Despite long preparations for the beginning of an online term, the lecture capture service Panopto went down early last week due to “higher than expected demand”. The outage was most severe on Monday 5th October, although some students reported experiencing difficulties for the following two days as well. The technical issues have raised questions over the feasibility of an entirely online term, and more particularly about the value to students of a virtual academic year, which is an already heated debate.
Affected students have responded to the outage with frustration. One student in the Physics department, who wished to remain anonymous, expressed worry for the year to come, saying that the issues “added to the already stressful online university experience”. Another noted that “the one thing you expect from this year is to be able to watch your lectures, so when even that breaks it’s not a good sign”. With support amongst the national student body for reduced fees in the face of the pandemic growing – one online petition has garnered almost 150,000 signatures – it’s no surprise that many feel ripped off by the quality of the service.
In response to the technical difficulties, a spokesperson for Imperial College London said, “we are very sorry for the disruption students experienced in the first week of term and we share their frustration”. They said that Panopto, which is used as a lecture capture service by universities nationwide, experienced “capacity issues with their cloud infrastructure”. The resulting outage affected Imperial and other universities across the country. Nevertheless, the College assures students that “Panopto have now fixed the issue after major upgrade work was brought forward from December and have apologised to their university clients and students affected.”
“Given the importance of remote learning this academic year we will be keeping a close eye on the performance of our recommended digital learning platforms going forward.”