Here’s a little mini-tour through one of the many reasons why Angel, and other course management systems, drive me crazy and basically beg for me not to use them. This has to do with a simple and common course management task: Sending an email to all students in a class.
First of all, if you were using a basic email client to do this task, sending an email would be a matter of creating a distribution list for the students in the class — a one-time startup task — and then the following:
- Type the name of the list in the To: blank. (Most email clients have an auto-complete feature that doesn’t even require you complete the full name of the recipient.)
- Type in the subject and text of the email.
- Hit “Send”.
Three steps, each of which is easy and intuitive.
If you want to do this in Angel, on the other hand, it becomes a seven-step task, which is really nine tasks — each of which, like the tasks required of Hercules or aspiring Zen masters, involves some kind of test of strength and willpower.
Step 1: You have to click on the “Communicate” link at the top of the course web page.
Step 2: You have to locate and click on the “Read and compose course mail messages” link. Note that this is a text link — not an icon, or something that is easy to click on, which is usually the case for a commonly-used action.
Step 3: Once you are in the course email area, you have to locate the “Compose” link. Quick — find it!
How long did it take you? Did your eyes go right to it? Mine either. Another text link, normal-sized font — buried on the page. Then you click on that. Wherever it is.
Step 4: You have to click on the “Add Recipients” link, which is still a text link but at least it’s conveniently located above the To: field.
Steps 5(a), 5(b), and 5(c): Having finally gotten to the place where you add email addresses, you have to click on the subset of recipients that could possibly receive the email (step 5(a)). Then you have to click “To ->” (Step 5(b)). Then you have to click “OK” (Step 5(c)).
There are no shortcuts here, such as double-clicking on the recipient to have that group automatically appear in the “To:” field.
Step 6: Type in the subject and the text of the email.
However: Notice that, at least on my Firefox browser running on Mac OS X, the text field for the email body extends way off to the right and there is no left-right scroll bar available! You have to resize the browser to take up nearly all the horizontal space of the screen, or else the stuff you type near the right end of the line is invisible.
Step 7: Step 7 is to click “Send”, right? Not so fast. In Angel, if you click Send at this point, the email does not go to the recipient’s actual internet email address — it goes to their Angel course mail account which is not an actual email address at all but rather a proprietary messaging system that can only be checked from within Angel. If you want the email (if we can really call it that, at this point) to go to the students’ actual email accounts, you have to scroll down and select a checkbox that is unselected by default:
Then you click Send.
So let’s review:
- Standard email client: One-time startup task of setting up the distribution list; then three intuitive steps to compose and send an email.
- Angel: Nine steps to accomplish the same task, each of which involves some kind of non-intuitive action or madness-inducing design principle.
I’m at a loss as to why the makers of course management systems make their products like this, or why faculty and students are expected to flock to the nine-step non-intuitive way of doing things when there are perfectly good, and free, means of doing the same things with less work.