On Tuesday, September 1, York’s online learning system made the switch from Moodle to the brand-new eClass. While the most major change to the application was supposed to be the new name, students have experienced unforeseen repercussions in the form of service outages and technical issues.
Initially, the change was billed as a minor one, professed only to bode well for York students and staff.
“It is important for the community to know that the actual application is not changing as part of this renaming from Moodle,” said Donald Ipperciel, York’s chief information officer. “However, eClass was the opportunity to provide a faster, more stable and more resilient platform based on new infrastructure technology and to make new features available.”
Students posted about eClass crashes, which they said prevented them from attending their online lectures and tutorials and left them stuck with error messages and loading screens.
Some of the new features bundled into the eClass switch include new course formats, more visual options, an upgraded Zoom plugin, and a “group choice” feature for students. eClass also boasts a full HTML 5 (H5P) integration package, which should permit instructors to create interactive content such as videos, quizzes, and presentations. Moreover, H5P is said to provide users with better graphics and an improved interface.
“Getting started was slightly tough but after figuring it out, I feel like it’s pretty organized and keeps everything needed for my classes in one convenient and arranged system,” says Uswa Shafaque, a first-year kinesiology student. “It was a bit hard to navigate at first but I feel like I’ve got the hang of it now!”
However, one week into the eClass launch, one of its promised benefits fell markedly short.
“eClass now sits on high-performance virtual servers and the servers are clustered to ensure a continuity of service if a server goes down, which will help reduce the likelihood of outages,” said Ipperciel.
However, by Friday, September 11, York students across various social media platforms were vocally expressing their difficulties with eClass. Students posted about eClass crashes, which they said prevented them from attending their online lectures and tutorials and left them stuck with error messages and loading screens.
With COVID-19 measures moving the fall semester almost entirely online, the outage severed some students’ only connection to their classes for the day.
“My classes are scheduled at 8:30 a.m. every day, and the website seems to crash around that time so that makes it a bit tough to access my course material when I need it,” says Shafaque. “I feel like eClass is an extremely helpful tool towards online learning, as long as it’s accessible when needed!”
The outage resulted from a database source, and not eClass itself.
Memes and posts about the eClass outages began circulating online, with one Reddit post titled: “Who knew changing title and logo of existing Moodle website would be this screwed up.” The post garnered almost 100 upvotes. Similar posts expressing frustration and confusion with the eClass crashes generated hundreds of more interactions on Friday alone.
York’s University Information Technology (UIT) released a service advisory that warned of “eClass functionality issues”, which read: “Note that we are currently experiencing issues with our eClass environment. UIT teams have identified the cause and are working towards a resolution.”
Later that day, some students received an email from Ipperciel, acknowledging the eClass outage and apologizing for the inconvenience.
“We are aware that navigating eClass has proven to be a challenge for some since fall classes began,” Ipperciel stated in the email. “However, the outage that began at 9:30 a.m. today resulted from a database source, and not eClass itself.
“We appreciate the resourcefulness and determination of our entire community and wish to thank everyone for their efforts, understanding and patience.”
At 8 p.m. on Friday, eClass was taken offline by UIT, with the hope that functionality would be restored at some point over the weekend. By Sunday, an email to York students announced that eClass had been brought back online, with instructions from Ipperciel to “avoid peak times” when downloading large files and videos for the rest of the week.
For students already adjusting to the challenges of an online school year, this outage was an unwelcome, added headache to contend with.
“It’s an additional stressor, along with the pandemic and online school, to be dealing with such frequent site outages,” says Syed Rizvi, a second-year kinesiology student. “York should put more care into taking care of their servers and their students.”