With the threat of the coronavirus still looming, many businesses, government offices and school districts across the U.S. have opted to cancel in-person interactions in favor of remote meetings and instruction, often heavily relying on the videoconferencing platforms.
While it can seem like a reasonable proposition, outages Monday on Zoom and Canvas — both used by for distance learning — demonstrated one of the many problems with trusting technology to fully and reliably replace in-person learning and other functions as the “new normal.”
A report in The New York Times revealed that about 15,000 Zoom users reported outages as the platform was down for nearly four hours, beginning just before 9 a.m. EDT when many educational institutions, courts and businesses were starting their day.
The issue affected many people in cities such as San Francisco, St. Louis, Atlanta, New York, Chicago and Washington, and students in Georgia, Pennsylvania and Texas were unable to log on for their first day of learning.
Students and professionals alike tweeted about how worried they were about missed business and learning opportunities.
Was SUPPOSED to have the biggest meeting of my career this morning but Zoom made sure that didn’t happen !!!! Who do I talk to about compensation for the $$$$ I just lost due to Zoom being being down? @zoom_us
— Clint White (@clintwhite76) August 24, 2020
This from one@of our daughters yesterday in first college class of this year… pic.twitter.com/ekHBdXfTQK
— Don Fotsch (@fotsch1) August 25, 2020
What’s going to happen in 2 weeks when all of the k-12 kids end up in some zoom classes nationwide too??
— Justin Smith (@JustinJSmith89) August 24, 2020
First day and I couldn’t even attend class because Zoom and Canvas decided to have an outage
— Bellamarie Spiker (@bella_spiker) August 24, 2020
Zoom is experiencing a nationwide outage on the first day of school, happy Monday everyone ?
— Thee Haitian Hottie ??? (@Nayla4L) August 24, 2020
it’s the first day of classes and there’s a Canvas outage for all IU campuses. If that’s not a sign of how this semester is gonna be then idk what is
— gracie (@graciehorman) August 24, 2020
Updates on the tech company’s website provided little more than just an assurance that it was working on the problem until nearly 1 p.m. Monday, when the Zoom announced that the outage was resolved.
The online learning platform Canvas fared better, experiencing an outage for only a half-hour — but it involved 75 percent of Canvas users.
This “new normal” that businesses, schoolchildren, college students and people involved in legal proceedings are supposed to accept is clearly flawed and rife with problems.
When those on the left talk about keeping the schools closed to in-person instruction, they assert that the online version is completely comparable.
That’s a tough sell after the popular online learning platforms experienced connectivity issues for the better part of a school day, not to mention the other possible hurdles of technology availability and internet connectivity before the first class is even in session.
But because teachers unions are so powerful and, for some reason, so risk-averse when it comes to doing their essential job of educating children (but not when protesting about it, of course), strictly online learning is already in place for many school districts in major cities.
Children in Chicago, America’s third-largest school district, will only have online instruction, while Los Angeles and states including Arkansas and Florida are under pressure from teachers unions to also go virtual.
This means for thousands of students, their entire educational future hinges on the technological connectivity of these platforms with their schools cornered into having no alternate plans.
However, the problems with Zoom and Canvas are only the tip of the iceberg as many poor students rely on school for free meals, and their working parents rely on schools for daycare.
These children that are already disadvantaged by economic or family circumstances will have to contend with the added layer of having to worry about the headaches of Silicon Valley.
What’s more, opponents of homeschooling have been saying for years that a school environment is necessary for proper socialization, yet suddenly, because of COVID-19, flickering screens in the family home are just fine.
Institutions of higher learning are fighting against their own mixed messages as those that switched to online learning but have not lowered tuition have to dispute valid claims that they are gouging students by charging the same exorbitant tuition despite not providing the full campus experience.
Add in a problem with even the online version of classes and suddenly those student loans seem downright ridiculous.
It isn’t just schools that are running into problems because of videoconferencing glitches, but also court systems that use Zoom for meetings and hearings, possibly creating problems for the Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial.
The Michigan Supreme Court system, for instance, held over 750,000 hours of Zoom meetings since March for its court officers and judges and was impacted by Monday’s outage, according to the Detroit Free Press.
COVID-19 is still a risk for some, but learning, doing business and holding court proceedings in-person are important enough to sometimes take that risk, especially when faced with evidence of potential problems videoconferencing creates.
Technology is a blessing and facilitates many things otherwise impossible, but it can never replace face-to-face human interaction, no matter how much teacher unions and others wish it could.
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