Staff Editorial: Reflections on LMS

Despite its recent technical difficulties, Blackboard LMS is still the go-to system for professors trying to get their course content online. It offers convenient ways to access course resources such as the course syllabus, lecture notes, and lab materials, and it provides easy access to grades so students can monitor their progress through the course. The Poly recommends that professors use LMS to distribute their course materials and grades so that students can reliably check the site for anything related to the courses they take. For professors who choose not to use LMS as a distribution point but instead use their personal web space or another online portal, LMS is a way to distribute grades and track course progress for students.

But because LMS is a service powered by a website, it is susceptible to downtime and the occasional upgrade during which the site has to be taken down. In the past month, LMS has gone down a couple times. One of these was unplanned and resulted in an outage for several hours. While we don’t know the whole story behind the disruption, we would like to ask the team that manages LMS to promptly alert the RPI community and give an estimated time for the service to come back online. When LMS is down, many students panic and don’t know what to do, since their method of getting course materials is offline.

For outages that are planned and announced in advance, students should plan ahead and download the material ahead of time. The last planned outage happened in the afternoon from 3–4 pm on a Sunday, during a time when many students need to use the site. Unless it needs emergency maintenance, downtimes should affect the smallest number of users possible. While we don’t have the numbers, downtime in the middle of the afternoon is more than likely going to affect a large number of students since this is the time most college students are awake and productive.

Students should also be practicing good backup practices with LMS, as with any computer. If there are course- or assignment-critical materials on LMS, download them and make sure you have local copies. That way, if LMS goes down, you’re not completely in the dark. The same goes for your own data; back up anything critical so that if your computer crashes, you don’t lose three months of research. Your class materials will likely still be on LMS, but any work you did on them won’t be. In either case, a backup will prevent loss of work and productivity.