Why are Blackboard down times scheduled to coincide with exams and assignment hand-ins?

QUESTION:

Why are Blackboard down times scheduled to coincide with exams and assignment hand-ins?

On 18 December staff in the School of Computing received an email announcing that Blackboard would be unavailable on 5/6 January and were told that this had been scheduled from the start of term. This was the first that I, and as far as I know other members of teaching staff had heard of this.

Exams began on 7 January which meant that students needed access to revision material. My students were scheduled to hand in via Blackboard on 6 January. Term had finished on 14 December which meant a scramble to email students to ensure they knew they had to download in advance/that the assignment hand in had been extended.

Can IS: (i) avoid scheduling downtime for the week preceding the January exams, the week preceding the start of the summer assessment period, the week before the referral week.  (ii) email teaching staff well in advance to inform them about downtimes so that we can make sure our students know.

 
ANSWER:
Information Services publishes a calendar of planned maintenance via the web and also provides updates of this regularly via RSS.

The first weekend of every month and the last weekend following the end of term was approved by Deans/Directors (at the Information Strategy Group) as the agreed period when IS may need to schedule planned IT maintenance.

The work on 5th and 6th January was the essential replacement of end of life core network equipment which would become unsupported if not replaced. This upgrade had been scheduled to utilise one of the defined maintenance periods and was publicised as follows:
•The downtime was first notified via RSS on 1st October as part of the published schedule to August 2013.
•A reminder was published on RSS on 23rd November and again 18th December.
•It was also included on the IS blog.

RSS is the University’s communication mechanism and we use this to publish information about planned downtime. We have added the following message now to these communications asking that staff consider the impact of the planned downtime and let colleagues and students know if they think it will have an adverse impact:

We do publish the details of this Scheduled IT maintenance unavailability in as many places as possible to give advanced warning, but appreciate it is sometimes difficult to inform everyone especially distance learners. If you feel the work detailed below may affect your colleagues or students please can we ask that you pass this information onto them too, to ensure all are aware of any interruption to their access to resources and services. As always if you have any queries please contact the service desk

Moving forwards, a cross University group is in the process of being formed to refine the principles agreed by ISG to minimise the impact on University activities.