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

Blackboard Logo

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.

Blackboard Changes: Course Themes

Corporate logo for Blackboard

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. This time around let’s look at the highly visible Course Themes.

The controls for the Course Themes may be found on the Quick Setup Guide I previously wrote about, should you know what you want the course to look like before you have populated it with content.

 

The Course Theme screen of the Quick Setup Guide interface

That’s all well and good, but personally I am not that organized. I can never decide on what I want to use as a look until well after I’ve started populating my course site with content. Fortunately it is also simple to switch between course themes at any time. In the upper right corner of any course you are an instructor of, right next to the switch that toggles Edit Mode on and off, there is now a “paint swatch” icon, which will open up a menu listing all the possibilities of Course Themes. Simply click on one of the theme names from that menu and your course will immediately switch to a glorious new appearance.

Okay, so some of the course themes look like they were designed by the same paint-by-number kit used when Microsoft produced their PowerPoint themes. However, it is at least now simple to pick differing appearances for your courses, which should aid in forgetting which course site you are looking at when working along in Blackboard.

For an example of how Course Themes work in reality, take a look at this brief screen recording, demonstrating how easy it is to bounce between the various course themes available within the new Blackboard. Feel free to hop onto the BbSandbox environment now and try it out, or just wait until we upgrade to the newest version of Blackboard on our production environment starting June 4th, 2012.

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.