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!

Tales from the Knowledge Base: Blackboard Information for Faculty

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As mentioned on this blog recently, we upgraded Our Helpdesk System as of the beginning of August 2012. As part of that process the techs had the chance to update all of the articles in our Knowledge Base, so to the best of our abilities all that information is correct and accurate. However, we’re often asked the exact questions from our knowledge base, leading me to believe that folks are unaware that these things are documented. So, let’s take a look and see what interesting tidbits are hiding out there…

For the purposes of this post, I want to focus on the Blackboard articles in the “Information for Faculty” area:

Now, you may be thinking something along the lines of “I would never ask any of those questions. Why don’t they have an article covering MY questions?” If you have questions, please submit those to us using the helpdesk system. If your question really is a common one, we’ll turn it into a Knowledge Base article soon enough. Even if it isn’t a common question, at least we will be able to answer the question for you… but you do need to ask.

Blackboard: New Version Changes

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Palomar’s Blackboard production environment is up again, after being offline for maintenance since 6 AM on Monday. The production system is now running Blackboard Learn version 9.1 Service Pack 8. Given that the original time estimate was for the upgrade to get done “before 5 PM on Thursday” I think it’s great that the system is back online by Tuesday evening. This version of the Blackboard system has been available since February (as detailed in “Take 8 Everybody“) on the BbSandbox environment where we showcase upcoming version of the Blackboard system.

Recently we’ve put the spotlight on several new functions now available in Blackboard:

There are, of course, other adjustments and changes to the system, but these are the most obvious, and the most likely to jump up in your face when using the system for the first time. (Quite literally, in the case of the Quick Setup Guide.)

In addition to these functional changes to the system, there are also some visual differences that you may notice, particularly the omission of the green Control Panel from within courses. (Mind, if you still want to make your screen offensive to the eye, feel free to adopt the Fuchsia course theme.) Even the system login page is a simpler, cleaner look now. We do still maintain the little badge at the left of the screen on the login page which, if lit up green, will allow students and faculty to start a live chat session with the ATRC technicians.

Copy IconBoth Summer and Fall 2012 terms loom on the horizon right now, so keep in mind that the Course Copy function remains the same now as ever; the key is to queue up the copy from within the OLD course, into the new and empty course site. And, as always, should you run into any problems or have any questions while using the Blackboard system, you can reach us by opening a support ticket at the ATRC Helpdesk.

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!

Fall 2012 Blackboard Course Prep: Go!

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With Spring behind us, it’s time to relax, kick back, and enjoy the best season of the year: Fall prep time.

In accordance with our customary policy of creating Blackboard courses 90 days in advance of the start of a term, the Fall 2012 Blackboard courses were created yesterday. Yes, that means Fall is only three months off! Assuming that all the paperwork on your classes is already input to the eServices system, when you log into the Palomar Blackboard system with your instructor account you should see all those new course sites set up and waiting.

Remember that these courses are, by default, empty and unavailable to students. So, even though students enrolling in your class will end up on your Blackboard course roster within an hour of the enrollment going into eServices, those students will not be able to access your new course site until and unless you manually make that course available.

If you are looking to transfer material from a previous semester on our Blackboard system, go into that old course and use the Course Copy tool.

If you have a course export file from some other location (either a file from some other Blackboard system or from your publisher), just use the Import Package tool.

If you are adopting a course cartridge for the new term, make sure you get your Course Cartridge Download Key from the publisher, then use the Import Course Cartridge tool.

All of these tools are on your Control Panel, under the Packages and Utilities submenu. If you run into any problems using these tools, or have questions about how best to get your new courses ready for Fall (or Summer, if you aren’t ready yet), go ahead and open a ticket with the Academic Technology Helpdesk.

Of course, you should keep in mind that you’ll only have until June 3rd to work before the Palomar Blackboard system will be brought down for maintenance and upgrades. The system will be offline starting Monday, June 4th at 6 AM possibly until Thursday, June 7th at 5 PM, although we will do our best to get the system back online as soon as possible. So either get your work done before then, or resign yourself to waiting until after that week.

Then, when you’ve dotted all your i’s and crossed all your t’s, do not forget to make your course available.

Blackboard Changes: The Quick Setup Guide

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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.