Today is the first day of our spring 2013 semester, and it is starting off well enough for our systems, with one exception. That is, there has been a change in the way Blackboard lists (or rather, does not list) unavailable courses that is causing a significant number of students to believe (incorrectly) that they are not registered for courses even though they are. We know, because this is by far the most common help request we have been receiving on our helpdesk system. In previous semesters Blackboard displayed ALL courses in which a student was enrolled in the My Courses area, and those that instructors had not yet made available were listed as “(unavailable)’ after their description. This in itself was slightly confusing, because some professors wait a significant amount of time after the semester officially begins to make their courses available, but at least the student knew that they were enrolled and that it was just a matter of time until the professor made the course available. The current problem was a result of the service pack 10 upgrade we performed in early January, and reflects a change in the way Blackboard itself operates. In other words, we no longer have the option to set it back the way it was. Blackboard says we can make a suggestion to change the system, but this is akin to dropping a note into a suggestion box–a box with no bottom and a trash can underneath it.
It does not help matters that the appearance of the My Courses area contains the following default message:
What this actually means is “You are not currently enrolled in any courses that have been made available.” If we were to request that Blackboard change this language in their default language pack they would simply say something like ‘You can modify that by creating a custom language pack, so there is no need for us to change it.’ But we have learned from bitter experience that you don’t start modifying the default language pack without expecting grave and unpredictable consequences that are far worse than this problem that will go away once the semester gets under way just because those who will be using Blackboard will go ahead and make their courses available, and those that don’t won’t matter because the students will no longer look there.
Unfortunately this is just a “feature” we will have to live with. It might be worth pointing out that when we originally broached this problem with Blackboard the high level tech we worked with did not even know it was possible to display unavailable courses, so this is the default behavior that most people have seen all along. Nevertheless, it is annoying.
The upgrade to Blackboard over the semester break went smoothly, but there are, as always, a few minor problems that we are working with Blackboard to get resolved. The most serious of them has already been resolved. It had to do with events placed on the course calendar not appearing until courses were made available. (If you are sensing a trend about course availability and Bb problems you are not alone).
On the other hand, there are some new features that we hope will enhance the use of Blackboard, including a new content editor, a new feature called video everywhere, and a new and much more useful course calendar, to name three new features.
If you would like training on these, or any part of Blackboard, we have shifted our training strategy this semester to a one-on-one, in-person model. We found that attendance at the old format workshops was not good, and that most people want to be trained working directly with their own course materials. We have decided to best accommodate this model we will simply make appointments with individual instructors who can come in to receive the best directed training possible. Use our helpdesk system to schedule a training appointment. If you are creating a job ticket requesting individualized training, please provide a time frame when you will available so our techs can schedule an appointment. For those seeking more generic training, we still provide screen videos and phone support.
Please let us know if we can assist you in any way. Our goal is your success in using technology to teach and learn at Palomar College.