Now that the Winter 2020 semester is wrapping up, I took a look at the stats for our various online learning technologies to see what effects the whole COVID-19 Online Pivot had on our technology stack. Each platform has their own sets of data to describe activity within the software, and they’re not directly comparable. A simple “logins” comparison wouldn’t capture activity in some platforms where only instructors login and students are anonymous (like YuJa). I’m just looking for interesting spikes or patterns in the data to see if/how people in our blended and online courses have shifted their use of these applications.
One thing that surprised and impressed me is how all of our applications just kept on working. There were no real failures - we had a couple of slowdowns for Zoom as it rapidly scaled up, but most issues can be traced to the internet connection at peoples' homes. Flaky wifi definitely causes problems, and is often described as “_ isn’t working!” when it’s working just fine…
We already had nearly 100% adoption of D2L Brightspace - almost every course uses it at least for syllabus and course info. Most courses use it for more. So daily usage is already pretty much at the ceiling. We typically see our Fall semester as the heaviest usage - there are a few factors related to program timing that explain that - and that’s what happened again this year. Although the Winter 2020 semester had increased usage over Winter 2019, it was actually down from Fall 2019, as it usually is.
I’m guessing that if I dug into the metrics more, there may be shifting patterns of tool use within courses since mid-March, but with almost 6,000 courses in different faculties it would be difficult to make sense of any patterns.
Our video content management platform launched in Summer 2019. It was a soft launch, integrated with D2L but not mandated. People who use it use it a lot. And the bandwidth spike after the COVID switch in mid-March is pretty gigantic. We went from ~500GB of bandwidth per month to approaching 10TB per month. Amazing.
We’ve had a campus license for Top Hat for a few years now, and it is used extensively in our large-enrolment courses. I was surprised that a rough measure of activity - “aggregated questions asked by instructors” shows usage was down this semester before The Pivot™. It went down after the move online - which is understandable because, although this is an online platform, it’s used for interaction in face-to-face courses. We have 11,000 students actively using Top Hat this semester, but the number of questions asked by instructors (a rough measure of intensity of use?) is down. Interesting.
This is the big one. It’s a new campus platform for us. We have been using a self-hosted instance of Adobe Connect for a few years. The software is out of date, and it runs on a single server. The license would only allow 500 simultaneous users. The bandwidth from off campus would be constrained. The version we run still uses Flash, which many browsers rightly block now.
So, Zoom. Several groups had been using it independently for awhile, but we adopted it as a campus platform on March 13. It was implemented and integrated with campus SSO and D2L Brightspace within 24 hours, and the adoption was pretty amazing. As I write this, there have been 51,369 meetings since launch. That’s 5 weeks. About 10,000 meetings per week. Over 1TB of recordings were made during that time.
Zoom had some minor glitches with its rapid scaling from 10M to 200M global users within a month. But it held up way better than our Connect server ever could have.
We’ll be integrating Zoom with YuJa this summer, so recordings can be automatically migrated from Zoom Cloud storage into our video content management system (where it can be better integrated with Brightspace, and gets additional functionality such as closed captioning and search).
I don’t have Flash installed on my laptop so I can’t get into our Connect server to get stats from it. I assume some people used it, but almost everybody shifted to Zoom.
- With basically 100% adoption, all of our campus learning technology platforms held up. We had 100% uptime, and no real performance issues for any of the software.
- Our shift to having our core technologies hosted by the vendors was key - our IT staff could focus on integrating with our systems (authentication and access) and providing front-line support for users. The vendors' ability to rapidly scale their services was far, far greater than we could have provided for self-hosted applications.
- Although the platforms ran smoothly, the sudden global focus on them caused issues - endless streams of articles about Zoom that needed to be responded to. And then re-responded to once those were resolved but other media articles referred to previous issues. etc. This is the downside of using consumer software that isn’t an obscure academic project. Many of the same issues identified in Zoom would be found in something like BigBlueButton, but because of the difference in scale of reach there isn’t the scrutiny so they go without press coverage.