UW professors say it often takes minutes for the D2L site to load.

A technological glitch is confounding information technology experts and causing major headaches for some students and professors across the UW System as the 2012-13 academic year gets under way.

The problem lies within the university’s online learning and course management system, which is provided by the company Desire2Learn and managed by UW-Madison’s Division of Information Technology (DoIT).

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.”

UW System spokesman David Giroux says Desire2Learn is a product that students and professors use at all 26 campuses across the system, plus it hosts the system’s online learning programs.

Glitches were first discovered over the summer, and appear to have gotten worse as a flood of students and professors have started to access the Desire2Learn system at the start of the fall semester.

The university updates that are keeping folks apprised of the situation refer to the problems as “brief service interruptions. Users may experience relatively short periods (approximately 3 to 5 minutes) of slow response while using the application. Users should wait a few minutes and attempt the action again should an error occur.”

Marnie Bullock Dresser, a professor of English at UW-Richland, spelled out the significance of the problems in a phone conversation with the Cap Times.

Dresser says that even professors like her who conduct fairly traditional courses that feature a lot of face time between teachers and students use the D2L system for everything from posting class information, eMailing students and hosting discussions to delivering quizzes that are automatically graded and entered into a grade book.

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.

As an example of how she relies on D2L, Dresser notes that research indicates one way to boost reading assignment compliance is to have quizzes for those assignments. So last spring, she spent numerous hours transferring every reading quiz she has ever produced on paper in her two-plus decades of teaching into the D2L system.

“And it was great,” she says. “Students would take the quiz (online), and as soon as they submitted it they’d see what the correct answer was. The grade was automatically entered into the grade book, and I could quickly see if students had problems with any particular questions.”

But with all the current problems she’s having with D2L, she isn’t sure what to do.

“Right now I’m very uncomfortable putting a quiz on D2L and telling students there is a deadline to take it,” says Dresser. “It’s not fair to say, ‘Well, you might or might not be able to get on, but I’m still going to hold you to this deadline.’ ”

Dresser also eMailed a quote to the Cap Times from an online instructor who would only share her thoughts if she could remain anonymous: “I thought it was particularly problematic that there are no ‘strategies’ to address classes that are 100 percent online. … I’ve had a huge drop rate already and I am not surprised.”

When asked if the UW System might be forced to cancel any courses due to the ongoing problems, Giroux said he wasn’t aware of any plans to do so.

But Giroux also couldn’t offer an assurance the problems would be fixed soon.

“As I understand it, we can’t commit to a certain day for when this will be fixed, but I know our staff have been working on this for awhile now, since issues came up in the summer,” he says.

Recent updates released by the university add: “To date, numerous patches to the system have been applied, however, these efforts have yielded only temporary success. The root cause of these performance problems has not yet been identified.”

The UW System started contracting with Desire2Learn in 2003, when the Canadian company’s product replaced WebCT and Blackboard as the campus’ common e-Learning system.

(c)2012 The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.). Visit The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.) at www.wisconsinstatejournal.com. Distributed by MCT Information Services

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