Busy examination weeks expose Brightspace’s teething problems

The problems with Brightspace are not over yet. There’s something new every time, pro dean Gerda Croiset of the Faculty of Medical Sciences laments. ‘It’s getting better, but it’s definitely not smooth sailing yet.’

Two weeks ago, four hundred medical students had their exams thrown out because a number of them accidentally pushed the wrong button. By doing so, they turned in their work before they could start part two.

The students were used to the term ‘submit’ to click to the next part of the test, but in Brightspace this means that you turn in the exam. Subsequently, the exam committee declared the exam invalid for everyone.

This problem in Brightspace has now been solved, but it wasn’t the only teething problem. At a test last week for example, all students were logged in, but it took ten minutes before everyone appeared in the test.

Scaling up

The system was slow, says Louwarnoud van der Duim, head of Educational Support and Innovation (ESI). That’s because it runs in the cloud. ‘Which is a good thing in itself, because when there’s an increase in users, the system automatically scales up.’ But before the system is at the right level, sometimes 5 or 10 minutes pass. Arrangements have now been made with the supplier, Amazon Webservices, to always scale up during exam periods, says Van der Duim.

Local technical support isn’t the issue, Croiset assures. The problem is always investigated and then solved. ‘But the annoying thing is that there’s a different problem every time.’

And this cannot be prevented, Van der Duim says. The rush during exam weeks with a lot of users cannot be simulated; they have to find out any issues now. That means his team is busy right now, he says. He won’t claim that things are going smoothly everywhere by now. ‘People want to hear that everything is going perfectly, but of course I’m not going to say that. You can’t rule out the possibility that there will be something unpleasant again.’

Different system

Van der Duim emphasizes that it is not just technical problems that students run into, such as the students who pressed the wrong button. ‘It’s also just another system that works differently.’

After all these years, Blackboard was completely set up according to the wishes of the uni, Croiset says understandingly. ‘It takes some time before we have everything set up in Brightspace as well.’

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