System crash erases grades

Students and faculty at the Cullen College of Engineering reported problems with Blackboard, a Web-based course management system, after it went down last month, causing disruptions in grading and assignments.

"We had a disk failure," electrical and computer engineering professor Fritz Claydon said.

Students reported the site malfunction lasted from March 28 to April 8. Notices alerting students of maintenance for the site were sent out March 25 and 28. The site went down the night of March 28, mechanical engineering junior Hwansung Kang said.

"Our teacher had to tell us about it," mechanical engineering senior Travis Stoner said.

Upon Blackboard’s return to service, grades and data were determined to be lost, forcing students to resubmit grades, and some engineering student organizations had trouble because of reliance on Blackboard to store data.

"I could not find any of my grades," engineering graduate student Navneeth Chidambaram said. "My teacher’s assistant asked us to turn in our (graded) papers."

Chidambaram said that while he did save his papers and was able to turn them in, some students did not, and said he hoped they had something backed up so they would not receive zeros.

"There was data lost, but Blackboard was never intended to be a sole source of document storage," Claydon said.

Claydon said some elements were salvaged despite the crash.

"If a faculty member had only one copy of all or part of their grades, (the data) was lost. Not all grades were lost by all faculty," Claydon said. "Things that were recoverable were PowerPoint presentations, Word documents and spreadsheets."

Blackboard was unable to be restored sooner because the wrong disk was mistakenly believed to be corrupt, Claydon said.

Mechanical engineering senior Gabriel Tibiroli said professors were trying to get back grades and assignments from students.

"I heard that some teachers had one-on-one interviews about grades," he said.

Education Technology Specialist Debbie Boyer, who assists with Blackboard, was not available for an interview.

The damage done while Blackboard was down caused concern among students, who complained about not being able to retrieve or submit assignments and grades.

"I was not able to access the assignment during the first weekend. I ended up contacting the instructor to request the assignment and ask for an extension," Kang said.

Improvements to prevent another incident from occurring have been made, and include better communication with faculty, taking a "snapshot" of data stored before making repairs and having collaboration between faculty, students and department chairs, Claydon said.

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