IT Problems Plague U of Wisconsin’s Course Management System

Students and staff at the University of Wisconsin’s campuses are facing a vexing problem as they’re gearing up for the fall semester. The Capital Times is reporting that IT professionals all over the UW system are trying to figure out what is causing a persistent glitch in the university’s online learning and course management system. The system, designed by third-party software developer Desire2Learn but maintained by the university’s Division of Information Technology, has been repeatedly taken offline due to slow response times and continuous crashes.

The problems with the system have wide-ranging effects, as it is not only utilized by all 26 UW campuses, but is also used by the schools to manage all their online course offerings. Although the problem had been found as early as mid-summer, the recent uptick in users as students and professors are returning to campuses to begin classes has made it worse.

According to this university update posted Friday at noon: “DoIT technologists continue to work daily with experts from Desire2Learn (D2L) and Microsoft to address the issue of slow application response. We’re keenly aware of the problem and regret the impact on the UW educational community. We remain steadfast in our commitment to resolve this situation and provide regular progress updates on the status. Please note this situation has the attention of top leadership within DoIT and Desire2Learn.”

The university is describing the issue as a series of short service interruptions lasting between 3 and 5 minutes, and advise those affected to try again after a short delay. According to the updates, most users should not experience any difficulties with using the system, and the school IT staff are working to resolve the problem as soon as possible.

But Marnie Bullock Dresser, a professor of English at UW’s Richland campus, says that the administration is painting too rosy a picture of the situation. In a phone conversation with The Capital Times, she said that even in traditional classes that take place mostly in lecture halls and classrooms — which don’t feature any online components — the D2L system still plays a major role in instruction. Dresser uses the system to contact students, post course information, and have students access it to submit their homework and turn in online quizzes and exams.

She reports she has tried to log onto the D2L system about a dozen times since the start of the semester, and about half of those times has encountered no problems. The other half, the system is moving so slowly –- taking several minutes for a page to load -– that she simply gives up and tries again later.