Faculty Blackboard Managed Hosting Questions

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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 https://www2.palomar.edu/atrc/helpdesk/ 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 http://www2.palomar.edu/pages/atrc/workshops/ .

Develop Your Own Blackboard Course

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Faculty, you can prepare for new classes, even before Palomar provides your course shells! The “early worm” professors are already starting to ask about when the Summer 2014 course shells will be ready; the short answer is “not yet.” However there is no reason to wait – strike while you feel inspired!

There’s this thing called Coursesites.com, you see. A fully featured Blackboard Learn environment which anyone can take advantage of; in fact it’s got all the bells and whistles turned on, some of which Palomar doesn’t even have. But don’t worry, the functions you depend on here will be present and fully functional over on Coursesites.

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Not only is the system fairly easy to begin using, there are a number of good instructional videos and documentation on the site, so figuring out what to do won’t be a problem. To start, you’d want to sign up for an account:

After that, you can hit the obvious green button in the middle of the screen to Create A Course. A wizard walks you through the process of setting up your own course shell, and then you can begin populating the course with your own content.

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Obviously there is a lot you might want to do in your new course, so perhaps the CourseSites Quick Start Guide for Instructors might be of use. Be warned though, it’s a 155 page PDF, so “quick” is a relative term.

Probably the biggest “how do I do this?” issue on Coursesites will come should you decide to have colleagues or students actually utilize your course shell. Yes, this system is fully functional, and has even been used to run a good number of MOOCs, so having a few other faculty collaborate with you won’t present any technical problems. But the process of sending invitations is a bit unusual; fortunately there’s a video describing the whole process:

That video shows inviting students, but if you read the small print there is a similar link to invite Instructors, too.

So if you’re itching to get developing, and don’t want to wait until your course shells are ready on Palomar’s system, give Coursesites a try. Don’t worry about wasting development work either; anything you build there can be exported and then imported into your course on our system later. Happy course developing!

Blackboard Thing of the Week: Tour a Sample Course Structure

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Way back in May of 2012, I posted on a new addition to Blackboard, Course Structures. However, I haven’t seen any faculty really putting these to use, so I wanted to showcase at least one structure.

In the video below I use the organization by Chapter (which, for any class based around the textbook, works fairly well), and show off a bit of the sample content and my thoughts on the mindset behind the structure.

In particular, points I like in the structure are:

  1. The default entry point is a module page optimized for student use.
  2. The syllabus information is not a single linked document, but instead multiple shorter items.
  3. The content area for the syllabus materials is not right at the top of the course menu.
  4. The “Chapters” area, where the bulk of the instructional content dwells, is at the top of the course menu.

I wouldn’t suggest using every single idea from that structure, but as a source of inspiration to cherry-pick through I think it is very solid. Maybe seeing these sorts of demo pieces can inspire you to reorganize your own course site and make it more effective. That’s the theory, anyway. But see for yourself, in the video below:

New Blackboard Calendar

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Have you noticed that the calendar in Blackboard is… bad. Well, no longer.

Blackboard has just released an update (their first significant update to the calendar tool, perhaps ever) to the Calendar tool now that Service Pack 10 is out, which makes calendaring finally useful. Drag-and-drop functionality to move calendar events, the ability to create events for multiple courses from one interface (although not all at once, sadly), automatic calendar entries for anything you set a due date on, even iCal feed functionality! This new calendar may not “have it all” but it is a serious step forward and encourages me to finally say what I thought I never would:

Blackboard’s Calendar is a useful tool.

This new calendar is available on the Palomar Blackboard Sandbox system now, and will go live on the production system along with our upgrade to Service Pack 10 during the planned outage beginning on January 7th, 2013. So have a happy new year, and a happy new calendar to mark the time with!

Grading? Back up!

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As the Fall term draws to a close, quite a bit of grading is going on. If you’ve just spent the last two hours at your computer punching in student grades, this might be a good time to back up that work.

If you’re already in your course site now, just follow these 6 simple steps to create a grade backup:

  1. Go to the “Full Grade Center” view, so you can see the whole grade grid for your course.
  2. Over on the upper right of the grid, open up the “Work Offline” menu, then choose “Download”.
  3. If you are hiding student grades in the grade grid, be sure to “Include Hidden Information” in section 2 of the Download grades options. If not, then the default setting are all you should need.
  4. Click the “Submit” button.
  5. Click the “DOWNLOAD” button in the upper left corner of the Download Grades screen.
  6. Save the file onto your computer, somewhere you will find it should you ever have need.

Hopefully you’ll never need a backup of your grades, but hope and a backup will get you more than just hope.

Blackboard Course Copy

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As faculty may have noticed, the Spring 2013 courses now exist within Blackboard (in accordance with our policy of creating courses 90 days prior to the new semester). Of course, all these new courses are empty shells, so now is when you might want to use the Course Copy tool to transfer material forward from an older course site.

To begin the course copy process, start in the Source course. That is, go into the older course which already contains your course materials, and use the copy tool there to transfer material to the new course site. (If you go into the empty new course site and try to use the Course Copy tool, it will let you, but all you will be able to copy is… nothing, since that new course is empty.)

Open up the subsection of the Control Panel named “Packages and Utilities” and click the option for “Course Copy.” The next screen will begin with a drop-down list which only gives you one choice, to copy into an Existing Course. However, at the top of section 2, you will want to click the “Browse…” button, which will open a new window.

In the new window, click the radio button next to the course you wish to copy into. If you teach more than one type of course, this is the point where you should check to be sure that you are copying from the correct older course into the correct newer course. A bit of double-checking at this stage can save you a world of headaches in clearing out incorrect material if you choose the wrong course to copy into; you want to pick a Spring 2013 course site, so watch for that term designation.

Once you choose the course to copy into, scroll down and click the red Submit button in the lower right corner of the window. That window will close, and you will be returned to the previous Course Copy screen. The next step is to select what parts of your course site you want copied into the new semester course. Of course your milage may vary, depending on how you put Blackboard to work, but there are a few issues to keep in mind when choosing which of these boxes to check:

  • If you use tests, you will need to choose the content areas where your tests are deployed, as well as the check boxes lower down the screen for “Tests, Surveys, and Pools” and “Grade Center Columns and Settings.”
  • If you use Discussion Board forums, please realize that after the copy is complete you may have to clean up these forums before they are ready to use. Sometimes old student posts copy along with the forums.
  • In the “Settings” area, do NOT check the boxes for “Duration” or “Enrollment Options.” Checking those boxes will cause your copy to fail.
  • If you check the “Settings” box for “Availability” from an Available course to a new course site, the new course site will immediately become available to students. Likely you will not want to do this, and instead want to review the results of your course copy (and possibly update some of the content) prior to making the new course site available to students.

Once you’ve checked all the boxes you need, just click the red Submit button in the top or bottom right corner of the screen. You should immediately receive a Success message, indicating that your copy is going to run.

Please note that the way the Course Copy tool works in Blackboard can take some time. But don’t worry, as you’ll see below there are plenty of messages within the system to keep you updates on the status of your copy, and once the copy is complete you will receive an email letting you know. Once you’ve started this copy process, if you navigate back to the My Palomar tab quickly enough, you may catch site of a note in the My Courses module indicating that your copy is waiting to run:

If the copy is running, you will see a slightly different message on the My Courses module:

And, if you access the course that you are copying in to while that process is in progress, you’ll see a note about it at the top of the screen:

If you wait until after the course copy is complete, the My Courses module will go back to normal. However, the next time you enter your course you should see another message up at the top of the course, indicating that the course copy is Complete:

To get rid of that message, just click the “X” button over at the right side of the bar. Congratulations, your course materials have been copied. Of course the best plan is for you to begin looking through all of the newly copied materials, and make any changes necessary before the students begin using your course.

One final thought: The Course Copy process typically does not take very long to complete (although larger courses will obviously take longer to copy), but the copy process may take longer if you try to copy during a high-load time. What I mean is, try not to wait until right before the start of the Spring term before starting your copy process. Oh, and if your copy has been waiting or running for more than two hours, you should probably contact tech support.

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 Changes: Course Hopper

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A wonderful new aide to navigating around within Blackboard is part of the SP8 upgrade. (Okay, so this won’t be on Palomar’s production environment until after the upgrade to Blackboard’s 9.1 SP8 version next Monday, June 4th, but it is available on the BbSandbox environment already.) Technically named “Course-to-course navigation” this tool allows movement between courses to the same part of a course.

From the Blackboard documentation:

Course-to-Course Navigation allows students and instructors to jump from course to course while retaining the context of the page or task from the original page of any recently accessed course.

This video illustrates moving between courses with this course hopper function:

This navigation tool has the potential to streamline an instructor’s workflow tremendously. For example, if you are in the mood to grade papers your students have submitted, go into your first course and into the Needs Grading screen. Grade the papers in this first course, then choose your next course from the drop-down menu. Boom, you’re now in the Needs Grading screen of the next course. Rinse and repeat.

If you use the same names for content areas in your different courses, you will also be able to jump directly between those areas, which will make processes such as “upload all my syllabi” much easier. Certainly this isn’t truly new functionality, after all you’ve moved between multiple courses before now, but hopping directly between courses is easier and simpler than ever before. Happy course hopping!

Blackboard Changes: Course Structures

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For years faculty just starting out using Blackboard, or faculty deciding to overhaul their course content, have asked for some sort of template to use for course organization. Unfortunately that isn’t a “one size fits all” sort of thing, so there really hasn’t been any good template that we can recommend for faculty to use. Clearly we aren’t the only institution with that situation, and in response Blackboard has produced the new Course Structures component.

Course Structures allow an instructor to choose from a list of different organizational methods, and then add course menu, content area, and even samples of content that would be appropriate to use with the selected organizational method. Course Structures may be selected as part of the Quick Setup interface, or applied separately from the Control Panel. You can either browse through the screens in a course site, or you can take a look at a listing of all the different Course Structures that are available.

There are too many different structures available to look at them all in depth, but the one that most closely matches a commonly used organizational method here at Palomar is the Weekly Course structure. In the detailed PDF created on that structure are specifics about why the course menu is built in such a fashion, as well as information on what sorts of content would go in each content area; if you decided to include the sample content when adopting this structure you would get pieces of content added with demonstration names and suggested content types.

If you do use the sample content you may note that the background on the imported content looks slightly different than what you are used to; sample content appears differently to an instructor (and does not appear at all to a student) until it is edited by the instructor. That way students in your course will not see a bunch of demo items, even if you applied a course structure to a live course while students were using it. (Clearly it would be better to apply course structures to a course that is not yet in live use by students, or using one of the courses on Palomar’s BbSandbox environment which students will never see.)

If you have questions about Course Structures, you may want to read over the Frequently Asked Questions document Blackboard has prepared. If you’ve read over that, and still have questions, let us know by opening a ticket on our ATRC Helpdesk system.

Course Structures are new to Blackboard with Service Pack 8, which means you can being using them on the BbSandbox system now, and they will be available on our production Blackboard environment after June 4th. (Because, as you likely know already, Palomar’s production Blackboard environment will be offline for an upgrade to version 9.1 SP8 starting on June 4th, and will be back online by the end of June 7th at the new version.) Take a look; after all, summer is a great time to change up course organization!

Blackboard: Pulling Grades into Excel

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So you’ve been entering your student grades into the Blackboard Grade Center all semester long, and now it’s time to post their final grades for the semester. However, you’d prefer to pull the grades out of Blackboard and into a spreadsheet program like Excel. (Perhaps you are more comfortable in Excel, or perhaps you want to use more complex grade weighting then the Grade Center can provide.)

It’s actually very simple to get your student grades out of the Grade Center. First, of course, go into your course and navigate to the Full Grade Center. Then, in the upper right corner of the screen, open the Work Offline menu and click the Download entry, as shown below.

Work Offline | Download

On the next screen you’ll be asked for details on exactly what you want do download from your Grade Center. The default behavior is to save everything that is visible in the main grade grid view, so if that’s what you want then go ahead and hit the Submit button. If, on the other hand, you want just a Selected Column, or if you want to Include Hidden Information (useful if you hide your Grade Center columns), then you would choose the appropriate radio buttons. There is a question as to the Delimiter Type, with a choice of Comma or Tab separated values. Virtually every spreadsheet program will be able to read either of those types, so it probably doesn’t matter which you choose.

Once you’ve submitted your choices, the system should think to itself for a moment and then present you with a page containing a DOWNLOAD button. Click that, and save the file onto your own computer. Then go into your spreadsheet program and open that file; Excel usually complains about the file format not matching the file extension, but just tell it to go ahead and open the file and it shouldn’t give you any further trouble.

Oh, by the way, if you need to refer to the student ID numbers once you’ve pulled them into Excel, be aware that the ever-helpful program does truncate any leading zeros from numbers, so the list of student ID numbers is technically incomplete as student IDs (at least for now) all start with at least one zero. It probably doesn’t matter to anyone, but… now you know.

Bear in mind that there is no requirement to open up that file in a spreadsheet program if you don’t want to. The downloaded file is also useful as a backup of all the grades from your course. Between that and making a Course Archive, you’ll have a good backup of your course.