I can definitely sympathize with you. What do I do? I chuckle, pop it into the scanner, then run OCR on it in Acrobat Pro and go on with my day. Sometimes outcome is more important than process.

      I am not dismissing your compliment of my suggestion, but I didn't need it; I already knew it is a good idea, because I've done it and it works. It wasn't the same situation with the paper forms that I mentioned above, but closer if not identical to yours. Again I say that imagining yourself in their situation could help. They've gotten along just fine as autodidacts coding in 6502 assembler, and you're asking for something in what for now looks to them more like 8086. Figure out how to get them to see that the pardigm shift is actually quite minor, and they'll come to your side.

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    3. Okay, the compliment was merely intended to be polite since you took the time to respond, for which I was grateful. It is just hard to imagine that level of stupidity of not understanding that words that appear on your screen that are typed are actually typed. Unlike, say coding in assembly, which I totally would be stupid about myself and need lots of tutorials and how-tos. But is typing actually comparable to coding assembly? I mean, anyone can see with their own eyes that your comment above is typed, and this comment I am writing now is also typed. Let's say I wanted to edit it. Would I print it, handwrite my edits, then be absolutely mystified as to how those handwritten edits could be converted to typed text and need some sort to tutorial to explain it? Perhaps this handful of people really are that stupid as to not understand how typing copy results in typed copy? I don't know if sending them a tutorial about how to type would help.

      Overall I realize my post was a fairly trivial matter of a handful of annoying requests that will soon be past history when the new system is launched so faculty can maintain (or not, if they prefer) their own pages.

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  3. It's not just academia, either. My husband works for human resources for the state and standard operating procedure there is to print, fill out by hand, photocopy, send hard copies, scan back in, and get someone to key everything into the system. It drives him up the wall.

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    1. Wow, and I thought I was annoyed by handwritten documents, that sounds like a nightmare. Well, whoever's job it is to key everything into the system is probably not too keen on the idea of electronic documents, but it must be driving everyone else crazy.

      Actually our faculty evaluations are still done in this way (students handwrite, then we manually enter it all into a database) but that is because switching to electronic evaluations means only 50% compliance whereas hard copies distributed before the final generally result in nearly 100%.

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  4. Kind of like snail mailing job applications! You know some person is scanning them in....

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    1. If they are at least typed, then there are pretty good scan to text applications available, but if they are handwritten, in today's world, they might as well be nonexistent.

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  5. I had the same experiences when updating our department's brochure (back when we had printed brochures). My idiot colleagues can't figure out how to use Track Changes in MS Word. I told them that either I get it typed or I don't change it. Some didn't bother. There are some assignments that students could do better.

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    1. In these situations I use Word's "compare documents" function to good effect.

      At my joint, I am baffled by people now in charge of compiling the edits for our brochures who insist that we use the highlighter to mark insertions and altered text, because (according to them) it is simpler than the track changes tool. Don't you want to be able see what was there before it was deleted or changed, I ask? And how is "accept all changes in document" more difficult than "select all; no highlight"? Blank stare, then "well, it's easier when you have a lot of them to do from different people." No, it's not; I know through experience.

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    2. I, too, am amazed that people are unable to click that Track Changes button, but I often wonder if it's just a matter of some people are unwilling to learn anything new or do anything different or even read the help files, look it up on Google, or ask someone nearby to demonstrate, or any of the ways I've managed to learn stuff merely by trying rather than because I was born with any sort of inherent capability to use MS Word.

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  6. As of this semester, we're able to update what sound like very similar faculty pages ourselves. I'm sure this will result in a whole new set of problems for the people in charge of keeping them in some kind of shape (there are all sorts of instructions embedded in the updating inference, but of course the usual herding-cats metaphors still apply). But it may solve your problem (or at least diminish it; I'm sure some professors are still going to expect somebody else -- probably one of the department front-office staff, in our case -- to do it).

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    1. Well, the great thing about this new system is that it will pull some very basic info from our massive database, so anyone who doesn't want to bother with their Web page will just have the bare bones contact info, department, and what they're currently teaching, whereas anyone who wants to put some extra effort into it will be able to add their research and various other activities. It will be great for those seeking tenure or generally looking to boost their careers, whereas those who are don't care about that don't have to do anything at all.

      Best of all, I will not be able to access any of their pages since we use Active Directory which is single-sign-on for everything - computers, every software system, Blackboard, the payroll intranet, etc. - so no one can ask me to log into their page, nor would they even pass it off to a graduate assistant, because it's one password for everything, and people actually do keep these confidential.

      I may still have to provide handholding for a few outliers, but that's better than maintaining 100+ pages.

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