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How Zoom outages are affecting Miami

Zoom, the video-conferencing application that Miami uses for online learning, was down and undergoing maintenance for nearly four hours on Aug. 24. This Zoom blackout slammed the brakes on schools across the country and introduced students and instructors alike to a new kind of virtual snow day.

Following the incident, Zoom’s CEO Eric Yuan wrote an apologetic tweet.

“We will all do our best to prevent this from happening in the future,” he wrote.

Nevertheless, more outages have occurred since the original incident. During these outages, Zoom users are not only unable to access meetings and webinar services, but they also can’t access or manage their Zoom account at all. 

The communications technology company did not disclose the cause of the app-wide failures. For many Miami students, Zoom has become the backbone of their educational experience. 

Paige Heldman, a sophomore architecture major, spends an average of 16 hours in Zoom classes each week. Most of her time on Zoom simulates an architectural studio experience, where she gets hands-on experience alongside her peers.

“It’s important to have the environment of being around other students and being able to collaborate right there at your desk,” Heldman said of her nine weekly hours in the virtual studio. 

But when Zoom unexpectedly crashed, Miami professors had to change their mode of instruction on the fly. Dr. Tammy Kernodle, a professor of music, used Google Meet in lieu of Zoom on the morning of the biggest Zoom outage to salvage her class time.

Graci Hicks, a student of Kernodle, said the professor’s backup plan was a success with nearly all of the class’s 110 participants making the quick switch to Google Meet.

Hicks said she had prior experience with Google Meet and even finds the video-conferencing platform to be more user friendly than Zoom.

“It’s what we used in high school when we were online,” Hicks said. “But it’s pretty similar to Zoom, and in my experience, less problematic.” 

Google Meet is just one of a number of video conferencing platforms that members of the Miami community have at their disposal as a backup for Zoom.

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“Miami has definitely gone out of their way to make sure Google works, and Webex, and all of that stuff is accessible,” said Instructor of Spanish and Portuguese Shannon Barnes. “I feel like there’s always a solution.”

Barnes said she and the Spanish department rely on video chat services to have the conversations that make up the most important part of their virtual classroom experience. Still, she is one of many professors who have opted to shift most of their curriculum away from Zoom for this remote learning period.

“I want to hopefully make things easier for my students so they don’t have to sit in front of a computer for 20 hours a week,” she said. 

Barnes said she is just one of many Miami instructors looking to teach in whatever ways are effective. 

“Like all of us, honestly, I’m trying to roll with the punches and figure out the best way to teach my students and help them learn.” she said.

This effort hasn’t gone unnoticed. 

“The teachers have been trying as much as they can to give us the same experience,” Heldman said.  

rufferjm@miamioh.edu 

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