The almost universal feeling among faculty I’ve talked to in the last week is that Blackboard’s new method of listing students is, to put it politely, unfriendly. For many it’s unusable. As I’ve often suggested during training workshops, if you don’t like a feature let Blackboard know about it. The more people asking for change the more likely it will come. To let Blackboard know how you feel about the changes in the new version you can send an e-mail to email@example.com.
In the meantime, a workaround to get a list of all users listed in your class is to use the users link in the users and groups section of the control panel and search any of the fields using contains as the delimiter and % as the search string. Now how obvious was that! And it doesn’t work with the roster tool!
We’ve made it through the first week of the semester and what a week it was! After a frustrating start for all the Blackboard users we finally diagnosed and hopefully resolved the network problems that plagued the system since we changed out the hardware on August 19th. Only once we had a load on the system did we discover the problems. Thanks to those who reported problems. We realized midway through this week that others were having problems but because sometimes they could get things to work they assumed that the problem was them. It wasn’t!
Last week’s upgrade of our Blackboard system was completed without too many glitches. We’ve now moved from a single server configuration to multiple servers. This configuration should provide better performance for our users. As in the past you access Blackboard with a single URL (http://blackboard.assumption.edu). But instead of being connected to a single server, you will be connected to one of two servers with the least number of users connected. These two “front-end” servers run the Blackboard application and talk to the “back-end” machine which stores your content and the database that drives the system.
In addition to the new server system, we are changing how long we leave content on the production system. In the past we left all courses on the production system. This provided easy access for repurposing content from old courses for current offerings. However, this practice began to slow down the system. This past spring we consulted with Blackboard regarding how we could better manage our system to improve performance. One recommendation was to delete old content from the system. As an interim solution we have moved our old production system into an archive role and will be deleting courses older than 2 years from the current production system. The archive server will have course older than two years, newer courses will be deleted to avoid confusion. This work will be completed in the next couple of weeks.
This fall we will be conducting an instructional technology survey. As part of that survey we will be gathering information to guide us in develoying a system to archive old courses off the production system but providing an easy method for faculty to repurpose content in current courses.
I came across an odd problem in the new version of Blackboard. If you try to create an announcement in a course that’s unavailable the announcement will not be viewable to anyone, even the instructor who created it. If you then make the course available, you can see the announcement. You can edit the announcement but you can’t delete it. You recieve a database error. This is a documented problem.
I found a creative workaround from Seneca College (https://inside.senecac.on.ca/myseneca/upgrade.html item #5) until Blackboard fixes the problem, reorder the annoucement to be deleted and then you can delete it using the item options menu.
This problem will be fixed when we apply Service Pack 1 and Hot Fix 1 to our system. This will happen during our next outage near the end of August.
I just came across a new book on using classroom response systems, AKA clickers.
Bruff, D. (2009). Teaching with Classroom Response Systems: Creating Active Learning Environments. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA.
Bruff provides suggestions for how to use clickers to engage students in learning, including peer teaching, group learning, and gathering information about student understanding. He provides examples from a variety of disciplines ranging from physics to language instruction. There’s also practical advice on structuring class time, preparing questions, and using clickers for grading.
Finally, Bruff discusses technical and logistic issues, providing practical suggestions on getting started with low tech alternatives to clickers.
The upgrade process and testing are complete. We’ve noticed a few minor problems that we’ll report to Blackboard but none significantly affects normal operation of the system. If you are experiencing problems, please contact the IT HUB at 508-767-7060 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll continue to watch the system for problems but for now it looks like all systems go.
We’ve upgraded the production Blackboard system to version 9.0! Initial testing indicates that the system is running without problems. I’ll continue testing today and throughout the next week for less significant problems.
We’re all set for the upgrade tomorrow. I’ve finished revising the instructor documentation. I’ll finish the student documentation over the summer. Most of the changes are in the instructor interface and students should not see much more than cosmetic differences.
We’ll start the upgrade tomorrow at 9 AM and while that runs, will update the IT/Bb web pages to reflect the changes – mainly the version 9 documentation will be accessible from the instructor documentation page rather than a link deeper and the version 8 documentation will be removed.
Today I’m playing with the sign up feature in groups. After reading on the Blackboard listserv that the sign up tool is not going to be revised for version 9 because the group sign up tool offers similar functionality, I’ve been checking that out. One difference in the groups feature that I noticed today, groups are defaulted to unavailable. In version 8 the default was available. Must note that in the FAQs.
I’m testing a new Building Block for Blackboard, Wimba Pronto Basic, on our test system. It’s an instant messaging tool that has an audio component, something I’m asked about with increasing frequency lately.
So far it looks interesting. You can open a group chat by selecting users and inviting them to a group text chat. Once in the chat you can opt to use voice over IP (VoIP) to open an audio conference call with your class. On initial look, this building block seems to fill a void currently lacking in the collaboration tools built-in to Blackboard.
More testing before our “go live” date for upgrade to Blackboard 9, and some pilot testing during the summer will tell us whether this is the answer to some of our synchronous online course communication needs.
We’ve been discussing if and when to upgrade to the new version of Blackboard, Blackboard Learn 9. We are presently planning an upgrade for May 20th. The new version will be available for Summer I courses.
See the postings under What’s New? to read about the improvements in release 9.0.