Qualtrics blocked by more than 2,500 students

Story by Breann Schossow

When the email invitation was sent to students at UW-Eau Claire to vote for Homecoming Court 2011, senior Melissa Hettmann was busy campaigning for Homecoming queen. Later that day, she logged into her university email account and expected to see an invitation to vote for court.

It wasn’t there.

“Maybe it will just take some time,” she said she thought, and continued to campaign. The invitation didn’t arrive the next day, or the next. So, she checked her junk mail and contacted the Help Desk. By Thursday night, she discovered the problem: She was on the list to receive an invitation, but at some point, she had blocked the email that sends out surveys such as Homecoming voting.

“It was kind of rough luck,” she said, adding that she did not know how to unblock the email, either.

Hettmann is one of more than 2,500 Eau Claire students that have blocked Qualtrics emails and as a result, did not receive an email to vote for Homecoming court. This action also may affect their ability to receive future voting opportunities, such as the upcoming United Council referendum or other surveys in the future.

Qualtrics is survey software used by Eau Claire.

Students may have chosen to block the Qualtrics email which surveys come from, [email protected], for any variety of reasons, said Eric Stevens, server administrator at Eau Claire.  For example, students may have been bombarded by numerous survey requests from Qualtrics in the past, so they choose to block the user as they would any other spam.

Stevens was alerted to the number of students that didn’t receive the Qualtrics email Friday of Homecoming week.

While this is the first he’d heard of the issue, Stevens said it is possible this problem has been occurring for awhile because the current spam filter used to block emails has been in place since August 2010.

“If you put somebody on your blocked senders list, you’re not going to see an email from them ever again,” he said.

It’s possible, Stevens said, that students have forgotten that they blocked the Qualtrics email in the first place.

Hettmann doesn’t know how or when she may have blocked Qualtrics, but that didn’t stop her from trying to vote. She even had a friend forward her the voting email with the link, but she was unable to use it.

Stevens said that is because it is not possible for students to forward those emails for repeated use because Qualtrics generates a unique URL for each student. This stops users from filling out the survey multiple times or changing it.

“It (the URL) expires, so that’s the beauty of the Qualtrics is that it can say you can only vote once,” Stevens said. “But if you’re blocking Qualtrics in the first place, you’re not going to get a chance to vote.”

In order to bypass the issue, Stevens said, it depends on planned usage. If users want students to be able to be surveyed only once, Qualtrics must generate unique URLs for each person and the program must send out the email, which will be blocked by users that have blacklisted the email.

However, Stevens said, if administrators of the survey do not mind if people change their response, the survey link can be copied and pasted  into a normal email and sent that way, bypassing the spam filter.

Hettmann said she was confused by the whole situation.

“I did this whole campaign and I couldn’t even vote for myself, which was a little sad,” she said, adding that although she knows the results are not going to change, she has thought about what the outcome might have been if those 2,000-plus students had received the email to vote. “It just is an overall sad situation and I hope it gets somewhat fixed.”

The blocked email issue has also come to the attention of Student Senate, which will be using Qualtrics for the United Council Referendum on Oct. 26 and 27.

In order to reach the students that may have blocked the Qualtrics email, Information Technology Commission Director Ben Krall said Student Senate is using a public relations campaign to let students know about the blocked email issue. One of their tactics is for the student body president to send emails to the student body letting them know about the issue and how to unblock their emails.

“At least for the current moment, we’re sort of stuck with Qualtrics,” Krall said, adding that he has discussed his concerns about the program with administrators in order to fix it, or find a way around it.

Stevens said the spam filter cannot be configured differently and there are no plans to find a new survey program.

To remove Qualtrics from the blocked senders list,  students need to go to the “Options” link in webmail, and choose to “See All Options.” Once they do that, students should select “Block or Allow” on the sidebar.