There have been multiple WiFi, Blackboard, Turnitin and Duo Security outages since the start of the fall semester. Since many SUNY New Paltz students are enrolled in online classes, that means when WiFi or other online services go down, everything grinds to a halt.
On Oct. 5, the SUNY New Paltz campus experienced about eight hours without WiFi, starting around 12:05 a.m. and lasting until about 8:05 a.m. The problem was caused by an Intrusion Prevention System that entered a “hung state.”
“This device is designed to prevent malicious traffic from entering our network and was configured to ‘fail open,’ meaning if it crashed, it would allow all network traffic (wired, WiFi and internet) to continue to flow to and from the campus,” said John Reina, Chief Information Officer at SUNY New Paltz. “Unfortunately, due to the type of issue encountered, the device was not in a true ‘fail state’ which also contributed to a delay in detecting the root cause.”
There have been more outages since then, including ones related to other internet services like Blackboard and Turnitin. When these internet services or the campus WiFi go down, it’s especially hard for students while they take timed exams and quizzes online.
“Twice on campus we’ve had the WiFi crash at the most inconvenient times, which was between the hours of eight to eleven p.m. when most students get their assignments and quizzes done through Blackboard,” said Peter Ingenito, a residential student at SUNY New Paltz. “It affected me when I had a timed quiz and the wifi crashed. Thankfully I wasn’t the only one that had this issue and my professor gave us a second attempt.”
Reina touched upon this issue, too. “If students are impacted by an outage and lose unsaved work in Blackboard, it is, unfortunately, not possible to recover it. Students should contact their instructor who may be willing to reset the exam or extend an assignment due date.”
Reina also recommended saving work frequently, or using other programs to type answers first, then copy and paste the answers in the program.
“Everytime the WiFi has gone out, I was in the middle of doing an assignment for class,” said Nicole Ziogas, a residential student on campus. “I was lucky to be in a situation where it saved most of my work beforehand, but it is extremely frustrating to have to restart work that I have spent hours working on.”
How should students report if the internet goes down on campus? And when can they?
There is no 24/7 hotline or service that students can call to report internet problems. The current availability of the IT Service Desk, which is the method Reina suggests students utilize for internet and service problems, Monday through Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.
The IT Service Desk can be reached at 845-257-4357 or by visiting support.newpaltz.edu. However, there are no on-call services for issues outside of these hours.
“Since Oct. 5, we have implemented additional monitoring and automated failover functionality to prevent further recurrence of the issue,” Reina said. “We are [also] planning to change services from authenticating against on-campus infrastructure to instead use Microsoft’s Azure environment. This will prevent an on-campus network interruption from causing interruptions to externally hosted services like Blackboard.”
For students who experienced problems and need official documentation for professors, Reina recommends calling the faculty member or opening a ticket “with the IT Service Desk and [indicating] the course, faculty name, exactly what occurred and the date/time of the issue. They can then print or reference the ticket number when communicating with the faculty member.”
Reina also mentioned that professors may reach out to IT services to verify campus WiFi interruptions or service problems.
“In the event of a campus-wide outage or if the student experiences a personal loss of connectivity, IT staff can examine the test log files for that student and provide the instructor with an assessment of whether or not the student was impacted by the outage,” Reina said.
Ultimately, students just want reliable internet for when they’re doing assignments, quizzes and tests.
“I feel like the school should have been more prepared for these issues to arise due to the fact that the majority of the student population this year is relying on technology to do school,” Ziogas said. “The internet service needs to be better.”