It wasn’t a good day to be a leading-edge school district in education technology.
Tens of thousands, perhaps millions, of Google Chromebooks, widely prized by schools due to their low cost and ease of configuration, were reported to be offline for several hours on Tuesday. The apparent cause? A seemingly botched WiFi policy update pushed out by Google that caused many Chromebooks to forget their approved network connection, leaving students disconnected.
Google first gave schools a heads-up via Twitter after the fact, indicating there was a fix.
We're aware of a wifi connectivity outage that affected some Chromebooks today. The issue is resolved. To get your Chromebooks online: reboot & manually join a WiFi network or connect via ethernet to receive a policy update. Sorry for the disruption & thank you for your patience.
— Google For Education (@GoogleForEdu) December 5, 2017
That disclosure led to dismayed reaction by educators, some of whom had Chromebook installations in the thousands.
This is unacceptable on many fronts.
1. The outage occurred 3 and a half hours ago and this is the first you have publicly acknowledged it. Next time, don’t wait for a “resolution” to announce a problem.
2. Manually joining a WiFi network on 10,000+ chromebooks is a nightmare.
— Jeremy Cunningham (@jw_cunningham) December 5, 2017
Did you just say "manually"?😒😒😒 What year is it?
— Alex Morris (@Amorrisbpsd) December 5, 2017
I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of Chromebooks suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened. #chromebooks #chromebook #GoogleEdu
— Kelly Dumont (@kdumont) December 5, 2017
Reddit, too, suddenly had multiple discussions popping up with school tech directors offering advice and condolences to each other. Downdetector indicated a large number of reported outages roughly during the same period.
For its part, Google lists the Chromebook WiFi problem as a “known issue” on its business and education help site, adding, “We have addressed the root cause of this issue, but due to the nature of issue, the fix does not take effect until affected devices connect to networks and refresh policies. We are investigating additional options to resolve this issue.” (Update 6:20 pm: Google has published a linked help article providing five options for re-connecting Chromebooks to managed networks, and more specifics on who was likely affected.)
Some schools said they had found a workaround of their own: Creating an open, “guest” WiFi network, telling students to connect to it, and then forcing the corrected policy to the Chromebooks.
All fixed! If you or your students connect to the guest network, once you get logged in, the #Chromebook will switch over to the correct wifi network. Whew!
— Mounds View Tech (@MoundsViewTech) December 5, 2017
That’s not without risks, because students are connecting — even if briefly — to an open, unsecured network. Still, it may make for a better Wednesday for some schools.
Enterprise management is wonderful until it isn't…
"Please note that in order to receive this fix, you will have to manually connect affected devices to a network."
Condolences to #edtech teams across the US tonight. Going to be a loooong day tomorrow.
— Doug Levin (@douglevin) December 5, 2017
GeekWire reached out to Google for more information about the cause and scope of the Chromebook issue, and will update this post if more details become available.