The Blackboard Course Life Cycle

We are occasionally asked something like ‘can you restore a class to the active system that I taught 3 years ago?’  The answer is ‘no.’  We have explained this many times, but the information always seems to come as a surprise to someone, so let me go over it again.

We keep the current semester, the previous 3 semesters, and the future semester (as soon as future courses are created in Peoplesoft, which is approximately 90 days before the start of a semester) in our Blackboard database.  Old courses are pruned from the system on a rolling year schedule.  For example, at the conclusion of the fall 2012 semester, the fall 2011 courses are pruned from the system.  Immediately on the conclusion of the spring 2013 semester the spring 2012 courses will be pruned, and so on.

Let me repeat that last idea.  It is always misunderstood.  When a semester ends, the semester’s worth of courses taught A YEAR AGO, are deleted from the Blackboard system.

For this reason, we strongly recommend that professors make an archive of their courses once they are complete so that if they only teach a course every 2 years, say, or if they have some reason to review student performance long after a course has ended, they will be able to restore the content from the archive file.  Course archives contain all course content AND all student work.  Here is a screen video that explains how to make an archive, and here are written instructions [PDF].

Note:  Archives larger than 2.5GB cannot be restored to the Blackboard system, and are therefore essentially useless.  If your archive exceeds this size limit please contact us so that we can work with you to develop an alternative backup strategy.

Put another way, Professor access to the courses they teach using Blackboard persists for a year after the course ends.  Student access to courses is different.  Students can only access the course from the time the instructor first makes the course available until two weeks after the semester in which the course was taught, or until the professor makes the course unavailable, whichever comes first.  Student work and grades are available to the instructor at all times during the course’s life cycle, but not to the student.  If a student later needs access to the course to complete an incomplete, contact us for assistance.

To sum up the Blackboard course life cycle, then, take a look at this sequence:

Date Event
≈ May 20, 2012 Blackboard courses for the fall 2012 semester are created in PeopleSoft and Blackboard.  Instructors have access to them, but they are created as unavailable to students until such time as the instructor makes the course available.
June 20, 2012 Summer 6 and 8 week courses begin.
August 15, 2012 Summer semester courses end.  (Actually, the 6-week courses end August 1, the 8-week end August 15, but for Blackboard purposes we treat the end of the summer semester as August 15.
August 15, 2012 Summer courses that were taught in the summer of 2011 are deleted from the Blackboard system.
August  20, 2012 Fall 2012 classes begin.
≈ October 22, 2012 Blackboard courses for the spring 2013 semester are created in PeopleSoft and Blackboard.  Instructors have access to them, but they are created as unavailable to students until such time as the instructor makes the course available.
December 15, 2012 Fall 2012 semester ends.
December 15, 2012 Blackboard courses taught during the fall 2011 semester are deleted from the Blackboard system.
January 22, 2013 Spring 2013 classes begin.
≈ March 20, 2013 Blackboard courses for the summer 2013 semester are created in PeopleSoft and Blackboard.  Instructors have access to them, but they are created as unavailable to students until such time as the instructor makes the course available.
≈ May 17, 2013 Blackboard courses for the fall 2013 semester are created in PeopleSoft and Blackboard.  Instructors have access to them, but they are created as unavailable to students until such time as the instructor makes the course available.
May 24, 2013 Spring classes end.
May 24, 2013 Classes taught in the spring 2012 semester are deleted from the Blackboard system.
June 17, 2013 Summer 6 and 8 week classes begin.
And so on…

Therefore courses exist on the Blackboard system a) for 90 days prior to the semester in which they are conducted; b) during the semester they are conducted; and c) for one year after they are conducted.

Blackboard: Squirrel Resistant!

Electric SquirrelYesterday a squirrel (RIP) somehow burrowed into one of the campus transformers and after what must have been a lively, one might even say ‘electrifying’ moment, plunged two-thirds of the campus into darkness.  At least, this is the “unofficial” report we were able to get via the rumor mill which attributed it to campus police.  (The squirrel’s side of the story was unavailable).

The incident occurred at 4:28AM.  We know, because the clock tower stopped at that time, along with a couple of other electric clocks on campus.  When I got here at 6AM the office seemed dimmer than usual, and indeed, upon investigation proved to be nearly completely black.

The power remained off for around 11 hours, while the transformer was rewired.  It was an unfortunate time for this to happen because it is finals week for the six-week summer classes.

The good news is that it did NOT have an effect on Blackboard.  We were tempted to make a blog post stating that “Blackboard is Squirrel Proof,” but, as Dave points out, there is nothing truly squirrel proof.  The most one can say is that it is squirrel resistant, so that is our claim.  (Furthermore, how sure are we that squirrels cannot get into the server room?)

The moral of the story is THINGS HAPPEN.  This time online classes or online components of real-time classes were unaffected, while physical facilities were unavailable.  Usually it is the other way around, and online is down for all (rarely), or at least some (usually one or two, due to home computer problems) people.  In any event, we all need to take into account that even in the non-virtual world things do not always go perfectly and scheduling needs to be flexible enough to handle it.

How to Create Links to Journal Databases

This post will be pretty Palomar College specific, but may help instructors from other schools with general concepts.

As instructors develop course materials for students, they almost always find that there are supplemental documents that they want their students to read.  These are usually articles published in various journals.  A traditional approach has been to Xerox these articles and hand them out in class.  This has a couple of problems: 1,,) except for cases of spontaneous need, this is a copyright violation; and 2) it is expensive to Xerox so many documents.  Unfortunately this practice has been ported over to the electronic world of Blackboard, where professors may scan in the documents and place PDF versions of them in their Blackboard courses for student consumption.  This is even more a clear copyright violation and, in most cases, unnecessary.

There is an easier way.

Palomar College maintains subscriptions to various electronic journal databases that contain thousands of articles from all sorts of journals.  Our librarians, in concert with professors, have chosen the databases that contain the most useful journals for student research in a community college.  It is possible, and indeed a best practice, rather than creating handouts for students or illegally scanning documents for upload to Blackboard to create links from within Blackboard to the articles you wish your students to read.  If the student wishes to print the article, so that she can have a hard copy, she can.  It is all legal because the college has paid the license fee that allows permission to print.  There are three main journal database vendors with whom the college has contracted: EBSCO, JSTOR and PROQUEST.  We also have various Gale Group databases, but links to Gale resources will not work for off-campus students.

Here is how to create links to those journals from within Blackboard that will work for both on-campus and off-campus students.

The Databases

Access the college’s journal databases through the Library’s database web page: http://www.palomar.edu/library/OnlineDatabases/databases.htm

Note that the databases are usually identified by vendor, either by being followed by an indicator like (EBSCO) or  (ProQuest), or simply by name, like JSTOR.  These are the major research journal databases we will discuss here.  There are several others that the techniques discussed here will work with, and we will mention them below.

When one accesses these databases from on-campus, it is simply a matter of clicking a link and accessing the database home page.  From off-campus, however, the user must supply his/her Palomar College credentials (username and password) before gaining access to the database.  This is because the databases monitor incoming web traffic, and traffic that comes from the range of valid Palomar College IP addresses is permitted through unchallenged.  From off-campus the database access must be routed through what is called a proxy server in order to let the database web servers know that this is a valid Palomar College inquiry, and not just some random attempt by an anonymous web user to access freely access for-pay information.  The proxy server tells the database server that this is a valid Palomar inquiry, provided that the user can provide valid Palomar credentials, i.e., the user’s Palomar College username and password.  For students this is their eServices/Blackboard username and password.  For faculty members this is their Palomar College email username and password.

Each of the journal databases mentioned above, EBSCO, JSTOR and ProQuest, have a slightly different terminology for the link that identifies the permanent location of an article, known as a permalink in blogging parlance.  EBSCO calls theirs a “Persistent Link,” JSTOR calls theirs a “Stable Link,” and ProQuest omits the adjective and just calls it a link.  If you are interested in the particulars of how to find these links from each of these vendors, see my lengthier article here.

The point is, once you have obtained the permalink, or PURL, as they used to be called (persistent-URL), for it to work for off-campus students at Palomar College it must be prefixed with the address of the Proxy server, along with an argument that identifies the specific article.  Like this:

http://prozy.palomar.edu/login?url=http://www.jstor.org/stable/462559

This seems complicated, but really isn’t.  The key is in remembering to use the proxy prefix each time you create a link.  Watch this brief (2:55) screen video for a How-To on easily doing this:

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If you have followed the tips in this little video, it will be easy for you to create links to the supplemental articles you wish your students to read.  To learn how to make external links in Blackboard, see the same article referenced above.   Using this technique will enable your students–they are free to email the articles to themselves, print them, copy and paste from them, etc.; it will also save your departments duplication budgets; and protect the District and yourselves from potential copyright violations.

This article is my contribution to our monthly podcast roll-up, so here is my audio contribution on this topic as well.

Getting Help at Palomar College

Faculty members and students both need to know where to get assistance at Palomar College.  You may find the following list of contact numbers and addresses useful.

General College Information

Address:

Palomar College
1140 West Mission Road
San Marcos, California 92069-1487
United States of America

General Telephone Numbers:

  • The switchboard may be reached during the business day (Pacific Time) at: (760) 744-1150
    (country code 1 from outside of Canada and the USA)
  • The general number to FAX a document is: (760) 744-8123
  • There is TDD access in the Library at 760-736-0246 during Library hours of operation.

Geo-location of our main San Marcos campus:

  • Palomar College is located in San Marcos, San Diego County, California, USA.
  • 33.147054 N, 117.184263 W+
  • Link to campus maps (showing San Marcos campus, educational center maps, and public transportation options.

Academic Technology: Blackboard and Related Assistance:

Access to Blackboard for online classes and technology enhanced classes:


Help with Blackboard or other technology issues related to teaching and learning:

Our Academic Technology help system hours are Monday – Friday, 7AM to 5PM

Admissions Office (Use this contact information with issues about application and class registration issues):

Counseling:

Student Email:

eServices Help (Palomar student or faculty member password or other eServices issues):

  • Web site.
  • Phone: (760) 744-1150  ext. 2140

Library Services: