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Unit Training Tools -- a rant

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  • Unit Training Tools -- a rant

    I know the official position is we are to be great for the strides national has made to move ScoutNet into the 1980s. I will grant you that. Consider said any appropriate words of thanks and appreciatiion I should be saying here.

    But some of you IT guys please explain how you design a user interface which basically just dumps all the raw data at the user? Why would you not include a report which identifies those training modules which expire (which are mostly the critical health & safety stuff) and sorts them by expiration date?

    Why would a unit leader ever get into the training records exept to see who is and is not trained? The current reports only allow me the option of exporting PDF or comma-delineated files. So I can either print the PDF file then go through with a highlighter marking the people who need updated training, or dump the data into a spread sheet then spend the same time sorting data into usable columns so I can see what I need to.

    Seriously, I can understand that step one is getting the data available on line, but how do you not immediately come out with a report format usable to your users?

    I have no idea of what makes a database work or what is involved in writing a routine to create this report. I'm just a dumb carpenter. But this would be like me building a house and not providing light bulbs. Hey, we installed all these light fixture for you! What do want from me, the ability to see in the dark or something?


  • #2
    @Twocubdad....I work with computers, networks and all that technical stuff but I cannot build a damn thing with wood because to me 2 5/8 and 2 3/4 are close enough to each other. ;-) I have the patience to program a data base but not to fit two dove-tail joints together. I would wager you are MUCH smarter than I am. ;-)

    Think of data bases like a drawer of tools. If you are organized, every drawer holds a different set of tools. Each tool is used for a different purpose. Combine tools and you can do many different things. Knowing where the tools are and how to combine them, well THAT is the real trick. You can have all the tools in all the right drawers but without the knowledge of how to use them properly you may end up with a set of stairs that are not plumb. Data and data bases are very much the same. You can collect the data but unless you know how to present it and mine it you can end up with junk.

    I just tried to use the new Scouting "tools" on myscouting that was released this week and it looks like they hired a group of 11 year-olds to develop the system. It does not work, is not intuitive (and I work with this stuff daily) and is not an improvement over what they had. Like ANY project -- beit building a cabinet or a data base -- you start with requirements. What does the customer want and need? What will the function be? How will they use it? What did they like/hate about their old thing? How much do they want to spend?

    So in what you do for a living and what I do for a living we approach it the same way. I think BSA, as with many things they do, approached the building of this latest data base they was BSA usually does things: Confusing, half-assed and missed the mark. ;-)


    • #3
      I think that approach is called "sensible" but again, I'm no expert.

      But it gets worse. After 12 years TwoCubMom has decided to register as a committee member. She's been helping on BoRs in a pinch and decided to get legal. She took YPT about a year ago (when she first started helping) and we need her YPT certificate to attach to her app, right? We spent a half hour alternately trying log on with her known password and/or trying to reset it. The system would not accept anything. PASSWORD ERROR but no explaination of what. I finally gave up and asked TwoCubSon to try. Twenty minutes later, same result. So the heck with it, she'll just help with BoRs unregistered and the troop will save $15.

      (Cue Ron Popiel) BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE! Trying to complete JTE. We've got numerous service projects totalling well over 3000 hours. But we've got a ZERO on JTE because we haven't log the hours on JTE/Good Turn for America. I log on MyScouting, find the JTE/GTA page only to learn I have to create ANOTHER log-on for that site. And on top of that, to do so I have to have my UNIT IDENTIFICATION NUMBER. Not the troop number, an ID number which I have never heard of. To get it I have to call the council. Now I'm logged onto MyScouting and have access to it. I have our charter in front of me. This stupid number is nowhere to be found. So guess what. The heck with them AGAIN. We're at gold level without the service hours. I get NO benefit from participating in this so why should I jump through these hoops?


      • #4
        Your number for the JTE/good turn for ameria site is the same unit number used for internet advancement id. so if your unit logs in to use internet advancement, you already have the number in your unit somewhere with somebody.


        • #5
          I to had problems loggin in. After about 40 minutes and 5 changes, I gave up. Been back once since, and had no problems checking someone's YPT.

          Thing I hate most is the Unit Visit Tracking System. grant you I know why the system is in place and it's usefulness. BUT A) it is too slow and B) It will not allow you to enter multiple units for a single activity, i.e. I cannot input the data for Round Table attendnce on one screen but need to spend a bunch of time entering the info on multiple screens one unit at a time.

          BUT it is a heckuvalot better than when SCOUTNET first came out and it took 3 months, yes THREE MONTHS! to print out a council mailout for an activity. Reason we knwo that is that the command could not be cancelled once it was started, or the person doing the list didn't know how to, and we had to keep the printer on. We actuall got other printers hooked up to the system.


          • #6
            Remember this is the same organization that requires you to fill out a new application for every role you hold in Scouting, rather than simply adding the new role(s) to your existing profile. Their new "toolkit" is worthless and does not work. I recently retook my YPT but I did not show up in their new tracking tool. Go figure.

            We keep track at the troop-level using Troopmaster and having our volunteers submit to us their training completions. We also track other training in TM. We then reconcile with the myscouting tools later....which are usually wrong.


            • #7
              I am our district membership chair and spend a lot of time with my DE working with the BSA systems. On the one hand, they've gotten a LOT better. On the other hand, when you extract the data from (or whatever they're calling it these days), it provides very limited options - csv is one. The vast majority of the reports are exported in a very ancient looking type of cobol layout - based upon the premise that the vast majority of the users are not technically savvy enough to manipulate the data (or they won't have the tools). It took awhile but we (me & the DE) finally figured out how to get the data out in CSV format and then do something with it. Once I get the data into a usable format I then build pivot tables. It makes it *much* easier to work with. I did have to spend a lot of time in Excel to manipulate the data to get it into a flat file format so I could build those pivot tables - I used a lot of text formulas. All in all, you really need to be an Excel geek to make the data usable.

              You also are probably dealing with the issue of the BSA feeling the data is confidential and they don't want to release it to just any joe. There's a lot of merit to that position despite how frustrating it is when we're trying to actually USE the data for something. The only suggestion I can offer is get to know your DE and be explicit about your data needs and how you would like to use the data. I took the approach of "help me help you" and spent time manipulating the data into a format that will help my DE do his job. Some DEs are more technically inclined than others though...!

              Some Councils are rolling out a new tool called "Council Booster" - it's a fantastic start that has a TON of data about the Council and the Scouting aged youth in the area. You have the ability to punch in a zip code, for example, and it will show you a map that identifies if there are Scouting-aged youth at a particular address. They're paying for the access to the data and, so far, we haven't found a way to extract the data from Council Booster. So... the challenge continues.


              • Krampus
                Krampus commented
                Editing a comment
                [snicker, COBOL layout]

                Sure are dating yourself. My guess is there are a few JCL programmers here who could fix BSA's problems.

            • #8
              " The vast majority of the reports are exported in a very ancient looking type of cobol layout - based upon the premise that the vast majority of the users are not technically savvy enough to manipulate the data (or they won't have the tools). "

              What? If users don't have the ability to manipulate the data doesn't that mean they SHOULDN'T export it in some ancient, dense format?

              But you're missing the point. I'm taking about the "UNIT TOOLS" on MyScouting which are purported to be used by the Average Joe unit Scouter. I'm two weeks out from recharter and all I want to know is who is an isn't trained to position, what they're missing and inparticular who needs youth protection. Maybe one day when someone is writing my obituary they'll want to know I took BALOO training in 2002, but for now, that's bit of information is just noise.

              The data you're dealing with as district membership chairman is a whole 'nother animal. Working on district membership goals is likely to garner a good bit more help from the DE than most folks can otherwise expec.


              • Krampus
                Krampus commented
                Editing a comment
      's been my experience that even that output is flawed. Our troop mandates all training be done in Nov/Dec prior to our recharter (end of Jan) and we keep back up records in troop master. Why? Because every year when I run the report in myscouting barely 50% of the training that was taken online is updated in this system. If I followed their report I would show half my folks not trained when I know they are.

                In short, keep back up records. If you don't have troop master try a spreadsheet or Access DB. I never, ever trust council or national. They STILL don't have my records from having taken IOLS (twice, once when I crossed over and once to audit the course) after nearly five years of being a SM.