A dim urban hum

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On Oct. 4 and 7, UVic’s computing network experienced outages. UVic webmail, Moodle, online student resources, and UVic netdrive, amongst other online computing services, were all inaccessible. Undoubtedly, UVic’s computer Help Desk was inundated with calls for assistance from staff and the student body. Outages should be considered only mildly inconvenient. Perhaps it’s a testament to how privileged our society is that a brief network crash is the centre point of extreme annoyance. But consider this: our society and, by extension, our university are, unsurprisingly, more technology-reliant than ever before, capable of producing and demanding unprecedented volumes of work. A brief interruption to technological services isn’t a disaster, particularly when contingency plans are in place.

However, disruptions are extremely frustrating, especially for individuals unfamiliar with alternative methods for approaching their work. The proportion of students who rely on online academic resources (particularly cutting-edge peer-reviewed articles) most likely outnumbers those who rely on actual books. Generally, academic pursuits pose enormous pressure upon university students. Losing the ability to communicate with professors, peers, and instructors, as well as losing access to online journal databases, can sufficiently derail a given student’s momentum—if only for an afternoon. Time is one of a student’s most valuable resources, especially when deadlines for midterms, lab reports, and term projects are approaching. Losing four or five hours of study simply feels like a tangible loss. Moreover, it is common practice for professors to disallow extensions for assignments in the event of technical problems like printer failure. This is probably to limit the number of people giving excuses for late papers. However, in instances like this, a blanket judgment doesn’t make sense. For example, if Moodle is down, and professors accept only electronic submissions, what else can one do? Instructors who told students it was their fault for leaving it to the last minute maybe weren’t doing as much as they could have to mitigate the crisis.

Frustrations over computing outages were also presumably felt by UVic’s Food Services staff working the point-of-sale system at campus cafeterias. The computing outage caused problems for students living in residence, who sometimes can’t get food elsewhere. When the system went down, some university food services staff’s response was to tell students, “No,” then turn around at the till, and send them back to their little rooms with empty stomachs. Although food services has a plan in place for food points system interruptions, some staff simply turned students away until ad hoc directions were received from up the ladder. At other times, students expecting the quick service they are accustomed to left hungry and frustrated, unwilling to wait out the queue resulting from the outage. In the past, food services staff have apologetically given away food until their systems were at operating capacity. This is certainly a considerate gesture towards UVic’s students, but also represents how a loss of computing power leaves both sides in the lurch.

University systems staff should be credited for responding to computing problems and repairing them as quickly as they did. Computing systems fail; we must be patient in the face of a crash, and many students are. However, students who feel they were inconvenienced more than the equipment failure necessitated are justified in politely speaking up. Maybe we’ll be better prepared next time.

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