Originally published: January 27, 2017

On Monday, December 19, 2016, Financial Literacy teacher Jennifer Striker proctored her final exam to her students. Midway through the exam, the internet connection went down and more than half of the students lost their exams.

Striker said she was fortunate to have a paper copy of her exam.

“I could immediately give it to the students to have them keep working and complete their test by pen and paper,” Striker said. “It definitely rocked the students because they didn’t know if their computer was going to go out next. The students that had to take the test by paper had to restart to question number one because I had no way of verifying if they had completed (a) portion of test, or if the computer had actually recorded it.”

Sophomore Kaitlyn Langbein was taking her Financial Literacy exam when the internet went down. She was on question 88 out of 100 and had to retake the entire test.

“It just stopped working, and my whole page froze,” Langbein said. “I freaked out and had to try five different computers to get it to work. It happened to two other people, and then it got to the point where I had 30 minutes left in the class period, so (Striker) printed out a paper copy, and I had to restart.”

Honors Accounting teacher Debra Gentene also had similar issues for her final exam. The test was administered online with 101 total students enrolled in the class.

“We use software that is internet based,” Gentene said. “(When the internet went down), many (students) had lost their connection, but several of them had finished. It required a little bit of effort on my part, as I had to go back and change some of the parameters so they could access it again. The exam was a little compromised because the students were able to see the content.”

Gentene said that because the internet was down for most of the first bell final exam, her students who did not finish had to retake the final at a later time.

“It’s kind of pain at the time because it’s one of those moments where you feel like a deer in the headlights as a teacher, because you have 202 eyes staring at you, but if the students know most teachers, we aired in their favor and did everything we can, because it’s not their fault,” Gentene said. “The benefit to me was I had the ability to change some of the problems without having to recreate the entire test because the software is algorithmic.”

Assistant Principal Dion Reyes said the internet provider for Mason High School is the Southwest Ohio Computer Association (SWOCA), and when the internet went down on exam day, it was not on the school’s end but SWOCA’s.

“What happened on that specific day, there (was) a denial of a service attack,” Reyes said. “It is someone telling a bunch of different servers to send a bunch of information at once to SWOCA. On that day, there was an individual that specifically attacked SWOCA which affected the internet access to multiple school districts. This is a safety protocol that keeps our internet access safe and clean of viruses. It was nothing on our school’s end or the district’s end that we could have done differently.”

Mason City Schools Chief Innovation Officer Jonathan Cooper said the internet went down on exam day as safety protocol from SWOCA not because of issues within the internet itself.

“SWOCA made an executive decision to cut off internet access to the districts of its service,” Cooper said. “When they have an attack on their districts of service, they go into a protocol to keep us safe.”

Cooper said the Mason City Schools District invested approximately $250,000 to upgrade the wifi system and infrastructure. If an attack were to happen again, Cooper advises teachers is to always create a contingency plans for online testing and to be flexible. State mandated tests also have regulations set in place for situation where the wifi does go down, which allows students to retake the standardized test.

“We work closely with SWOCA to proactively protect our infrastructure from harmful internet attacks and provide safe online learning experiences for our teachers and students,” Cooper said. “When they identify an attack on the system, it hits them before us. It’s a safety firewall, and they would shut off (the attack) so we don’t have the attack on us.”

During winter break, Cooper said the entire infrastructure of the wifi was upgraded – the bandwidth of the wifi was upgraded from 1 gigabit to 10 gigabytes, along with all 220 of the access points replaced. The new system can now view the phones on the network, and disconnect idle cell phones to allow new students to connect. A splash page with terms of agreement has also been added as a proactive safety measure.

“The reason we have splash page is so we know what guests we have in the building, so if we ever had someone do something that is really damaging to our buildings infrastructure, we now know possibly where it came from,” Cooper said. “It’s also to let everyone know that you have now entered into school online experience which comes with school expectations, and once you accept, you’re agreeing to act as a responsible digital citizen honoring the  rules of the school.”


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