It’s that time of year again when our “trusty” friend Mosaic has decided it needs to slap on some lipstick on and call it an update. Mosaic, McMaster’s semi-new administrative information system, has a history of trying to improve it’s site visually with defective updates. The updates fail to deliver a functional, appealing product for students, professors, and administration. This year’s update, completed on October 31st, was not indifferent to the many of renovations preceding it, all while creating a multitude of new errors.

1. The Home Page

As much as Mosaic has attempted to throw itself into 2016 with minimalist graphics, it still falls short on providing a combination of decent design and easy usability. Sure, the little vector images are somewhat pleasant to look at, but the tiled layout is straight up confusing. The contrast to the old page is so harsh that the page becomes unreadable and now we’re more lost than we were before. There’s a drop down Home menu that’s centered for no apparent reason, you’ll see icons that are disgustingly close to the edge of the page and sometimes the red bar on the bottom doesn’t go all the way across. Safe to say this home page is a graphic designer’s nightmare.


2. The Other Pages

Goddamn it, Mosaic. You take another 3-day vacation in the MIDDLE of the semester to update, and you don’t even change half the content? Taking a quick look at almost any clickable page, students will see the that the only significant change to the site that was made was to the Home Page. The Student Center tab has gone upsettingly unchanged, including the frustrating and hard to navigate Plan and Enroll system for course selection. These sections are arguably the worst aspects of Mosaic and desperately need a facelift.

3. The Errors

While logging into Mosaic, you're greeted with a lovely, little error message that lists “There is no current buffer context.” Refresh the page, and you’ll notice in the We Fucked Up Mosaic Alerts section that you need to clear your browser cache to resolve the issue. You can do so by holding down shift and clicking refresh, or by clicking control + F5. However, you won’t be able to do these short cuts on mobile and sometimes they don’t work. If you manage to get into the site (which I don’t know why you would really want to), you’ll happen upon an abundance of currently unfixable errors hidden within. Let’s cross our fingers that the next update to fix those errors isn’t during January, when we’re all trying to access the site to change courses.


4. The Mosaic Upgrade Orientation Video - October Edition

Looking to the second tile in the first row, you’ll see a video viewer for a quick tutorial on how to use the new site. Great! At least the creators know that we’re going to need help to steer through the new “improvements.” Watching the video, you’ll notice that many of the new features being showcased are the ones creating all the obnoxious errors on the live site, making this video a mockery. The video doesn’t even care to address that there are any problems with the site to begin with, which it should because, you know, it’s supposed to be there to help.

5. The Lack of the Search Bar

Mosaic before was only slightly less horrible than it is now, but it’s always been lacking one important aspect: the search bar. Mosaic, really? You’re going to ignore making student’s live’s easier by dismissing the fact that a search function exists on almost every other website? Eagerly waiting for this change, some had high hopes, as the compass looking icon in the upper right-hand corner was labeled as Navigation. Alas, it too creates an error message. Adding a website staple like the search bar to Mosaic could eliminate clicking the mouse 20+ times to reach what your destination. We barely have enough time to sleep and eat, let alone try to click our way through this bulky website.


What do you think about the new Mosaic interface? Did you run into the same problems that we did? What suggestions would you give to the Mosaic team so they can make a reliable product?

Originally made to replace multiple legacy information systems, Mosaic represented a massive change for the university’s administration. In approximately three years since the first piece of Mosaic launched, there have been a myriad of issues with the service ranging from interruptions in the system for students and staff, to generally slow performance, to redundancies for end-users and a generally unclear interface for less common tasks.

The upcoming fall update is the first in a series intended to fix some of these problems. This update is focused on HR functions and the interface. Future updates, happening four times over the next year, promise improvements to finance functions, advanced reporting, the database and the student administrative functions. It will be a long process with plans for yearly or 18 month updates after that point.

From a student perspective, there’s a lot to be excited about. McMaster users suffered through the absolutely terrible MUGSI and SOLAR systems for far too long only to find out that the university wasted millions of dollars on an arguably worse system for end-users. The failures of the past should encourage you to be incredibly skeptical about any of these plans.

This begins with the current update. From Oct. 27 at 6 p.m. until Oct. 31 at 8:30 a.m., all systems related to Mosaic will be closed.

In a Daily News post from July 6, a response to the question of, “Will it be like the launch of Mosaic?” is “This will be a much smaller, less disruptive project.” While that may legitimately be true given how awful the launch was, it’s difficult to say that 86 and a half hours of a major, vital university service experiencing downtime is acceptable in any regard.

While it’s surely difficult to work with a base like the current Mosaic, that should not mean that this amount of downtime is justified. What’s worse, the content of this update does not give any promise that future updates will be any faster.

In a post from Sept. 30, there’s a comparison made between Windows 7 and Windows 10 and the similar changes that will occur on Mosaic’s interface. Mainly, the mobile-friendliness of the site and the ability to personalize Mosaic are the intended selling points. There’s also a line about the interface being deployed to other parts of the system through 2017, implying that they can’t do the entirety of the interface update in 86 and a half hours of downtime, but we’ll focus on what they’ve shown so far.

It’s tacky. The more accurate comparison seems to be between Windows 7 and Windows 8. A tablet and mobile focus made the desktop experience clunky and awkward, and Mosaic has the added benefit of stability being the focus in future updates instead of this one for the average McMaster student. It will show less information on any given screen, and it may actually be more of a pain to use despite the promise that the steps required to complete a task will remain the same in almost all cases. While it may certainly be better for mobile users, I simply cannot see how it’ll be better for the larger portion of desktop users.

I could be completely surprised by the product when it does finish the update. I probably won’t be. While this might sound like a paranoid old man shouting about things he doesn’t know about, the point is that you should have a negative perspective moving forward. McMaster has failed us for far too long, and the lead-up to these updates has been disappointing. The only way the system will ever improve is through feedback, a population willing to notify them about problems and expecting a major part of the school to live up to the standard of what we want to see from the university.

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By: Nicholas Moore

From their course selection experience this summer, most of the student body is aware that Mosaic has not been implemented properly. These problems extend into graduate student payroll, and there have been a plethora of problems resulting from this faulty and poorly managed program. These issues were, and are, far from trivial.

On Oct. 10, dental benefits for Teaching Assistants and Research Assistants were suspended because McMaster University had not remitted premiums it had collected for the insurance company for a period of four months. The premiums were paid quickly after the suspension of benefits, but this situation, which never should have happened in the first place, was laid at the feet of Mosaic.

Administration proposes a “standing loan” program to “bridge graduate student needs between payments.” Ludicrous. Will they charge interest on these loans? Most likely.

There have been innumerable instances of general mismanagement. Anecdotally, I was charged double the correct amount of tuition in September, which took a few weeks to fix. A friend of mine was charged two-thirds of the correct amount. Another friend of mine has not been paid the full amount of scholarship the University promised.

On Nov. 3, a letter was sent to graduate students from the Acting Provost and Vice President (Administration) which attempted to address the ongoing problems with Mosaic’s payroll system. In this letter, they acknowledge that there has been “ongoing confusion around ... scholarships, payments and benefits.” It is mostly a loose collection of vapid buzzwords, but somewhat sinister in its implications.

First, all they propose to do is improve “communication” with grad students and the throughput on our complaints. This includes setting up an email address for complaints, hiring staff to handle complaints, sending us emails more frequently and having “a series of open meetings” where we will be permitted to ask questions. They also propose to hand this functionality over to a brand new “customer service unit” that will handle this type of inquiry. This is a very telling Freudian slip, betraying the degree to which McMaster administration prefers to see graduate students as income units, rather than employees. No amount of communication, or “managing expectations,” will fix Mosaic.

Particularly egregious is the proposed “long term solution” to changes they made to our payroll system that have resulted in grad students going for entire semesters with only a couple thousand dollars in compensation. Students who don’t have a TA or RA position immediately after starting their grad studies have a particularly bad time. The old system compensated for this, and spread our pay more equally throughout the year. University administration proposes a “standing loan” program to “bridge graduate student needs between payments.” Ludicrous. Will they charge interest on these loans? Most likely. This is being paid in currency only tenable at the company store. This is Wal-Mart holding a food drive for its own employees.

The letter says they will “continue working on the technical and system issues underlying some of the problems.” Insofar as this is a circuitous, partial acknowledgment of faults in Mosaic, nothing further is promised, except to continue patching a broken system. No mention of increasing their efforts to get to the root of the problem, a fundamentally incompetent implementation of otherwise useful software system. I was shocked to learn that the University of Waterloo uses the same software package for the same purpose, but having implemented it competently, it is free from the deluge of ridiculous problems we have experienced with Mosaic. We educate software engineers here. It is not beyond the capability of this school to properly configure software.

Yet, here we are. Perhaps our administration is ensnared by the sunk cost fallacy, but they seem incapable of acknowledging something that anyone with a background in software (such as myself), and many with no background in software will tell you: Mosaic is a redo. Mosaic is a terminal patient, and the complaints resolution process is an iron lung. Mosaic is a hurdles runner hitting every hurdle because it has stale pretzel sticks for legs. Mosaic is a plantar wart; unless you crack it open and get to the root of the problem, it’s just going to get uglier and uglier.

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By: Emma Mulholland

Next month, McMaster is saying farewell to its mainframe computer, which will no longer be open to general access as of March 18.

The mainframe computers have been used at McMaster since the late 1960s. The computer that is currently in the process of being decommissioned was initiated at McMaster in the 1980s.

“[The mainframe computer] refers to a specific machine, that actually sits in a space … in a larger, more abstract sense it’s a set of applications that are on a specific hardware, that use a specific operating system, coded in specific ways … it’s the whole operating system,” explained Sheldon Smart, Public Relations Manager with the McMaster Office of Public Relations.

Most of the technology used in the mainframe date back to the mainframe’s beginnings in the 1980s, and include applications no longer beneficial to the university. “We no longer use those applications, or we’re phasing them out. There are a few left that we’re just in the last stages of turning off, then we will get rid of that hardware,” said Smart.

McMaster is now transitioning a new Enterprise Resource Planning system. “[The mainframe] was quite high performance hardware in its time. Back in the day, mainframe computing was all there was. But now there are many options, some of which suit what we are doing here better,” said Smart.

Mosaic, the student service centre introduced last year, is part of the new ERP system. With the introduction of the ERP system, it is no longer necessary to maintain the old mainframe hardware and software, so the university is in the process of shutting it down.

“Mosaic uses different hardware, software and base operating systems than the previous system, the mainframe … we no longer need the mainframe — this is just part of a natural transition,” said Smart.

With the introduction of the ERP system, it is no longer necessary to maintain the mainframe hardware and software, so the university is in the process of shutting it down.

Mosaic’s ability to integrate information from various sources, such as student records and financial accounts, is representative of the new ERP system as a whole. “The hallmark of ERP is that it tends to combine multiple pieces: our finance system, human resources system, student administration system . . . they all interconnect with each other,” explained Smart.

The new system allows easier access to transcripts and the ability to independently choose class timetables. McMaster is not the first institution to make the move to more integrated systems. Western University and the University of Waterloo both use similar programs to what is now implemented at McMaster.

As with any new structure, it will take some time to get used to the new system. Regardless, there are many advantages to the new ERP system when compared to the mainframe, which was limited in its capabilities due its age.

“It will take some time for the university to become completely comfortable with all the new functions, but in comparison the system it replaced was set up in the early 1980s,” said Smart. Anyone who is interested in keeping track of the mainframe’s last days can visit the University Technology Services website to find a timer counting down to the mainframe’s official end, as well as a more detailed history of computing at McMaster.

Photo Credit: Sheldon Smart

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My first reaction to seeing the words “shopping cart” on Mosaic was to post a joke about it on Twitter. After my tweet got three likes and my sense of humour was externally affirmed for the day, I glanced over the words again and felt nauseous.

The words “shopping cart” might seem small and meaningless and the intent behind it was probably harmless, meant to turn an administrative process into something familiar. Unfortunately, it speaks to a larger reality of university education: the normalization of seeing universities as businesses and our degrees as products.

These words now serve as a reality check. It makes me ask over and over again: what’s university? Is it a place where knowledge is advanced, where society is challenged? Is it a hub of innovation? The answer is obviously yes, but there’s more to it than that. Being in our undergraduate degrees, many of us will not get to participate in that culture. Many students leave undergrad, either find a job or go to a professional degree, without having ever interacted with the culture of knowledge-advancement that is the essence of the university as a concept.

To undergrads, university is sold as an experience, as the best four years of your life — a fact that I sincerely hope is not true. Degrees are framed as skill-giving products, and those that don’t offer hard professional skills feel the need to justify their existence by teaching “soft” skills, or by shaping their products into something innovative and cool that can then be sold as “elite”. Admittedly, a lot of this has to do with university programs just trying to survive as funding decreases for any non-STEM field that involves even a bit of critical thinking.

It makes me ask over and over again: what’s university? Is it a place where knowledge is advanced, where society is challenged? Is it a hub of innovation?

“Shopping” equates a process as significant to our life and career trajectories as academics with trivial everyday undertakings. Things you put in your “shopping cart” usually include: groceries, clothes from online stores, highly acclaimed books from Amazon you’ve been pretending to want to read for a few months. This language positions the university as the seller of knowledge, and you, the buyer.

Universities already use ads to sell their undergraduate programs — a tactic I’ve found ethically questionable for some time. While advertising is understandable, ads playing in movie theatres for our Engineering program directly following that guy from The Source explaining some cool new tech product makes it a lot harder to think of my education as a genuinely enlightening experience.

The student-as-consumer narrative creates a feeling of disconnect between me and my education that cheapens the whole experience, which is unfortunate, because it’s anything but cheap.

But the problems faced by our public education system won’t disappear if McMaster decides to change a few words on Mosaic, or stop playing ads in movie theatres. In a way, I am thankful for the language used on Mosaic. The idealized view of a university education as the creator and disseminator of knowledge in the public interest is seriously endangered by rising tuition fees, degree inflation, and a rocky job market that leaves many graduates unemployed for frightening periods of time.

While we must continue to think of the university as the place for groundbreaking and socially challenging research, reminders of the state that our education system currently finds itself in might not be such a bad thing. Language like “shopping cart,” as uncomfortable as it makes me feel, serves as a much-needed wake up call.

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A McMaster initiative will change the way students interact with the University online.

The school is working on a project called Mosaic, an initiative that aims to replace the current business process with a new enterprise resource planning, or ERP system.

The project is set to be fully operational in the Fall of 2015, though the MUGSI/SOLAR revamp was originally slotted to launch this summer.

Mosaic is a “student service centre that will provide students with self service capabilities and one place for all their administrative information,” said Melissa Pool of the University Registrar.

Students will be able to log in and see their admission status, student fees, scholarships and awards, registration, schedules, and degree audits, according to Pool.

Students will also be able to request their transcripts online, as well as view their unofficial transcripts.

“You will be able to see your full record, as opposed to just partial like it is now,” said Pool.

MUGSI and SOLAR will be replaced with a new registration system. Students will still have designated times to log on and register, but will no longer receive that annoying message that the website is full.

“The rush to register at midnight will be replaced with staggered registration times that guarantee system access,” said Pool.

Students will be able to see their timetables immediately, and register into preferred sections if they are available.

“It really takes the anxiety out of the process,” said Pool of these changes.

However, if there is no room in your preferred section students will have to continue to check for spaces.

Staff and faculty across the University are already using a Mosaic system. This part of the project launched at the beginning of Dec. 2013 and is being used, mostly, for financial purposes such as research grant applications and awards.

The undergraduate application process will remain the same for the University but the grad school application process will be a part this new web system.

As it becomes closer to being ready for student use, Mosaic hopes to get student representatives to help in the decision-making processes.

“About 130 people are currently working on it in total,” said Sheldon Smart of Mosaic.

These people are always changing as different aspects of the project are put in motion. So far the new system has approximately 700 users per day. The project is also involved with Deloitte consulting firm, financial affairs, and University Technology Services.

Smart did not comment on how much exactly this project will be costing and if these costs will be affecting students directly. Students will not see the cost of Mosaic specifically on their list of student fees, but financing for the project will be coming out of the overall budget of the University.

A couple months into the project, Smart noted that there have been anticipated challenges as the system is brand new and training for users is ongoing.

Smart and Pool both believe that this project will result in an improved experience for the McMaster student.

“We are really excited to provide this for students,” said Pool.

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