Blackboard Offline August 11

Blackboard logo

As previously noted, Palomar’s Blackboard system is going through some software upgrades and system tuning on Monday, August 11, 2014. The plan is for the system to go offline starting at 12:30 AM Pacific time, and have the system back online before 4:30 PM Pacific time.

Should there be any news-worthy events during the upgrade process, I’ll be editing this blog post. So check back during the day on Monday, if you’re the obsessive type who wants to keep informed on the Blackboard system progress.

UPDATE: Posted 10:40 AM 8/11/2014

The Blackboard system has been offline since 12:31 AM, and significant process has been made. However the system remains offline, although we remain on track to complete prior to 4:30 PM.

COMPLETE: Posted 11:02 AM 8/11/2014

In record time, the Blackboard upgrade is complete. The system is back online, and may be used normally now.

New Faculty Technology-related Cheat Sheet

Palomar logo 200x200

One frustration for new faculty here at Palomar is simply remembering which systems are supported by which departments, and where the various resources are. (Honestly, that’s pretty frustrating for ME still, as I approach two decades at Palomar.) So here’s a short cheat sheet to answer the question “who you gonna’ call?” Hint: the answer, sadly, is not “Ghostbusters.”

Palomar E-mail will take you to a webmail interface for Palomar’s Exchange email system. Also, knowing we use Exchange may help you in configuring a mobile device to check your Palomar email.

Faculty eServices will take you to the faculty login screen for the eServices enrollment system. Given that the actual address of that page is quite lengthy, you may just want to go to the main Palomar web site, click eServices, then click the Faculty tab.

Both email and eServices are supported by the Information Services department. They also do the support on the office desktop computers and classroom workstations and projectors. You can reach the Information Services helpdesk by email at, or by phoning X2140 on campus.

Blackboard will take you to Palomar’s course management system. Alternately, if you’re putting the address in print, you may want to put

WordPress will allow you to log into the Palomar WordPress system, to make changes to your own website on our servers. If you’ve never logged in before, simply logging in will create a site for you.

Both Blackboard and WordPress are supported by the Academic Technology department. We also have two classroom computer labs which can be reserved for classes to use, as well as a variety of other services. You can reach Academic Technology using the ATRC helpdesk, by emailing, or by phoning X2862 on campus.

Disability Resource Center will take you to information, mostly geared towards students, on what accommodations may be made for students with disabilities. So should you have students who need it, you can contact our experts in the DRC by phoning X2375 on campus.

Hey, worst case scenario, if you don’t know who to ask for help with a particular problem… ask anyone. If nothing else, we should all be able to point you in the right direction to get whatever help you need.

Blackboard Upgrade on August 11, 2014

Blackboard logo

On Monday, August 11, 2014, Palomar’s Blackboard system will be upgraded to release version 9.1.201404.160205, known as the April 2014 release. This process is set to begin August 11, 2014 at 12:30 AM Pacific time and is expected to take around 12 to 16 hours to complete, but as always we will get the system available to users again as soon as possible.

Should there be anything worthy of note that crops up during the actual upgrade, I’ll be sure to post something on the PalomarATRC Twitter feed, so look there for updates.

The major instructor-focused changes in this new version are:

  • Anonymous and Delegated Grading – Blackboard has implemented a robust Anonymous Grading feature to add another layer of fairness and impartiality to Grading capabilities. Without knowing who submitted the assignment, a Grader is not influenced by a student’s previous performance, class participation, conflicts, race, gender, or perceived student aptitude. Delegated Grading promotes reliability and removes bias by using grades and feedback from more than one Grader. These features may be used together or individually to meet grading requirements.

David says: Since Palomar doesn’t have Graders in your courses, the delegated grading function isn’t significant. But the true anonymous grading function may be useful… if you can get your students to NOT put their names on their papers.

  • Assessments: Significant Figures – Blackboard has improved Calculated Formula Questions by adding the ability to define the significant figures required and used in the creation of answers and the automated grading process.

David says: The Calculated Formula question type is exceptionally niche. However, if you’re using that question type in your tests, you’re doing the happy dance right now.

  • SafeAssign – Blackboard has enhanced the SafeAssign service to provide a more seamless integration with native Blackboard Learn Assignments and updated the SafeAssign Originality Report interface. With this update, the SafeAssignment content type is removed from the content areas, and SafeAssign becomes an additional feature available when creating native Blackboard Learn Assignments. All Blackboard Learn Assignment features are available in tandem with SafeAssign services with the exception of Portfolio submissions to Blackboard Learn Assignments.

David says: Finally! Now the plagiarism detection functions of SafeAssign are integrated with the regular Assignment tool. I’ve been waiting for this one for a long time now. Want to see this from the instructor point-of-view?

  • Student Preview – The new Student Preview feature provides the capability for an instructor to see the course exactly as a student would see it. It accomplishes this by allowing the Instructor to easily transition into and out of a system-managed preview account that is automatically enrolled in the course as a student. This provides all the advantages of a “dummy” account while absolving the instructor and System Administrator of the management overhead.

David says: Since 2005 I’ve been telling faculty that they have a second account, which is a student in all their courses. But soon I’ll be able to get rid of that second account… because this Student Preview function is wonderful. Want to see this in action?

Finally, because I keep hearing confusion regarding our fate with Blackboard Managed Hosting, let me try to clarify things: Palomar’s Blackboard system is now physically located in Chantilly, Virginia, but the support staff you deal with are still exactly the same. Chris Norcross, Shay Phillips, and I will continue to serve your Blackboard support needs moving into the future. So if you have any problems, just open a ticket on the ATRC Helpdesk.

A Blackboard Year in Review


In July of 2013 I had the opportunity to attend the Blackboard World conference, and it was intense. Next week I’ll be able to attend the 2014 Blackboard World conference, and before that happens I wanted to reflect on the past year’s experiences with Blackboard here at Palomar.

Last July I challenged faculty to work with me to review their course workflow and layout; sadly only a couple faculty took me up on that. But the offer remains open, to have a one-on-one meeting (or more, if desired) to have someone completely ignorant of your content (that’s ME, of course) offer an outsider’s perspective of your course design. And, naturally, help in executing any changes you may decide to make after the review.

During the last eleven months I’ve posted in depth on several topics that were exposed at the conference in 2013:

I also posted about the way that SafeAssign will be integrated with the regular Blackboard Assignment tool. However, we still don’t have that change in place… but we will when our Blackboard environment comes back from the August 11 upgrade and maintenance window.

The number one student problem over the last year has really boiled down to web browser security issues. And of course we have all just completed a shift over to using Blackboard’s Managed Hosting service instead of hosting a system here on campus, making “help me move my course content to the new system” our number two faculty problem over the last year.

For anybody with the misfortune to teach using Palomar’s Blackboard system in Fall of 2013, you’ll be well aware of what our number one faculty problem was. Now that we are running via Managed Hosting though, we should have no fear of a return of the horrid system performance we saw last year.

And, because I keep hearing this rumor about our fate with Managed Hosting, let me clarify things: Palomar’s Blackboard system is physically located in Chantilly, Virginia, but the support staff you deal with are still exactly the same. In the last twelve months Chris Norcross, Shay Phillips, and I have fielded 2318 support tickets relating to Blackboard using our helpdesk system, and we will continue to be here to help moving into the future.

Tech Toolbox: MyScript MathPad

MathPad logo

Over two years ago I blogged about an iPad app useful for recording called Educreations. That app, and the accompanying website, are still going strong. However I was never happy about using Educreations for recording my finger-writing of mathematical equations. So if you’re the type who has need of equations in your course documents, listen up!

There are a pair of “mathy” apps from the company MyScript which can assist in neatening up the finger-paint input of equations. The first, which I won’t dwell on, is called the MyScript Calculator. This calculator app allows written input of simpler math problems, which it will then compute. (This was my first exposure to MyScript’s tools, and I was impressed. Particularly given the price tag of Free.) The other app, which I see use for by both faculty and students, is the MyScript MathPad. In this MathPad app, written input is converted into easily readable form, and the resulting work may be output as an image.

And I can already hear it: “Ugh. An image? Why can’t it be something more usable like LaTeX or MathML?” It can, but there’s a slight catch. The output as Image function is part of the free MathPad, while output in the other formats will entail a one-time fee (currently of $4.99). Since I’m cheap, I’ll restrict myself to the image output, but for someone who has a need to post such things frequently it may be worth the five bucks.

The Calculator app has both iOS and Android options, while the MathPad app is restricted to iOS, as listed on the MyScript Apps & Demos page. The MathPad app will run on both the iPhone and iPad, although I found writing out equations cramped on the iPhone screen, as the video below makes clear.

And the exported images? Here’s some examples:

2014-05-21 18.50.132014-05-21 18.50.462014-05-21 18.52.002014-05-21 18.51.20

So if you’ve an iPad and need to craft formula for your course documents, give MathPad a try!

SafeAssign Outage and Improvements


This next Saturday, April 26, from 7 AM until 9 AM Pacific Time, the SafeAssign service (the plagiarism detection tool within Blackboard) will not be working. Until 7:30 AM SafeAssignments will not accept new submissions, and anything submitted between 7:30 and 9 AM will not immediately have reports generated. Instead submissions during that time period will be put in a queue and originality reports will be generated later.

It would be a good idea for students to avoid submitting papers to the SafeAssign tool Saturday morning, and any instructors who set deadlines on SafeAssignments may want to modify those deadlines a bit. No problems are expected from this process, but if you do run into problems using SafeAssign after 9 AM on April 26, please let us know via the ATRC Helpdesk.

For information about what the “improvements” are to SafeAssign, you can read about that on a Blackboard Help article. The short version is that they have redesigned the SA Report, and the new version looks to be much more reliable to use.