New ACES version gets low marks

The new ACES has failed to ace the test of winning students over to its revamped format and features.

Garnering immediate and ample response from students-much of it negative-the new ACES Web site that went live July 15 has been criticized for its "primitive" interface and convoluted hyperlinking system.

Still, Student Information Services and Systems, which administers ACES, does not plan to revert to the old version of ACES or its faculty counterpart STORM, University Registrar Bruce Cunningham said.

"The new ACES and STORM are part of an upgrade of the student information system, and retrofitting the old ACES and STORM into this new system would not be easy or advisable," he said.

Perhaps the biggest complaint about the new site is its lack of a graphic bookbag feature. Many students said they preferred the old method, in which the week's schedule was shown in a colorful block format, instead of the plainer version used in the current ACES.

"I've always been extraordinarily proud of the old ACES, and my friends from home have seen me registering for classes and have been awed by it. Now, I feel like we're behind some community colleges," said senior Danny Mistarz, who created the Facebook group "The 'new ACES' sucks."

Administrators have made some changes to the interface in response to complaints-like enabling students to view a course's waitlist-but some students said the changes did not adequately address major concerns about difficulties in navigating the site and the lack of a graphic bookbag.

Cunningham said ease of navigation was affected by the addition of new features, which required more hyperlinks. He added that many students' concerns about navigation most likely came from an unfamiliarity with the newer version.

"It really is just a matter of learning the software and then using it," he wrote in an e-mail.

Kathy Pfeiffer, director of SISS, said the department plans to implement a visual bookbag resembling the old graphic in the next few days, adding that SISS had anticipated some concern about the loss of the graphic calendar.

"We had talked to the students about a compensation for not having as simple a calendar-you would be able to upload the calendar to the calendar [software] of your choice," she said. "That proved not to be the case for the majority of students."

Pfeiffer added, however, that she found some of the criticism surprising.

"For a lot of students this has been a difficult transition and we're trying to be responsive to that," she said. "This is the same team of people that brought them ACES in the first place."

Although administrators said they do not have estimates of the number of e-mails and other forms of feedback they received from students, three Facebook groups denouncing the new site have been created since it debuted. Mistarz's group is the largest, with more than 800 members.

Pfeiffer and Cunningham headed an effort to switch ACES from a solely Duke-handled site to a version offered by the PeopleSoft Corp. student information system.

In addition to offering new features-like a more student-friendly long-range planning application-PeopleSoft provided Duke with a support system to assist University technicians with programming tasks, Pfeiffer said.

"We have the whole weight of a big company behind us instead of a very small team working to edit ACES," she said.

Sophomore Alex Beutel said administrators had mentioned to him that the transfer of the software-and its editing duties-into the hands of a large company would also save Duke money.

The aspect of the site that struck Mistarz when he first logged on was its layout. He said the interface resembled an information storage site rather than one suited for interactive features. He then sent three or four e-mails to administrators that same day and created a template e-mail that he encouraged members of his Facebook group to send as well.

Faculty members have reacted to the new ACES with many of the same complaints as students, Pfeiffer said.

Michael Gustafson, Pratt '93, Grad '98 and Ph. D. '99 and assistant of the practice professor of electrical and computer engineering, said he also had concerns about the new interface and had asked the Engineering Student Government to voice criticism to SISS.

Loyal to the blue-and-red blocks of the old system, Beutel, along with sophomore Nick Bottenus, created the Duke Schedulator, a Web site that generates a mimic of the old calendar after students enter details of their week's schedule. Beutel criticized the current system's interface, saying it restricted the way data was presented.

"There's no reason they can't make multiple interfaces of the same data [instead of] restricting it to one way of doing it," he said.

Beutel added that users had to click a "countless number of times" in order to navigate the site-an element of the new ACES that he said was inefficient.

Many students decried the hyperlinking system for spreading information disparately around the site.

"We don't have that same idea of contemporaneous information-there are like 80,000 links and no hard information," junior Cory Massaro said.

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