Tech Failure!? Now What?

FailFor about 3 1/2 hours on Tuesday, Feb. 28, because of a large-scale event with Amazon Web Services (AWS), Canvas was unavailable to faculty and students. The outage lasted from around 11:40 a.m. to 3:10 p.m., and coincided with disruptions to other AWS-hosted services at St. Edward’s and across the country.

In general, our increasing reliance on cloud-hosted services results in much greater reliability, but incidents like this can still occur and cause temporary outages. For reference, Canvas’ overall uptime over the last 12 months is 99.98 percent, which is difficult to beat.

Canvas Support responded quickly to this outage, posting updates every 15 – 30 minutes on their status page . They have committed to working to limit our exposure to any future, similar events, but there is no foolproof way to prevent these situations.

What to Do if Canvas Is Unavailable

Check the status of Canvas regularly

If you’re unable to access Canvas, we suggest checking every few minutes. Sometimes these momentary disruptions resolve themselves quickly. Next, you can check the following resources to determine if there is a system-wide outage. Social media channels like Twitter and Facebook give OIT a way to notify the campus when internal systems are not available, and we will post updates to these channels as we become aware of them.

Make a contingency plan

  • Have a backup plan for class activities. For example,
    • If you have posted PowerPoints or other content on Canvas, we always suggest having a backup of these materials on your computer or in Box. Of course, Box is also a cloud-hosted service, so remember that it too can be vulnerable to these rare large-scale events.
    • If you can’t access your slides, consider conducting group discussions during class.
    • If Panopto is not available through Canvas, and you need to record a lecture or student presentations, you can check out a video camera at the front desk in the library to ensure you’re still able to make your recording. Instructional Technology can help you upload the recording to Panopto when service is restored.
    • If you are unable to deliver a planned lecture in class, consider recording your slides and lecture later using Panopto and adding the video to your Canvas class.
  • Communicate with students to address deadlines and alternative means of submitting assignments.
    • Email your students to let them know that you are aware of the outage.
    • It’s easy to extend a due date in Canvas, if needed, by editing an assignment.
    • If an assignment must be turned in immediately, consider allowing students to email the assignment to you.

As we increasingly rely on technology in and out of the classroom, we will inevitably run into situations where technology fails us.  What are your favorite strategies and back-up plans? 

For more on coping with and learning from failure, as well as failure as a teaching strategy, see the Digital Pedagogy Keyword Failure, by Brian Croxall and Quinn Warnick.

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