Gwinnett County Schools’ online portal crashes on 1st day of digital learning

GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. — It was a rough start for students in Gwinnett County when they logged in for virtual classes on Wednesday and couldn’t.

As it turned out, the issue impacted tens of thousands of users across that district.

“It was just like, ‘Oh no! The system has crashed, and we can’t get in,’” said parent and state Rep. Jasmine Clark.

Parents and students kept getting an error message Wednesday morning. One parent sent a text message to Channel 2′s Audrey Washington that he got from Gwinnett County Schools, saying: “Hello parents! We are still having technical difficulties logging into eClass and Zoom at school.”

[SPECIAL SECTION: Coronavirus and Schools -- extensive coverage as the metro goes Back 2 School]

“It was kicking us out and giving us an error message,” parent Christine Carter said.

The school district sent us a statement:

“Gwinnett County Public Schools’ technology systems were working as expected at 7 a.m. this morning when high school students began to access eCLASS, but issues developed as the number of students logging in increased. As a result, some students were able to log in, while others could not. Ultimately, we succeeded in having approximately 150,000 users online and learning at 11 a.m. "

More schools across the district will be sending students back to school virtually over the next couple of weeks.

So we spoke with an expert about whether or not this type of computer error is something that will happen more.

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“Absolutely. So these systems that students log in to virtual learning — they’re made up of several different layers, and then several things built at each layer, all of which talk to each other. And what that means is that there’s a lot of different points of failure, a lot of different things and go just slightly wrong. But when something goes slightly wrong, it kind of it can look like the entire thing is just irreparably broken,” said David Joyner, researcher at Georgia Tech.

Gwinnett County Schools reported the district did a big test run of its online learning portal on Monday, but it didn’t go well.

The technology test was designed to see if the system could handle 200,000 or so people logging on at about the same time. Many parents said they couldn’t even log on.

“From a student perspective, it’s just not working, when in reality, there’s just something small somewhere that someone needs to fix. But the systems are so complex that finding what needs to be fixed and figuring out which of these various different companies and other enterprises need to go in and repair something can be extremely difficult. So it can look like everything’s down, and nothing’s working for anybody. And then one little thing changes, and everything comes roaring back to life. I think it’s pretty common with things like this,” Joyner said.

[RELATED: Gwinnett virtual learning system crashes for many parents during test run]

Some Gwinnett parents told us Wednesday they’re not sure how successful digital learning will be for their children. Other districts like DeKalb County are starting virtual classes next week.

“What about more hiccups? Do you think we can expect this to happen in (other) large districts as well?” Channel 2′s Jovita Moore asked Joyner.

“I think, absolutely. I think you’ll see hiccups. I think hiccup is the right word. It will be something minus a glitch. And it will pass usually quickly. While it’s happening, it can feel like the sky is falling. But then once it passes, we kind of look back, and we realize, ‘Oh, that’s right. We did have a rough start this semester. Since then, things have gone smoothly. And it’s hard to think back,’” Joyner said.

This was Joyner’s advice for districts heading back to school soon.

“I think the key thing for teachers and administrators is to set up just a single very clear channel for communication so that no one’s wondering, no one’s thinking that my entire classes meeting without me, and I’m falling behind — is to know we are aware of the issues, and this is our timetable for preparing them. That goes a long way to helping people de-stress. It’s going to take a lot of patience,” Joyner said. 


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