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.

Moving Faculty Content Into the New Blackboard System


As you may have heard, starting with this Summer term Palomar College is changing our Blackboard environment from one hosted on the San Marcos campus to one hosted by Blackboard Managed Hosting. In an earlier post I tried to address faculty questions about this change, but the largest impact to faculty will be when trying to move course content from an older course into a course on the new Blackboard environment.

Anyone around back in Fall 2009 may recall the big move from Bb version 8 to 9; that was a similar shift between one environment and another, although then both environments were hosted here on campus. The process faculty will need to follow can be summed up as:

  1. Export content from old course.
  2. Save export file to computer.
  3. Import content to new course.

Of course that short version isn’t a whole lot of help. Academic Technology has prepared a PDF document giving the steps to follow in painful detail; feel free to print out those instructions and have them sitting by your workstation when the time comes to move your content. If you’d like to see the process in detail before trying it on your own, these demonstration videos will show the export and import processes:

If all this seems overwhelming, do not despair. Academic Technology is offering several “Blackboard Moving Day” drop-in events specifically to help faculty with this migration process, which can be found listed on our training website. Should those times and days not fit your schedule, you can always contact us via our helpdesk to request a one-on-one meeting. Just list some days and times that would work for you, and our Blackboard support techs can meet with you either in our Faculty Technology Center in room LL-111, or elsewhere on campus.

Faculty Blackboard Managed Hosting Questions


This is an an effort to anticipate some questions faculty may have about the upcoming changes to Palomar’s Blackboard environment; should you have additional questions, feel free to pose them in the comments here, or contact us separately in Palomar Blackboard support.

However, one question I am unable to answer at this time is “when are the Summer 2014 courses going to be available to faculty?” As soon as there is an answer I can share, rest assured I will post about the details.


What is this Managed Hosting for Blackboard thing I keep hearing about?

Palomar’s Blackboard system will be undergoing a significant behind-the-scenes change in the very near future. In the past our Blackboard system has lived on the main campus in San Marcos; starting with Summer 2014 we will be using the Blackboard Managed Hosting service to house our system.

Benefits of this change include:

  • Reducing expected upgrade windows from 4 days to 24 hours or less. (Blackboard techs claim 12 hours is typical.)
  • Eliminating the need to run the “pre-Fall” Blackboard upgrades during 8-week classes; any upgrades required in August can be scheduled in the few days between end of Summer and start of Fall.
  • Increasing system monitoring from “Palomar ATRC business hours” to 24/7/365, which should minimize any potential down-time due to technical problems.
  • System up-time of 99.8%, guaranteed on pain of monetary penalties.
  • Improved integration between Palomar’s Blackboard environment and various publisher’s content systems. (i.e. WileyPLUS, McGraw-Hill Connect, Pearson’s MyLab)

How much of my time is this going to waste?

Little to no extra time. The process for transferring materials into your new courses on the Managed Hosting system should not take appreciably longer than the traditional Course Copy tool did.

Will I be able to simply Course Copy from old semesters to this Managed Hosting system?

No. Because the course copy tool only works between courses on the same Blackboard system it will not be possible to copy directly from your older courses into the new course sites on the Managed Hosting system.

Instead you will need to use the Export/Import process, in which you use the Export Course function in the old course, save the export file created onto your computer, then use the Import Package function in the new course. This process will be fully explained as a step-by-step document in a future posting.

Can’t you just do this for me?

As always, ATRC staff are completely willing to work with faculty one-on-one, either in your offices on campus or in the Faculty Technology Center in room LL-111. However there is enough ambiguity about what content each instructor wants transferred that we would not be able to simply move your content without directly involving you in the process.

If you would like to set up an appointment to meet with one of our techs, please file a ticket in our helpdesk at and indicate when you would be available to meet. We will try to match our schedules to yours, to make this as painless a process as possible. We will also be offering several “Blackboard migration assistance” sessions in the Faculty Technology Center in room LL-111 on the San Marcos campus. Details on the session dates and times may be found online at .