Blackboard Service Restored After Student Uproar, Petition

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A screenshot of the Blackboard website.

Blackboard, the widely known and used course configuration and hosting platform the University of Oregon uses to give students access to their course grades, information, assignments, and materials, was down for a good portion of yesterday but has since seen service restored.

In the midst of this error, however–which came during finals week–students flocked to their social media platforms and began signing a petition on change.org to have all of today’s (March 19) finals cancelled.

Created by Sonny Mehta, the petition read:

Blackboard has been offline for over 10 hours, access to course websites for ALL students is crucial for student success for final exams..Example: A student can’t find his/her final exam study guide, has to go to blackboard the day before his/her final to access the course website and re-download study guide, finds that blackboard.uoregon.edu is down for some reason, student cannot re-access course materials necessary for studying for their exam.

Not canceling ALL finals tomorrow would be an affront to civil society, would be an injustice never before seen, finally it’s just plain messed up.

Addressed to the likes of the President of the United States, the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives, Governor John Kitzhaber, Representative Peter DeFazio, Senator Jeff Merkley, the University of Oregon Office of the President, and the Senior Director of Communication at the University of Oregon, the petition made waves among students, receiving 1,471 signatures by Tuesday morning.

While complaints were about blackboard down as a whole, there were many different reasons for students signing the petition. Ranging from not having a true dead week to not being able to access study guides and important review materials, University of Oregon students voiced their own opinions in the comment’s section of the petition.

Wrote Sarah Lusk, “Blackboard down the first day of finals week? Ridiculous. Maybe if the school observed dead week then students would not feel the need to cram the day before exams.”

A screenshot of the Blackboard website.
A screenshot of the Blackboard website.

Dead week, commonly known as the week before finals, is generally seen as a time when professors and universities cut back on new material and allow students to focus on their term papers and preparations for finals week. And though the term dead week is actually slang, the University of Oregon has official policies surrounding the week before finals.

Aside from no examination being given that will be worth more than 20% of the final grade, other rules state that no final examinations will be taken during dead week nor will any work to be evaluated for grades/credit be due unless it was clearly specified on a class syllabus in the first two weeks of the appropriate term. The complete dead week policy for the University of Oregon can be found here.

And while Lusk’s comment did make waves in terms of likes on the petition page, more prominent issues surrounding Blackboard’s down time revolved around the students having no access to their course materials.

“It is absolutely absurd that so many students, who are paying literally thousands of dollars to attend this school, cannot even access the stupid website that has ALL of our materials that we need in order to be successful on our tests that are such a high percentage of our grades in our classes,” wrote Jordin Newport. “Something needs to be done.”

While students are encouraged to take notes and pay attention in class, many professors at the University of Oregon–as well as throughout the entire nation–make material such as study guides, lecture slides, and review material available exclusively on Blackboard. Without access to the site, many students complained, they would not be able to properly study for their exams.

In an attempt to help their students out in wake of the problem, some professors sent out study materials over e-mail, hoping to reach their students and allow them to prepare for finals. Mehta still did not believe that was enough.

“Giving students materials this late is not helping,” wrote Mehta. “‘They’ only give us some of the materials…seems to me that professors like rubbing salt in our wounds.”

On top of all their other concerns, several students were also concerned that they would not be able to submit their papers on time if they were to be submitted through the Blackboard site.

“I have a final paper that is due on March 19, 2013,” wrote Humberto Gomez. “Without access to blackboard I cannot submit my assignment on time. This would result in a non-passing grade for the class.”

Fortunately for Gomez and many other students attending the university who still have finals left to take, Blackboard was restored around 1 am today. This was the message recently posted on the restored Oregon Blackboard site:

Despite working very late into the night with Blackboard Inc., the UO Bb team was not able to pinpoint a root cause and therefore implement a solution. We have a high priority support case open with Blackboard Inc., and we have asked to have this case escalated to Tier 3 engineering.

Good news:

Workaround implemented: Understanding the importance of accessing Bb for course materials and exams during finals week, we have brought up new servers using its last known trouble-free configuration early this morning. We have been closely monitoring and believe that Bb is currently stable.

Thank you for your patience and apologize for the disruption.

– The UO Bb Team

With Blackboard restored, the initial wave of fury from University of Oregon students seems to have receded, though Mehta did post a new message once the servers were working. 

“The outrage centering around Blackboard’s status has gone viral in the last few hours,” wrote Mehta on the petition. “…university students’ confirm that after quite a long absence (12 hours) the only link available to access course materials [blackboard] is finally back up and running. The recent development is an encouraging sign to the many thousands of students whom pined for their precious course material back, taken hostage by Blackboard. Reparations are due lest we forget that the damage has already been done.”

But despite Mehta’s effort to get the petition going and have the university cancel finals on Tuesday, exams are still taking place at scheduled times. Citing the fact that students should be fully prepared for their exams if they attended classes, listened to their lectures, completed their readings, and took notes, many believed that a full cancellation of finals on Tuesday would have been a little extreme.

“To play devil’s advocate, maybe it’s a good reminder to download everything BEFORE finals week, and not have to cram,” wrote David Sopkin. “I too fell victim to it, but I had the rest of the course material already downloaded.”

Taking a lighter approach to the subject, one commenter on the petition channeled his inner Animal House.

“You can’t hold a whole university responsible for the behavior of one, sick twisted course management website, ” wrote Kodiak Atwood, referencing the famous speech by Otter that was made in Animal House. “For if you do, then shouldn’t we blame the whole university system? And if the whole university system is guilty, then isn’t this an indictment of our educational institutions in general? I put it to you, isn’t this an indictment of our entire American society? Well, you can do whatever you want to us, but we’re not going to sit here and listen to you badmouth the United States of America. Gentlemen!”

The University of Oregon has not released an official statement on the matter.

 

 

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