NSIT administrators modify Chalk Web site to accomodate users

By Andrew Lamb

By Andrew Lamb

Maroon News Staff

Due to unexpected traffic, the blackboard software that runs the University’s Chalk system broke down last week, causing NSIT administrators to place all of the old courses in a saved archive database.

Though the original software had a performance ceiling of 300 courses and 3000 users, the system had a total of 1000 courses and 12,000 users, more than three times the prescribed use. In a recent e-mail sent to students and faculty, Chad Kainz, senior director of academic technologies, informed the student body of the software’s inability to process the unforeseen heightened use.

As a temporary stopgap measure, administrators have moved all of the courses that had not previously registered with chalk onto a special archive file which will remain inaccessible to students until the problems with the site are worked out. All the courses that were previously registered with Chalk will be retained on the site.

“Once the new version is in, we’ll move the old courses back on to the site,” said Gregory Jackson, vice president and chief information officer of the University.

According to Kainz, the administrators were not aware of the user and course ceiling. “The folks at Blackboard didn’t really tell us that,” he said.

In hopes of avoiding a crash, NSIT programmers have used their own expertise to alter the code in the software. “We looked at the database and made a series of upgrades,” Kainz said, “We did x, y and z, and we optimized the database.”

The modified version is intended to prevent the system from crashing further. “We engineered it not to bump into the limit,” Jackson explained.

Since school began, students have been complaining about the delay of processing information on the system. According to Kainz, the new changes were made in order to make the system more user friendly. “We reduced the time of access by a factor of 500 to 1.” Kainz said.

Additionally, administrators are looking to gradually shift the database to the updated version of the software, Blackboard 6.0. According to Kainz, the incompatibility of the software to the University’s needs was the prime reason for the crash. “We’re looking for ways to tweak the system, but it’s not a network problem and it’s not a hardware problem,” he said.

NSIT administrators will revamp the system in line with student demand, but are hoping to delay reinstalling the new software for as long as possible. “We’d like to put it off to the summer, but probably in December when the quarter ends, but we’ll leave the interface until then,” Jackson said.

Those who have been involved in reforming Chalk do not want to change the interface too soon either for fear of alienating users. “The system is still fragile,” Kainz said. “If we don’t have to adjust it, we don’t want to.”

Despite delays on the Chalk website, the online syllabus project, the student government’s plan to put syllabi online for student viewing, has not been affected by the Chalk glitch. “The process has not been postponed, and more and more faculty are using Chalk,” Jerome Van Der Ghinst, vice president of the student body said.

NSIT administrators are optimistic that next year’s system will be ready for unforeseen popularity. “By this time next year, we will be using an entirely different architecture,” said Kainz.