Spinning Compass

By David Valdes

University students and staff members voiced concerns and asked questions concerning the recent outages of Illinois Compass at the Illinois Compass town meeting Thursday afternoon.

Lanny Arvan, assistant chief information officer for educational technologies at Campus Information Technologies and Educational Services, presided over the meeting with his colleague Leslie Hammersmith, director of educational technologies.

Support the Daily Illini in College Media Madness!

Help the Daily Illini take back the top spot in the College Media Madness fundraising competition! See the current ranking here.

learn more
donate now

“Obviously, we’ve had a very severe incident with Compass,” Arvan said. “But we think service is under control and we wanted to get in touch with our community.”

Promptly after 1 p.m., Arvan told the audience of over 60 students and staff members that his staff and he “have been working closely with WebCT since Sept. 26 to resolve this.”

Hammersmith said that WebCT technicians rushed to assess and fix the problems.

“This issue got attention at the very top level,” Hammersmith said. “Our support team basically left their (Canadian) Thanksgiving dinners for this.”

Arvan urged people in the audience to be patient as more improvements to the system are made.

“We’re probably at our least level of credibility right now to convince people to stay the course,” he said. “The goal here is to get a decent system that works and works well.”

The outages, which were accredited to a variety of bugs in the system, were explained in a handout that detailed the core set of problems users had with Compass.

After Hammersmith ran through the chronology of outage times and the measures taken to fix them, such as moving the Compass database to new computers, the attention shifted to the audience’s concerns and comments about Compass in general.

“The main purpose of this meeting is to hear from you,” said Arvan. “We understand the campus needs to know what’s going on, and we want to hear from the people.”

Such topics discussed were the student and teacher friendliness of the Compass homepage and the possibility of holding focus groups in the future so Compass users can voice their concerns directly to the source.

University professor Rebecca Roach said she needed to know that a major outage would not happen again.

“I am one of those people who teaches a 750 plus lecture, and I need to know that I can set up my spring classes knowing that this won’t happen again,” she said.

Roach, whose Food Science and Human Nutrition 120 class relies heavily on Compass, said the outage caused confusion and frustration among her students.

“They thought we teachers still had access but we didn’t,” she said. “Nobody had access.”

Roach said she still likes the Compass system and believes that it will be improved in the future.

“When it’s good, it’s very good,” she said. “When it’s bad, though, it’s just terrible.”

David Hruska, sophomore in Engineering, attended the meeting because the Compass outages affected his ability to access information from his Geography 101 class.

“It’s inconvenient if you want to print out lecture slides or things like that,” Hruska said.

Hruska also said he wanted to be proactive about the problem.

“I always like to get involved and be a part of the process rather than sitting back and watching other people take care of it for me,” he said.

Arvan also used the town meeting to publicize an upcoming merger between Blackboard and WebCT, a union described as “one of those rare and special opportunities to truly improve the access, quality and efficiency of education on a global scale.”