Don’t assume that digital history is 24/7

Here is a cautionary tale for students using online sources to do important assignments.

Last Thursday afternoon the Old Bailey Proceedings Online (along with other resources hosted in the building) broke in a fairly major way. Our tech staff couldn’t fix it and had to pass the problem up the line to the university computing services; it took all day Friday to get it working again. In fact, at about 4.30 on Friday afternoon, emergency notices were being prepared for the weekend.

By then, I’d already had a number of panicky emails from students who were trying to use OBP to write essays. (Monday deadlines?)

The OBP has gone down at night or, worse, over a weekend before. It’s database driven, and one downside of databases compared to static web pages is that there’s more to go wrong, especially with a big database. We’re not in a position to provide technical support outside office hours, and I’m sure this is true of many free online resources provided by academic institutions: if it falls over at 6 o’clock on a Friday evening, it won’t be getting back up before Monday.

Just because those online sources seem to be open all hours, students shouldn’t assume that they will always just be there.

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2 Responses to Don’t assume that digital history is 24/7

  1. Janice says:

    I tell my students this, time and time again. And, every year, someone gets cocky, sure that they’ll be able to log into the database and whip up a set of printouts for their assignment. And, oops!, they have problems with the visualization plug-in for pie charts (well, we all do these days!) or they can’t connect or whatever.

    If they’d listened to me, they’d have had weeks to get their data but some of them never do. *sigh* I’ll be sure and point them to this post when I give them the Old Bailey assignment again next year!

  2. Sharon says:

    Well, one piece of good news: in the new version of the site (going live very soon folks!!), they won’t need that plugin any more. (I don’t think I ever got it to work right, actually.) But the rest will still apply!

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