On December 3, something went awry in the little-visited server room behind the office of IT Associate Josh Goffstein. The information that was conveyed to Mr. Leonard Stern, who is the front end of Moodle for the faculty and students was that, “I was told it was a hardware malfunction. The server that [Moodle] was on crashed.” However, most students were not aware of this information. Moodle had experienced several temporary outages before and this was just assumed by most to be an extended outage.
This change was not as much of a problem for many as it may have seemed. Jake Rosenberg (’14) said that, “It was better for classes. It made teachers give clearer instructions and let us ask about homework at a time when they could answer us.” Others were just not affected, such as Ari Goldberg-Safir (’13) who said that he noticed only approximately one-third of his teachers using Moodle. He hoped that as a result of the outage he would “see teachers have a renewed willingness to use [Moodle].” Maddy Zacks (’11) saw the unavailability of Moodle as an annoyance. “When the server crashed, I wasted a lot of time going to my teachers to get hard copies of all the worksheets and assignments,” Zacks said.
Students were not the only ones affected by the outage. Mr. Iggy Gurin-Malous had entered all of the quizzes for his Comparative Religion class into Moodle and when it crashed, he lost everything. Ms. Rae Goodman had assigned a project for her biology class that was to be turned in on Moodle the day of the failure, and extra work was required for her to collect it. Although Moodle initially experienced a bumpy start, it was soon relied upon and utilized by many teachers. However, after the crash, the question has become whether its lack of reliability is a cause for worry.
The Observer got an interview with IT Director Tony Gruen. The story begins in 2009, when JCHS made the decision to start using a different underlying database which meant they would no longer be using NetClassroom. Aside from switching databases, NetClassroom had other problems that the administration felt warranted a new system. Although it was loved by students as a way to access both assignments and grades, it was exceedingly complicated to retrieve information from the database.
While the school was searching for a new service to use, Public Folders was utilized, but was an unwieldy system that could not do everything the faculty had hoped it would do. Moodle is a free and open source, which means that anyone can be a part of the development team. Because Moodle and NetClassroom were both primarily ways for the teachers to communicate with students, the decision on what program to use was considered an academic decision.
Mr. Gruen purchased two brand new hard drives from Seagate which were rated to last for four million hours. When the crash occurred, they had been running for just a little more than 3,000 hours. He said that the system was “ultra-low risk” and there was no reason for it to have failed. The chances that it was going to crash were so low that Mr. Gruen said he would have put his personal banking and financial information on the drive. “It’s just bonkers,” he said, adding that it was like “an asteroid hitting the parking lot.”
Unfortunately, because Moodle was only capable of backing up to the drive that it was stored on, when it crashed, everything was lost. Not even the professional data recovery company, which JCHS sent the drive to, could get any of the information off of the drive. This meant teachers had to re-upload all of their course material once the system came back up. Head of School Rabbi Howard Ruben understood the frustration that this might have caused, saying that duplicating work is something that should always be avoided. However, he felt as though in terms of JCHS’ new utilization of technology this year, the Moodle crash was just a speedbump.
Now that Moodle has been restored to service, it has been given a dedicated server, for which Mr. Gruen has written special software so it can be backed up along with the school’s ten other servers. The other servers run JCHS email, accounting software, the grade book software and the school’s telephones. Even if Moodle crashes again, its data will be recoverable from four different places. Hopefully teachers will not take the shutdown as a reason to be wary of the system. Jenny Klonoff (‘12) believes that because of the shut down, “teachers have been forced to rely on [Moodle] less and may lessen the way that it is used in the future.” Teachers and students alike should realize that Moodle is back and stronger than ever, and that there is less to worry about now than there was before.
Further Reading: “JCHS’ New Technology Initiative Off to Bumpy Start, Shows Promise”