Technical points: Students navigate an online campus using Zoom, UA WiFi

Lagging videos, frozen zoom meetings, and that dreaded loading screen. These are sights that University of Arizona students have become accustomed to navigating virtual classes. Internet users across campus are wondering where their technological problems are coming from.

“Sometimes the professor freezes and I don’t know if it’s your WiFi or mine or what’s going on,” said Erin Allen, a senior French major and assistant at the Colonia de La Paz campus dormitory.

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Allen said that her most disruptive technology problems occur when she has to conduct Zoom meetings with the camera on.

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“I work at [Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques] Center, so we do all of our tutoring on Zoom, “Allen said.” That’s a bigger problem [than attending class] because I have to have my camera on. The zoom doesn’t work as well when your camera is on than when you are just using your microphone. ”

In response to these errors and inconsistencies, Allen decided to rely on data on their phone to connect to Zoom meetings.

“I use the phone on campus all the time because I don’t want to worry about getting out of a zoom or something,” said Allen.

With the renewed emphasis on virtual learning and with live online meetings as one of the In four class formats taught this spring, one could predict that UA Wi-Fi will be more heavily loaded than in previous semesters.

However, according to Ken Boynton, an analyst for the UA Communications Network, UA Wi-Fi was less busy last semester than before.

Boynton drew a number that shows wireless usage throughout the day for the past semester. He moved the mouse pointer over one of the peaks.

Graph showing wireless usage at different times and days during a week. Screenshot courtesy of Ken Boynton.

“As you can see, our peak during the week is usually Wednesday with 13,536 concurrent users on the network,” said Boynton. “That’s nothing compared to last year. We’d have an average of 45 to 48,000 users at one point of the day on average last year. “

Boynton stated that zoom is less bandwidth-intensive – a description of the amount of data sent over the network in a given amount of time – compared to streaming services and games. According to Boynton, UA Wi-Fi has largely not been taxed on students who run Zoom.

Even so, the integration and trust in Zoom have not remained without challenges. Boynton recalled one particular case he was made aware of on Labor Day. Part of the network team installed an intrusion prevention system, a technology for network security, on Labor Day.

“We started getting tickets to cut out Zoom,” said Boynton. “It was weird because when I zoom in from home, when my kids are on Netflix or zooming in with school … I can see them shivering or freezing.” Tickets came in and said … that’s not what happened; They say they will be dropped. We noticed that we were getting tickets that said it was not only wireless but wired too. “

Noticing that all tickets came in after Labor Day, Boynton and his cellular group determined that the problem was likely something to do with the new IPS. It turned out that Zoom somehow collided with the IPS and dropped the call.

In addition, the Zoom program itself is not without its flaws, especially given the sudden increase in users at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think Zoom was caught off guard too,” said Boynton. “I don’t think they expected it, at least in March when everyone went home, every school district, every university suddenly jumped on Zoom.” I think they also had a learning curve to adjust to. “

In response to the pandemic, Boynton’s wireless group worked with the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to ensure that more remote locations in the state, including Navajo County, have access points to UA Wi-Fi. The group also worked on adding access points around the campus.

“We added two tents in … the back of the civil engineering,” Boynton said. “There is an area between the South Hall and Cochise [Residence Hall]. There is a basketball court there that the ROTC people can use. They made a tent out of it and we set up an access point there to cover that area. We’re trying to cover these … hotspot areas so people can separate. “

If students are having difficulty with Zoom, UA Wi-Fi, or just frustrated with tech support, Boynton recommends calling IT support 24/7.

“We’re going to look at this right now and try to figure out what’s going on,” Boynton said. “We try to adapt to everything that comes our way.”

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