A New Semester with Blackboard

Bb LogoThere are a few issues that come up every new semester with Blackboard, and then some unique problems that users need to be aware of too.  I thought I would mention both in this post.

Firstly, the most common student question when a new semester begins is, ‘why does my Blackboard course say it is unavailable?’  The answer is always ‘because your professor has not yet made it available.’  Courses are only made available at the discretion of professors.  We encourage students who ask this question to contact their professors.  If they use our Help System, they might see our knowledge base article on this topic before they ask the question, saving everyone a lot of time.

One of the most frequently asked question by professors when a new semester begins is, ‘how do I make my Blackboard course available?’  We also have a knowledge base article about this one.  The article makes reference to this video from Blackboard’s On Demand Learning Center.

Another question we get quite often, when a new semester starts, has to do with restoring courses taught in previous semesters.  The short answer to this request is:  If it has been taught in the last year, it can be copied (or imported) from Blackboard itself.  If before then, it can be restored only if you made an archive file from the course when it was originally taught.

The reason for this is that we prune the Blackboard system on a rolling year basis.  When the summer semester of 2011 ended, we pruned the summer 2010 courses from the system.  NOT the summer 2011 courses, the courses that were now over 1 year old from summer 2010.  When the current semester ends in December, 2011, we will prune the fall 2010 courses from the system.  And so on.  When a semester endes, we prune that same semester’s courses from a year ago.

Simple enough, yet most professors do not seem to know this.  We get many requests to restore files from previous years, sometimes many, many years ago.  Unless you made an archive, it cannot be done.

Known Issues

In addition to these traditional questions, there are some new, somewhat obscure errors our system is now experiencing.  Each is under review by Blackboard technicians at Blackboard, Inc.  We have determined the errors are, in fact, bugs in the program rather than errors related to the local configuration.  None of them amount to much, but just so you know, here they are:

Bulk File Uploads cannot be performed

Although uploading a group of files simultaneously would be nice, and Blackboard seems to indicate you can do this, you cannot do it on our system.  Blackboard, Inc. is continuing to investigate this problem.

Mac OS X users and PDF documents

Users of Mac OS X 10.6 and above cannot view PDF documents that have been uploaded as a File in the Safari and Firefox browsers for Mac.  They can view them in the Chrome browser for Mac.  If the documents are uploaded as attachments to an item they can be viewed in any browser.

WMV and WMA files attached to items will not play in IE8 and IE9

If an attempt is made to play these file types in IE8 or IE9 an authentication dialog box will appear.  Whether one authenticates or not, the files will not play.  The files do play in all other browsers (Chrome, Firefox and Safari).  The problem is known at Blackboard, Inc., and has been escalated, but we do not know when it will be fixed.

Safe Assign

Additionally, for two days when the semester began our implementation of Safe Assign did not work.  This was because of an undocumented IP address required by Blackboard server configuration.  Once it was escalated at Blackboard, Inc. the undocumented setting was discovered.  We made the configuration change and the product now works.

As you can see, it is always a work in progress.  In all, the problems we have experienced at the beginning of this semester have been minor.  We hope they stay that way.