Binghamton University’s Information Technology Services (ITS) reports it may have found the solution to the operating problems that have plagued Blackboard and frustrated students for the past two weeks.
Mark Reed, associate vice president of ITS, said the campus’ problems with Blackboard began on Monday, Oct. 3 when students began finding that the website was moving unusually slowly.
Many students expressed their displeasure with Blackboard’s dysfunction.
Brandon Plutner, a freshman majoring in accounting, said he had to delay his class work because of difficulty using the site.
“I had homework to do and I tried to access it through Blackboard, but since Blackboard was down I couldn’t,” Plutner said.
Sharon Aluma, a sophomore majoring in mechanical engineering, said she was also dissatisfied with Blackboard’s inconsistency.
“Having on and off access to Blackboard has been very frustrating and inconvenient, especially since it is one of the only means of communication between students and professors,” Aluma said.
Aluma, an undergraduate teaching assistant in the Thomas J. Watson School of Engineering, said she was unable to upload grades and feedback for her students due to the site’s technical difficulties.
According to Reed, the site was never technically offline, but a series of problems compounded to produce very slow response times.
ITS consulted Blackboard, Inc., the company that operates the Blackboard software, about the site’s malfunctioning, according to Reed. He said that Blackboard advised ITS to reboot the system and to apply a patch — a piece of code that is worked into a program to fix bugs — to the Blackboard program.
“What we seemed to see was sessions weren’t closing,” Reed said. “When students logged off of Blackboard, their sessions would remain online in the program, so the system was getting clogged with inactive sessions. We put in a patch Tuesday morning which seemed to fix the problem.”
Reed said Blackboard was functioning all day last Tuesday before ITS began seeing reduced response times return last Wednesday.
Blackboard provided ITS with another patch that seemed to improve the site’s functioning, but Blackboard’s response times dropped yet again Monday this week.
“We thought we had targeted the problem [last] Wednesday afternoon, but I think it was just the system clearing up due to people starting to bail out for the holiday weekend,” Reed said. “The problem was still there, and on Monday morning, things ground to a halt again.”
Delays on Monday resulted in load times of as long as five to 10 minutes for pages to fully load on Blackboard.
“It looked like when the problem was happening, memory was the first thing getting overwhelmed,” Reed said. “So we put in an emergency order for more memory.”
Delays on Tuesday were reduced to about 15 to 30 seconds, due to the impact of the memory increase, according to Reed.
On Tuesday, Blackboard identified what it believed to have been the underlying problem with the site.
Blackboard recently implemented a new bit of software known as an “indexer,” which permits full text uploads instead of just compressed forms of the text. The update resulted in significant backup in the system, according to Reed.
He claimed that the backup was particularly problematic during the past weeks because it is a busy time in the semester when many students are uploading documents to Blackboard.
Blackboard has been running smoothly since ITS disabled the new indexer function late on Tuesday.
“It seems to have resolved the problem,” Reed said. “Things have been up and running for over a day now.”
Students said they are happy to see Blackboard functioning again, but they remain wary of another potential crash.
“I’m glad everything seems to be functioning and back to normal,” Aluma said. “But I just hope they worked out all the kinks to prevent it from happening again and causing more panic.”
ITS is now working on a list of Blackboard alternatives, like Banner and the library server, for students and faculty in case such a situation occurs again.
Reed said there are several ways Blackboard’s functions can be carried out, such as emailing students enrolled in courses assigned digital texts and other media, without actually using Blackboard.
“We do all we can to prevent these things,” Reed said. “Creating a list of alternatives will be a very handy tool.”