Approximately 600 freshmen gathered in Rediger Chapel to take their Foundations of the Christian Liberal Arts midterm exam Oct. 23.
This exam was being facilitated through Brightspace, Taylor University’s new learning management system. However, when students attempted to access the exam, Brightspace did not load, leaving a majority of students with blank screens.
Noise filled the room, some students expressing frustration and others getting antsy with excitement that the test might get canceled. As disorientation was eventually overpowered by amusement at the situation, the students began doing “the wave” with their computers, starting from the right side of the room and going to the left.
Students lifted their computers above their heads, entertained by the unexpected event.
A common assumption is that the amount of people logging on to the same website is what caused the crash. However, systems like Brightspace “are actually capable of handling such situations,” Chris Jones, chief information officer, said. The real issue was a bug in the system.
Shortly after the midterm, the bug was identified and taken care of, giving Taylor faculty the confidence to use Brightspace for the final exam.
Chris Jones, chief information officer, shed some light on how this bug caused such a large-scale crash. He explained that typically when a certain number of people go to the same web page to load something, it causes a certain demand on the server because it has to pull up that page for each person; systems are capable of handling this.
“The bug in Brightspace made it to where every one person trying to access the exam was treated as one hundred people trying to access it, which caused the crash,” Jones said.
Freshman Hailey Straub was one of the students present during the malfunction.
“Maybe one-quarter of the people had gotten in the test, and it wasn't working for anyone else,” she said.
Professors eventually announced that students whose test was still not loading could either continue to wait or leave and take the exam that Thursday. Many of the students looked at one another in excitement as those who had hoped for a cancellation got their wish.
“Immediately, half the people, including me, just closed their computers and left,” Straub said.
Brightspace was introduced this past year on a trial basis and will replace Blackboard beginning in the spring semester. Since the transition, there have been some stability issues, Jones said. What occurred on Oct. 23, however, was the most major of these failures on the part of Brightspace.
Kevin Diller, professor of philosophy and religion, teaches one of the Foundations of the Liberal Arts plenaries and was present for the crash. Alongside his knowledge in philosophy and religion, Diller also has a background in information technology (IT).
“I have seen rollouts of new systems, and there are typically bugs, so you just never know,” Diller said.
Yet, while he was aware that a potential malfunction could occur, he said he had been nonetheless hopeful that the Foundations exam would be successfully executed.
Following this event, Jones contacted the company that manages Brightspace. The company took the situation seriously and responded by involving their senior-level staff, facilitating a Zoom meeting and following up with Taylor staff daily, Jones said.
“They were very responsive, which I appreciate,” Jones said.
The company has since fixed the bug and provided plenty of room on the servers for easy access. They also explained to Taylor staff how (if professors define the slot and scale of the exam beforehand) Brightspace can allocate the appropriate resources needed for the exam, preventing a crash from happening.
Acknowledging these changes, Jones encourages students and staff to feel confident about the execution of exams heading into finals season.