I hate Quercus

The name of Portal’s new replacement leaves much to be desired

I hate Quercus

I am tired of Portal and its user-unfriendly design. I hate being greeted by the chaotic home page when I log in, and having to click on 10 different things to get where I want to go. The mobile version for its website is non-existent — I refuse to make room in my already cluttered phone for the app. So when I heard that Portal was changing, I was ecstatic.

My joy was dimmed, however, when I learned that the new Portal would be called ‘Quercus.’ McMaster has Avenue, Laurier has MyLearningSpace, Western has OWL, and Guelph has CourseLink, while U of T has Quercus? One of these things is not like the others — and by ‘others,’ I mean a solid, serious name befitting a university as renowned as U of T.

Admittedly, not all universities are so creative with their choices. Waterloo’s portal is called Portal Waterloo, Ryerson calls theirs my.ryerson, and York has Passport York. Though these three are a smidge unoriginal, compared to Quercus, I’d take something like ‘My UofT’ any day.

Quercus is the Latin word for the oak tree genus, which is in line with U of T’s motto and crest, and evidently one of the reasons it was chosen. Despite its distinguished roots, however, Quercus is a poor choice of name for a learning system at a university as esteemed and as large as U of T.

For one, Quercus is hard to say. It’s pronounced as ‘qwhere-kis’ according to the bulletin posted by U of T — but how many people will read that bulletin? All I imagine whilst contemplating the phonology of Quercus are variants ranging anywhere from ‘quirkus’ to ‘queerkiss’, and professors wasting 10 minutes of class debating with their students about the correct pronunciation.

More importantly, Quercus is easy to mock. Quercus shares an ending with the words ‘circus’ and ‘ruckus,’ rhymes with ‘ridiculous’ and, if you’re ambitious, ‘worthless.’ One of these will surely be adopted by U of T students to refer to Quercus mockingly, and non-U of T students will probably start using it, too, once they hear what our portal is called. 

To gauge how students felt about Quercus, I posted a poll in a group comprised of majority U of T students asking them what comes to mind when they hear the name of our new portal. Admittedly, the group is a meme group, which means frivolous answers are a foregone conclusion, but it seemed like the only group in which participation in such a poll was guaranteed. Out of 135 students who filled out the poll, 38 of them responded with ‘How do you pronounce it?’. ‘Eh wot’ and ‘Ridiculus’ were other popular choices. One brave soul responded with ‘I want to transfer out.’ The most popular choice by far, though, was ‘Ignorant and hurtful’ — a meme born from a post in the UofT Memes for Edgy Teens Facebook group that called its members “straight up ignorant and hurtful” for mocking other universities — which garnered70 responses. This answer, meant to be comical, is beginning to seem truer with every passing moment that U of T wastes by not recognizing the name Quercus for what it is: a mistake, “magnus incursitamus.”

Quercus is currently still running on pilot, with full integration expected by Fall 2018. Until then, U of T still has time to change its name to avoid a potential circus around Quercus. In the meantime, I’ll be acting ignorant and hurtful like the rest of my peers by pretending that Quercus doesn’t exist, and continuing to use Portal.

 

Zeahaa Rehman is a third-year student at UTM studying Linguistics and Professional Writing.

New Quercus software to replace Portal

Change comes after over a decade of Portal

New Quercus software to replace Portal

After over a decade of use, U of T’s learning management software, Portal, is being replaced by a newer program called Quercus. U of T’s Academic Toolbox Renewal Steering Committee announced the new software’s name following a university-wide contest. The name, Latin for the Oak tree genus, follows the oak theme at the university that is seen in ACORN and the university motto and crest.

The university’s Chief Information Officer, Bo Wandschneider, told The Varsity that the change marks an important step forward in improving the system used to move academic content throughout the university. “U of T is one of the leading institutions in the world, and we really need to provide our faculty, staff, and students with the best tools possible.”

The new academic toolbox, developed with the Canvas engine from educational technology company Instructure, will have new tools and better flexibility than Portal. The university is currently focused on transferring existing tools and features from Portal to Quercus. While there will be some changes, the major tools will be carried forward to Quercus.

U of T is running a pilot during the winter semester with approximately 3,100 students in 33 courses that are taught by different instructors. It is expected that by September 2018, all students, faculty, and staff will transfer to Quercus, and Portal will be decommissioned.

Students were quick to take to social media about the change. Student groups on Facebook created posts about what they called the “broken Portal,” even though, according to Wandschneider, Portal is simply outdated rather than broken. Meanwhile, some students on Reddit criticized the name choice, with one user commenting, “Welcome to the University of Toronto, where we have the brightest minds yet the worst creativity.”

The Portal to the future

Faculty gathering student input for new learning interface

The Portal to the future

The Faculty of Arts & Science is reviewing U of T’s learning management engine (LME), which is currently provided by Blackboard. There are plans to develop a new LME: the Academic Toolbox Renewal Initiative. In anticipation of this new system, the faculty hosted a townhall on Portal, where students came to air their grievances and give feedback about the interface. 

A little over a year ago, The Varsity reported on the persistent outages and maintenance hours that Blackboard faced, and many students believe that they feel a disconnect with their instructors.

Professors and students have expressed frustrations with the current LME. One student who attended the town hall criticized its user unfriendliness, mentioning that one of her peers pasted her assignment in a comment box rather than the assignment submission box, which could have affected her grade. In addition, professors are not required to use Blackboard to submit grades, which leaves some students frustrated with the inaccessibility.

Learning tools such as gamification modules, marking interfaces, publishing capabilities, and many more are on the long list of suggestions for the new framework. The faculty discussed features such as a calendar for assignments and exams, and many of the technologies were scheduled for renewal last year. Out of the three stages of the LME development, the initiative is in its second phase. 

Abdullah Shihipar, president of the Arts & Science Students’ Union, also criticized the lack of “user-friendliness” of the current Portal system. 

“No one knows how it works,” Shihipar said. The lack of a search option, the inability to edit the types of tools needed for each course, and nothing “more than just a text option” for the current organization function, were a few of the grievances he aired on behalf of himself and other students who reached out to him over social media.   

The university is currently accepting comments for the new LME online. Shihipar encouraged students to have their voice heard saying, “before this process is over, get [your feedback] in.”