As Cornellians across the country rushed to open assignments, find Zoom links and take exams Thursday morning, the world of virtual school came to a crashing halt: Canvas was down.
From around 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. EDT on Thursday, Canvas — the site that provides student access to course materials and resources — faced a nationwide outage, temporarily interrupting online classes and work submissions.
Canvas resolved the outage by the end of the morning, and after receiving reports from students, faculty and staff, Cornell Information Technology immediately contacted Canvas to solve the issue, said Robert Vanderlan, senior associate director of the Center for Teaching Innovation. But many students attending morning classes faced the brunt of the outage.
Ndidi Aguwa ’23 said she couldn’t turn in assignments before their deadlines Thursday morning. Her morning class, Applied Economic Management 2601: Strategy, was also delayed, causing her and her peers to lose valuable class time.
“I honestly wish the class was canceled, especially since the weather is so nice today,” Aguwa said. “It’s always worrying when Canvas goes down.”
Prof. Kim Weeden, sociology, was preparing her materials for her 11:25 a.m. social inequality class when she noticed the site was not loading. While it did not impact her classes directly, Weeden called the outage a “mild annoyance.”
“Fortunately, I have a list of all 250 of my students’ email addresses from the Registrar, so I can send a message outside the Canvas system if I need to,” Weeden said.
Amy Escalante ’24 was in Applied Economic Management 2010: Spreadsheet Modeling for Management and Economics, when she found out about the outage.
“It was really sudden in class, sort of caught us all off guard,” Escalante said. “The professor did try their best to keep us on schedule and took extra steps to make sure we had access to the files we were using in class by emailing it to us.”
Many colleges faced similar problems today, according to Weeden, who said that colleagues at Harvard University and Washington University in St. Louis replied to a tweet of hers reporting an identical issue.
But this isn’t the first time that Canvas has posed problems for Cornell and other universities across the nation.
Since Cornell’s transition from Blackboard to Canvas in the spring 2020 semester, the online service has faced a few technical difficulties. On March 3 this year, the website crashed for about two hours, making it difficult for students to hand in assignments or refer back to class documents, according to Harry Ducrepin ’24.
“[The crash] really stunted my ability to study and do work,” Ducrepin said. “I was meeting with a friend at that time to study for a paper for one of our classes that was due that Friday, but we couldn’t even see the prompt since Canvas was down.”
Ducrepin added that none of his professors addressed his concerns or offered support at the time, despite the disruption in his schedule that the outage caused.
After enduring over a year of online classes, Canvas has transformed from a useful tool into a classroom necessity — making it as essential as pen and paper. When Canvas crashes, school does too, especially for students studying away from campus.
Bella Peters ’24 said that as a remote student, she relies on Canvas even more than in-person students as all her course materials are on the site.
“It’s my one way to actually get into my classes because all the Zoom links and recordings are on there,” Peters said. “If Canvas was down for long, I just wouldn’t be able to do anything relating to my classes because I don’t really have any other resources.”
As the classroom becomes increasingly reliant on technology, some said they felt that Thursday’s outage indicates that educators and students depend too heavily on sites like Canvas for class.
“Fortunately, today’s slowdown was resolved quickly,” Weeden said. “But it highlights some of the risks of our current reliance on Canvas, Zoom and other external vendors to be able to function as a University.”