Blackboard Changes: The Quick Setup Guide

Blackboard Logo

As all Palomar faculty should be aware, we take the Palomar Blackboard system offline shortly after each term to run system maintenance and install upgrades to the software. The next maintenance window is planned for June 4th through the 7th, starting at 6 AM on that Monday and keeping the Blackboard system offline until all the upgrades and system changes are complete.

There are a few significant changes coming in the next updated version, which (for those version watchers out there) will be Blackboard Learn 9.1 Service Pack 8. For details on all those changes you may want to refer to a previous blog post from back in February. However, there are a few less technical and more visual changes coming that merit special attention. The first is a dialog box that will appear when instructors first access each of their course sites, called the Quick Setup Guide.

The guide puts some help resources, and access to the new Course Themes and Course Structures (which I’ll go into more detail on in future posts), and can easily be suppressed by checking a box in the lower left corner of the window. You can regain access to the Quick Setup Guide by choosing its menu entry on the Control Panel, under Customization, should you wish to.

As you can see, it’s easy enough to shut down, and it does serve as a reminder of what you can do with your courses that previously were not available. Personally I find it useful as a reminder of which courses I’m done working in… if the guide appears, I haven’t gotten the work done in there yet. Feel free to log into the BbSandbox environment and give the new version of Blackboard a workout whenever you like. As always, if you have problems or questions for us in Academic Technology you can reach us using our helpdesk system.

Blackboard Course Archives and Grade Backups

While doing the faculty Blackboard training, I’m frequently asked “how often should I back up my course?” (Okay, really I’m almost never asked that, but I ought to be asked that a whole lot!) As such I presented a brief webinar on the twin components that need backing up – archiving the whole Blackboard course, and backing up the grades from the Grade Center.

You can view the recording of the course archive webinar, or take a look at the archives of other webinars we’ve presented on this semester. But, just to hit the high points:

  1. Corporate logo for BlackboardA course archive file will always include all the contents of the course, but has as the option for including the Grade Center History.
  2. Course archive files over 2.5 Gb in size are not going to be much use, as the system will not be able to restore from them. As such, watch the size of your archive file, when you create it.
  3. An archive file, once generated in your course, must be saved off the server to your own computer.
  4. Course archive files will only be useful when pulled into a Blackboard system; the file itself is not of direct use on your local computer.
  5. To back up the grades, use the “Work Offline” menu’s “Download” entry, in the Full Grade Center view.

All that being said, my answer to “how often should I back up my course?” is another question: “How much material in your course is acceptable to lose, in the event of a disaster?” Yeah, back up your courses exactly that often.

Force Completion of a Blackboard Test

If you are a faculty member here at Palomar who uses Blackboard tests and selects the Force Completion option during test deployment, I have some advise: Stop.

Force Completion is one of those functions that sounds like it will be useful, but really is just a way of going swimming in cement boots. Among faculty who previously used the Force Completion test option, then stopped, I hear reports across the board that it has diminished the number of times students call asking for test attempt resets. Since the Force Completion option exacerbates network connection problems (as well as other potential bugs in Blackboard) for students without truly adding anything to the security of testing, I have to recommend that faculty stop using it.

Of course, if you have some strong reasons for using Force Completion (or if you have a story one way or the other about switching use of that option), I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!