Let’s get something straight right off the bat: I’m a teacher.
I’m not a web designer. I’m not a programmer. I’m not a tech guru.
I do, however, think I’m pretty tech savvy. Like most guys, I refuse to use the owner’s manual when I get a new phone or computer. I just boot the thing up and start clicking stuff until it does what I want. Most professional programs are intuitive enough that, with a little time and energy, I can figure them out. That’s how professionally made programs should work. Manuals are good for reference, but if the GUI is well-designed and the code is good, the program should be easy enough to figure out.
With all of this in mind, Edupoint’s Synergy application is, for lack of a more professional term, crap.
For those of you who (thankfully) don’t know what Synergy is, it’s a web-based application that schools use for attendance and grading. My county has decided that this should be our new platform this year (as soon as everyone got comfortable using the old, efficient platform). Let’s take a look at some of my issues with this application, shall we?
After about a week of trying to use this application, the county apparently sent Edupoint an email saying “All our teachers are saying your application is terrible and won’t work.” To ameliorate this “terrible and won’t work” issue, Edupoint responded with this advice:
***Use a NEW Internet Explorer browser unused by any other application/no other application may be opened in the same browser. Do not open other applications in additional tabs in the browser – Synergy must be the only application used in one instance of the browser.***
That’s literally the email I got from the county via “our Synergy contact” – all the bold, italics, and stars were in the original email. That’s right…our Synergy contact apparently punctuates his emails as if he’s sending an electronic chain letter circa 1998.
First of all, Internet Explorer. Again, I’m no web professional, but is there any app developer out there who, when designing a web application in 2013 says, “you know, I want to make this marketable and profitable, so I think I’ll make sure it only works reliably in Internet Explorer…and only when it’s literally the only thing running in that window.”?
For those of you unsure of my issue with IE, I’ll let this graphic explain my point:
credit to nealcampbell.com
Make sense? Designing your application to run reliably in only ONE browser is a HUGE programming no-no, especially when that one browser is Internet Explorer.
Errors, Errors, Errors!
I understand that no program is perfect. There will always be flaws and errors and such. I can deal with that. Most developers find and fix these errors in beta testing, and they fix any newly discovered problems with patches after the release, but the essential functions of the program are usually pretty kink-free when the application is rolled out to the public – especially when the public is PAYING for the program.
Synergy is so wrought with errors that it actually merits using the word ‘wrought’ to describe how error-ridden it is. I receive errors for everything. New students added? Error. Students dropped from classes? Error. Want to access the grade book? Error. And I’m not talking about one-time issues, here. These are still going on even after six weeks of reporting the issues to Edupoint.
How exactly did the company respond when we told them about these errors? Edupoint informed us that we were doing something wrong (apparently clicking ‘ok’ is wrong), and they gave me a 167 word workaround. That’s ridiculous. In fact, here’s the workaround so you can see the asinine hoops they want me to jump through instead of clicking ‘ok':
If you receive an error when clicking OK on the Add/Drop acknowledgement box, log back in and when you get the acknowledgement again, UNCHECK the “Add To Chart” box for each student, then click OK.
If you have no open seats in your seating chart, click on the “Preferences” tab and change your “Seating Chart Dimensions” making the grid large enough to accommodate your new students. Go to the “Students” tab, click the “Edit” button, then click the “Fill Open Seats with Students” button. Click “Edit” again. Click “Save”.
If you have no open seats in your seating chart, and you are using custom seating charts, you will have to go back to the “Details” tab. Click on Edit Seating Charts, create a new seating chart, click Save and Return to Seating Chart. CHOOSE your new seating chart from the drop-down list (located above the “Edit Seating Charts” button), then go back to the “Students” tab, click the “Edit” button, and Add all students to the chart.
TL;DR: The summary is this: Synergy is programmed poorly. I shouldn’t have to do any of that. Synergy should automatically detect when my seating chart is full and make the appropriate adjustments. Then, it should give me a little pop-up saying “There were no seats left in your seating chart, so we added enough to fit your new students. Have a nice day, you sexy beast!” You can alter that message however you want, Edupoint.
AND, this “solution” doesn’t take into account that I HAVE NO “ADD TO CHART” BOX TO “UNCHECK” WHEN I ONLY HAVE DROPPED STUDENTS, yet I still get the error. Good job, Edupoint. Good job.
Oh, and Synergy will NOT allow you to log in from multiple places or computers. I guess that’s a security issue; however, it continues to happen to some teachers regardless of whether or not they’re actually logged in elsewhere. Solution?: I don’t know, maybe provide a “log out of other locations” option when you enter your password? I’m just throwing stuff out there, Edupoint…
The Look and Feel
My biggest complaint about Synergy is that it’s not intuitive at all. Intuitiveness is the “feel” of the program: buttons are conveniently located and functional, windows can move and adjust easily, the layout is pleasing and not overwhelming…that sort of stuff.
Synergy fails miserably here. I can’t adjust window size or location. Icon sizes are too small. It’s too complicated to adjust seating charts. Entering grading categories requires a magnifying glass and Google Maps. It’s ridiculous.
And none of the menus look related. What’s up with that? The attendance screen, grade book, and grade book dashboard all look like they were independently put together by completely different design teams. The colors don’t even match! That’s just unprofessional.
And by the way…while Synergy will lock you out after a set amount of time or prevent you from logging in from multiple computers for “security reasons”, it WILL NOT allow you to sign out or lock the program from the grade book dashboard. Oh, it has those buttons, but they don’t do anything more than refresh the page. Solid security, Edupoint. Glad you’re looking out for me.
A Plea to the County
Look guys, I’m sure we’re saving a ton of money by switching to Synergy, but honestly, it’s crap, and I guarantee you’ll continue to hear complaints from parents and teachers until we get some sweeping changes from Edupoint, or we switch back to last year’s application (the one we were all finally getting used to).