The Collegian
Sunday, October 25, 2020

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Zoom outage on first day of classes stressed students, teachers

Zoom, the videoconferencing application that many colleges have been using to host online classes, had outages across the U.S. and U.K. on Monday, Aug. 24, affecting the University of Richmond's class operations on the first day of the fall semester.

The outages, which lasted for most of the morning, served as a roadblock for students and teachers alike.

Sophomore Olivia Wierum, for example, could not attend her 10:30 a.m. "Spanish in the Community" class. When she clicked the Zoom link to join class virtually, it did not allow her in, instead displaying an error message, Wierum said.

She tried the link several more times but still could not enter the virtual classroom, she said. She emailed her professor, Karina Vazquez, but Vazquez was unable to reply during class time, Wierum said.

Vazquez described a similar experience to Wierum’s. She was repeatedly directed to an error page when trying to access Zoom while also teaching in-person in the classroom, she wrote in an email.

Wierum and Vazquez later compared the Zoom links they had used and found that they were the same, Wierum said. 

Wierum also said Vazquez had told her that Vazquez had been unable to see her name in the Zoom waiting room — a Zoom function that allows professors to see which students have requested entry to the meeting.

Vazquez wrote in an email to the Collegian that she had felt stressed and limited in her ability to teach during the outage.

“But I also felt thankful,” Vazquez wrote, “because [my students] were there, smiling and curious, saying things in Spanish and showing support.”

Wierum said the outage had not had any long-term impact on her activities in the class but had made her feel uninformed at the time.

“It’s already hard to establish connections in a classroom virtually,” she said. "It’s even harder when you can’t even get into the [virtual] classroom.”

Information Services received its first report related to the outage from a professor in a classroom at 8:30 a.m. Monday, Doug West, assistant vice president of telecom/media support and user services, wrote in an email to The Collegian on September 8th.

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Information Services received another five reports in the 30 minutes following the initial report, West wrote.

Information Services then reached out to its Zoom account team for further information, West wrote. Before Information Services was able to consult with the team directly, Zoom released a statement online., he wrote.

"We have received reports of users being unable to visit the Zoom website (zoom.us) and unable to start and join Zoom Meetings and Webinars," the statement read. "We are currently investigating and will provide updates as we have them."

Zoom resolved its service issues on campus by 11 a.m., West wrote.

"Since the outage, we have spoken with our Zoom account team," West wrote, "and they are of course aware that having an outage that impacts millions of users worldwide is considered unacceptable."

Information Services addressed the outages in two emails sent on Monday. The first email, sent at 9:49 a.m., acknowledged Information Services’ awareness of the outage. The second, sent at 1:12 p.m., was an update message telling students that Zoom services had been restored for UR.

“Information Services partners with the campus community to provide robust, reliable and secure information resources and services that enable faculty, staff and students to excel in their academic and administrative pursuits,” according to UR’s University Technology and Information Plan.

No further Zoom outages have occurred on campus since Monday.

For up-to-date information and resources on technology at UR and Information Services, visit Spider Tech Net.

Contact news writer Alan Clancy at alan.clancy@richmond.edu.

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