Here we go again. It has happened again. We were slowed by our connections, we were kept from Blackboard, we were taken offline all together – and it wasn’t just us students. Faculty. Administration. Anyone trying to access a University network or Blackboard or both at various times, dates and locations this week were stuck. And confused.It started on Tuesday with a computer located somewhere in Main Hall. The IT department didn’t know where and thus was unable to contain the sporadic disruptions without causing a permanent one and spurring some intense headaches. A senior member of the department told us that it was “the strangest issue I’ve ever seen affecting the network.”
By Thursday afternoon, many professors were unaware that their own classes had seemingly vanished from Blackboard at the beginning of the week. Obviously, the communication chain broke down. This is unacceptable.
Throughout the week, connections slowed in Main Hall, Anderson Hall, Tyson and Ramsey Halls, and Sykes Student Union. Professors’ classes disappeared from the Blackboard Learning System and dozens of faculty were unable to access the Internet in their fifth floor Main Hall offices.
Most of us remember the nightmare we experienced in October and November 2005. Students, faculty and administration were the butts of a vicious attack carried out by international hackers. After the University’s Web site was defaced, class scheduling disrupted and the integrity of our entire computing network denigrated, the FBI stepped in to investigate.
This is a problem, and it needs to be addressed. An unreliable computer network is hazardous to the University’s productivity; however, the communication – or lack thereof – emanating from the IT department after said unreliability is far more destructive. It is far easier to deal with a short-term shutdown if a) you know it’s coming and/or b) you know when the issue will be resolved.
The IT department needs to be more forthcoming about technology and network related errors. It is not acceptable to receive answers only after questions have been asked. A system of alerting students, faculty, staff, administration and anyone else attempting to access the network should be in place to do so.
“There is no viable mechanism in place for a timely notification of campus users,” a senior member of the IT department told us. “We’ve tried using banners on the Webmail site and broadcasting email messages to WCU accounts in the past, but it was very ineffective.”
We suggest trying again. Students need to be assured that they will have the ability to access their professor’s class notes, their grades and any other pertinent information on the Blackboard system. They need to be confident that they will have a seamless connection to the University network when they are relying on one.
Furthermore, professors need to be assured that their students can access their materials on the Blackboard Web site. If something goes awry and students are unable to access lecture notes, online exams, grades and other data, both students and professors are left in the dark and unable to create a contingency plan.
The situation presents a catch-22. If the network goes down and users cannot access the Internet, a simple banner or e-mail is utterly pointless. A chain of command should be designed to inform professors and administrators of any sort of network glitch. Professors may then inform their students and administrators may inform their subordinates.
Computers are not perfect. And this will surely happen again. When it does, we hope that the IT department will answer our questions before we ask them