Law in the Internet Society

The Need for a Plan B at Columbia Law School

-- By MariaLedesma - 08 Dec 2021


On December 7, 2021, an outage at Amazon Web Services (“AWS”), the largest cloud computing provider in the United States, left many users of its services in the dark. Among those who reported interruptions in their own services due to the outage were major streaming services like Netflix and Disney+, as well as companies like Coinbase and Sweetgreen. More importantly to me, the outage impacted the Columbia Law School community. That is, among those who were directly affected by the interruption in services were students like myself, who either personally discovered something was wrong after being unable to access the Echo360 course recordings on CourseWorks? or who were made aware of the incident through an email from the CLS IT Helpdesk. Although cloud services will continue to reign supreme in the future, and undoubtedly play a role in CLS's continued technological growth, if there is one takeaway from this outage it is that CLS needs to end its complete reliance on third party providers to record and store their courses, and should instead require its faculty to do so in the interest of their students.

While my knowledge of the terms of CLS's relationship with third-party providers of educational tech services like Echo360, Inc. is limited, I am aware that CLS relies heavily (although practically entirely is perhaps a more accurate description) on this company’s software to record and store its live courses. Students are then able to access these recordings through CourseWorks? . During the AWS outage, however, Echo360 experienced a system-wide outage. As the email from the IT Helpdesk to the Law School community detailed, “[r]ecordings are currently unavailable via the Echo360 website ( and via the ‘Echo360’ tab in Courseworks, and new recordings cannot be scheduled for capture at this time.” Moreover, “[a]ccording to Echo360, the access issue appears to be linked to an outage at Amazon Web Services' (AWS) east coast servers. As such, this issue is affecting all US customers of Echo360.” With no timeline for resolution in sight, students were left in the dark as a result of CLS's complete reliance on this software to capture and record their courses.

A Plan B

While historically and in other areas of academia access to course recordings was neither available nor the norm, many law schools today provide students access to video and audio course recordings without question. During my time in law school, this has been Columbia's practice. For the purposes of this paper, my interest is solely on CLS's current use of cloud recordings and the precedent set through years of this being the norm, presumably in the interest of students. While this certainly does not establish that access to course recordings is a right of students generally, it is CLS's present-day norm, and the focus of this discussion.

Given the likelihood that a cloud service like AWS and by extension Echo360 will experience another partial or total system failure in the future, CLS should require its faculty to audio record their courses daily, all the while allowing the University's IT department to manage the handling of these recordings. Just as CLS provides its instructors with microphones both to project their voices while teaching as well as for the purposes of the Echo360 recordings, the School should provide its faculty with voice recording devices to record their classes. Turning on one of these devices would be easier if not just as easy as turning on the microphones instructors currently use. Instructors could then either upload their individual recordings onto CourseWorks? or their own course website.

Although I do not know how arduous or time-consuming a process like this would be, two alternatives come to mind in the event that instructors outright reject this idea. For one, their assistants could be tasked with uploading the recordings onto the relevant course site daily. That is, of course, assuming that the University decides to manage its recordings entirely in-house. Alternatively, instructors could be required to upload their recordings onto their sites only after becoming aware of a system outage at AWS/Echo360 (assuming CLS maintains this relationship) like the one that took place in December 2021. To be clear, they would still have to audio record their classes every day, but would only be required to upload the recordings after becoming aware of a system failure. While some sort of system would have to be put in place to ensure that the faculty is actually recording their courses even in the absence of a system failure, this seems like a feasible task. Overall, any of these steps would be better for students than complete reliance on a cloud recording system like Echo360, which left students unable to access the recordings of their courses early in December.


While having instructors audio record their own classes will certainly not prevent future system outages at AWS or in-house at CLS, nor necessarily guarantee better service if conducted in-house by CLS's IT department, having a copy or a second copy (again, if CLS maintains its relationship with Echo360) of the course's audio recording will undoubtedly provide a safety net for students who have come to rely on this practice.

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r3 - 05 Jan 2022 - 20:31:11 - MariaLedesma
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