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UITS zooms to rescue with outages during first week of school

Canvas was accessed more than 1.5 million times during IU’s first week.



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On the first day of her sophomore year, Lilly Rust tried to log into Canvas.

Rust, a sophomore in environmental and sustainability studies, was a few minutes away from her first online class of the semester. She entered her password and clicked the button that should’ve logged her in.

Three miles away at IU's Bloomington data center, a piece of code was triggered. It should’ve quickly confirmed a few key pieces of information, such as Rust’s student status and her enrollment in the course, Religion, Ethics and Public Life.

But this chunk of code — rewritten over the summer — took longer to run than its previous version, leading to a bottleneck in authenticating users, causing university-wide issues with Canvas. Rust didn’t log in to Canvas successfully until around 4 p.m. Aug. 24.

“When a lot of folks started logging in Monday morning, we were made aware of issues around 9:15,” said Dan Calarco, chief of staff for the IU vice president for information technology.

Calarco said UITS diagnosed the issue around noon and had fixed it by around 2:10 p.m.

The UITS Support Desk received 915 calls about Canvas on the first day of the fall semester, over five times more complaints than March 30 — the first day of online classes after spring break.

Rust said one of her professors never made it to their online lecture on the first day and also had internet issues during their Wednesday class. 31,000 IU users logged into Canvas between 9 and 11 a.m. on Aug. 24.

IU was also affected by a global Zoom outage Aug. 24. Calarco said the Zoom outage was a failure completely outside IU’s systems, so UITS had no part in the Zoom issues and was unable to do anything to help. Zoom was working again by 12:45 p.m.

“The issues that we’re seeing on campus are what you would typically see at the start of a semester,” Calarco said of the outages. 

He said despite a rocky start, he is optimistic about the rest of the semester from a technology perspective.

More than a decade ago, UITS drafted a plan for how to continue campus operations in the case of a pandemic-like event. Calarco said this plan was harder to apply in the spring, when classes were not only moved online, but most students were scattered far from campus across the country and globe. He said this fall semester is much more in-line with UITS’ initial plan.

While it was more prepared for the fall with both its decade-old emergency playbook and six months of pandemic-induced virtual learning under its belt, UITS still experienced setbacks in the first week of the fall semester.

Zoombombing

Roberta Pergher, director of undergraduate studies in IU’s department of history, said some courses in the history department experienced Zoombombing. She said students and faculty of color were threatened by Zoombombers in more than one class, and IU is investigating the incidents. 

“That really is a huge problem,” Pergher said. “Those are the things that I'm actually more worried about.”

The history department isn't the only part of IU that has faced Zoombombing. Last week, IU’s chapter of the NAACP was Zoombombed with racial slurs during an involvement fair where another club was also interrupted. The virtual attacks have plagued Bloomington Zoom calls since the spring when Zoom usage spiked, including an IUSG meeting and Bloomington Transit meeting, both of which were subjected to porn and racial slurs.

Calarco said UITS and other IU departments have recommended that instructors take measures to prevent future Zoombombing incidents. He said with a new authentication system available on IU calls, instructors can control who enters their Zoom class, and if an authorized member does share offensive or inappropriate material, the culprit will be clearly identifiable through their authenticated login. 

“Having that log should be enough to discourage folks from doing that, but if not, then we have disciplinary processes that we can rely on,” Calarco said.

Broken breakout rooms

Pergher is also an associate professor teaching her own course, Inside Nazi Germany, a 250-student virtual general education course. While her class wasn’t affected by the outages, Pergher experienced technical difficulties in her Thursday Zoom lecture when she tried to divide it into pre-assigned breakout rooms.

“I wanted the same discussion groups to create a bit of community and get students to get to know each other,” Pergher said. “With more than 200 students, Zoom was not allowing me to do that.”

A representative from IU’s Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning, which has been heavily involved in helping instructors transition to online teaching, joined Pergher’s lecture to help her sort out the Zoom problem. While it wasn’t fixed Thursday, Pergher said her students were understanding and she has plans to adjust the format this week.

She said a major drawback of online learning is how difficult it can be to form a community in a virtual class.

“One of the best ways to learn is to do things and to put out ideas, particularly in the humanities and social sciences,” Pergher said. “It's a way of learning that’s very intangible. It's not something you can measure there and then, but I think over time, it really makes a difference.”

However, Pergher said there are benefits to online instruction she appreciates. 

“With the large class, there are opportunities online that I would otherwise not have had and that I was eager to try out,” Pergher said. “There's things to be learned in all of this, but oh my God, I can't wait to get back in [the classroom].”

Fighting Zoom fatigue

Anna Deeds, a lecturer teaching Business Presentations at the Kelley School of Business, said her course follows a hybrid model where half the class meets inperson one day a week and learns asynchronously on the other day.

“This semester, I feel a bit more prepared with the technology, the functions of the technology and I feel like the students were prepared as well,” Deeds said.

She said she has planned for a situation where all classes would be moved online and in such a scenario, she would still meet synchronously in virtual classes.

“There's great value in doing presentations live, even if we're not in front of the in-person audience," Deeds said.

She added that she would still only meet with students once a week.

“I've heard the term ‘Zoom fatigue’ and having that balance of synchronous and asynchronous work,” she said.

Deeds said she thought the freshmen in her class were positive in the face of the pandemic and grateful to be on campus.

“When everything starts to go back to somewhat of a normal experience, I think they'll be so positive and happy because they made it through their first semester during all of these different things," Deeds said. "I think they're resilient.”

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