News Analysis: Failing to Connect

 
 

The failure of IT services to apologise for their slow response in dealing with the problems afflicting the UCD Connect website was unacceptable, writes Amy Bracken

The UCD Connect website’s lack of availability was the cause of much student consternation last week. The outage gripped the system for almost the entirety of the Bank Holiday weekend.

IT Services cited technical difficulties as the reason for the outage, which was not resolved until the early hours of Tuesday morning. As a result, students could not access their UCD Connect email accounts or Blackboard for the duration of the weekend.

Occurring as it did at this crucial stage of the semester, and given that it happened on a long weekend, many students endured weekends fraught with worry and upset in lieu of mid-term assessments, and particularly mid-term essays.

Additionally, the majority of students were unaware that Blackboard is accessible through a URL address that still functioned during the outage. IT Services should surely take responsibility for failing to make it clear to all students that this was available to them.

If you type ‘UCD Blackboard’ into Google, then the first result that pops up is usually a link to Blackboard. Yet as UCD students, we are taught to access Blackboard through UCD Connect. The University Observer asked a number of fellow students if they were aware that it could be accessed in this way, and the majority said they weren’t; that they relied solely on accessing it through UCD Connect.

Nowhere on the UCD or UCD IT Services websites is there a link to the Blackboard URL and there is no communication on the website for what to do in the event of an outage. IT Services were horrendously unprepared for a situation that could have implications on student’s grades.

This is not the first time students have been unable to access coursework and therefore, the necessary precautions need to be communicated to students so that they are able to access their course materials at all times.

The timing of the outage, last Bank Holiday weekend, accompanied with the mid-semester panic that the majority of students can relate to in terms of essays and mid-term exams, was undoubtedly stressful for many students. Yet there has been little communication from the University on the matter, which is surprising. If it had happened at exam time, there would be a mass outcry and the university would be among the first to condemn IT Services on the matter.

In addition to the particular inconvenience of the outage occurring on a holiday weekend, the problem was exacerbated by the fact that there appears to have been no immediate steps taken to resolve the problem when students first began to discover it at the start of the weekend. If we consider the time that the outage was rectified – in the early hours of Tuesday morning – then we can’t help but jump to the conclusion that there are no procedures in place to swiftly mend such a problem should the situation arise.

This begs the question of what would happen if the outage occurred on a weekend during the exam period. Would IT Services take the steps necessary to resolve the problem as it happened, or would they yet again leave it until the end of the weekend?

IT Services surely deserve criticism, given that they failed to even circulate a proper apology to students. Many students were left in distress as a result of the outage, being unable to access the necessary materials for their coursework.  The least that is expected of IT Services is to offer an apology by email to all who were affected by the disruption.

The only attempts at apologising came in the form of a statement to the university media that was not directed at the affected students themselves. This is hardly sufficient. Understandably, the problem was a technical fault, so that was out of IT Services control. However, their failure to provide information on their website as to the correct procedures to take should the situation arise cannot be excused. Moreover, this is unlikely to be the last time UCD Connect crashes.

IT Services have had years to prepare for situations like the occurrence over the Bank Holiday weekend. They need to accept responsibility for the mishap and provide information to students on the other means of access to Blackboard, as these circumstances will inevitably arise again at some stage in the future. What they appear to be in denial of is the fact that student grades will be affected by the outage. The first step they need to take is to provide students with a proper apology for this unfortunate situation.

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