Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Time Zones for Online Events

Map of current official time zones,
US Central Intelligence Agency 2012,
Wikipedia, Public Domain
One of the frustrations of being an on-line student is working out when events and deadlines are scheduled. With more students online away from campus due to COVID-19, there will be more confusion. Courses which have most students spread out across the world may adopt Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), for simplicity. However, if most students are in the same timezone as the campus, it is simpler to use that time zone, and to explicitly include the city in announcements: 6pm AEST (Canberra Time).

I undertook an MEd in Distance Educaiton on-line in Canada. Some tutors would assume everyone knew what time zone was being used and leave it out. Some would say MT, but what is "MT"? It turns out this is Mountain Time. But then there is the problem of daylight saving time where the campus is and where the student is. There is also the problem of the time set in the learning management system, and the adjustments it offers. I missed a deadline when I thought I had set Moodle to work in AEST, not MT, but it was actually using UTC.

I tried explaining this problem to another North American organization, but they could not understand what the problem was. Here is the answer I got: "Hi Tom, excellent point. We are in the process of scheduling additional talks outside ET. Please stay tuned.". But I didn't want the time of the events changed, just how it was described.

ps: There can also be confusion with things as apparently simple as page size. If an assignment length is specified using page size, the the size of the page should also be specified. My tutors were a mix of Canadians and Americans, the Canadians assumed everyone used international paper sizes, and some of the Americans assumed American, but neither told the students. To add to the confusion, I found Canada has its own weird hybrid paper size "Canadian P4", which I used to submit my first assignment, but apparently no one in Canada uses.

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