As I type these words at 7:20pm EST on 8/27/13 two things are happening on other windows on my laptop.
1. The NYTimes.com website is down.
2. Students at my institution are learning in live online classes (on Adobe Connect) and asynchronously on our LMS (Blackboard).
According to a number of articles linked to Google News the cause of the NYTimes.com outage is hacking.
"NY Times Suspects Hackers in Latest Website Crash" USA Today
"New York Times Website Believed to be Hacked" the Chicago Tribune.
The NYTimes.com also went dark on August 14th. This was apparently an internal technical issue, not the result of an attack.
Does the NYTimes.com going down have anything to say about higher ed and online learning? Plenty.
Both higher education and the news media is moving away from physical to digital platforms. Campuses to online learning. Newspapers to screens.
How much of the teaching that occurs at your institution is dependent on websites and networks?
How much of the news that you get are you getting online?
What the NYTimes.com outage (both the technical issues and the hacking) teaches us is that our new mediums are more fragile than what came before. Online classes are more vulnerable, and less resilient, than face-to-face classes. Online news sites are more likely to go dark than print newspapers will be unable to print.
The NYTimes outage all teaches us that at some point in the future our online learning platforms will experience an unplanned outage.
At some point the LMS will go down. The synchronous online class platform will crash. Our online learning platforms may be victims of malicious hacks or bugs or system admin error or natural disaster - but at some point and at some undetermined future date things will break.
This does not mean that we should stop our efforts in online education. Nor should the NYTimes close its website.
The advantages for students and newspaper readers of an online option are too compelling to walk away from. The potential to leverage technology to improve the quality while lower the costs of both education and news is too great to surrender out of fear.
What we need to do is realize that unplanned outages are unfortunate, frustrating, and painful - but that they will happen.
The unplanned outage is less of a black swan and more of an expected outcome.
We need to invest more resources in redundancy and resiliency. We need to have a "plan b" when it comes to teaching and technology. We need to remind everyone that it is the nature of technology to break (or be broken). We need to keep calm and carry on.
Can you share your story of your most painful learning platform outage?