Blackboard Offline August 11

Blackboard logo

As previously noted, Palomar’s Blackboard system is going through some software upgrades and system tuning on Monday, August 11, 2014. The plan is for the system to go offline starting at 12:30 AM Pacific time, and have the system back online before 4:30 PM Pacific time.

Should there be any news-worthy events during the upgrade process, I’ll be editing this blog post. So check back during the day on Monday, if you’re the obsessive type who wants to keep informed on the Blackboard system progress.

UPDATE: Posted 10:40 AM 8/11/2014

The Blackboard system has been offline since 12:31 AM, and significant process has been made. However the system remains offline, although we remain on track to complete prior to 4:30 PM.

COMPLETE: Posted 11:02 AM 8/11/2014

In record time, the Blackboard upgrade is complete. The system is back online, and may be used normally now.

New Blackboard Calendar

Corporate logo for Blackboard

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!

Blackboard over the Break

Corporate logo for Blackboard

As I write this, the Fall 2012 semester is going through finals week. All around, I see students either frantically studying or getting ready for the semester break. As such, this seems a good time to emphasize what will be happening with Blackboard throughout the semester break.

On Monday, December 17th, the Fall 2011 semester courses will vanish from Blackboard. So, if you haven’t archived something from way back a year ago, this would be the very last chance to do so! (Please note this is the two thousand eleven course sites, not the ones just ending.)

According to the normal Blackboard course lifecycle, students lose access to the course sites fourteen days after the official class end date. That means, for most classes, students won’t be able to get in after January 4th, 2013. (Unless your class end date isn’t a match with the “end of semester”, in which case your mileage may vary.) Bear in mind that tech support here at the college goes on holiday after Friday, December 21st, and we aren’t back in the office until January 2nd. So any help requests you or your students put in during that time will not be addressed until the new year.

Starting on Monday, January 7th, Palomar’s Blackboard system will be offline for maintenance and upgrades. As per normal, we expect the system to be offline until the evening of Thursday, January 10th. After the upgrade is complete, we will be running Blackboard version 9.1, Service Pack 10. I’ve been blogging on some features of SP10 for the last month or so:

Of course, either before or after the upgrade window, you can do the typical “between semester” tasks of archiving your course or copying material into a new semester’s course site. Just remember that you have to save the Course Archive file onto your own computer, and that course copies need to be run from within the older course into the new and empty course site.

If you do have any questions, you may want to take a look at the faculty information stored in our Knowledge Base, and if you run into any technical problems you may first want to think about trying another web browser, since Browsers and Blackboard sometimes don’t get along all that well.

As I mentioned above, the Blackboard support team is back in the office starting January 2nd, so please do try to take advantage of that fact, and avoid leaving your essential Blackboard tasks until right before the semester begins on January 22nd. For fairly obvious reasons that’s crunch time at the support desk, so avoiding that rush hour is advisable. Of course, if you have lingering questions about Blackboard once the new semester is in progress, you’re more than welcome to join us at our first Blackboard with Cream and Sugar session, on Wednesday, January 23rd from 7:30 to 9:30 AM in room LL-111. Or, should you have questions that can’t wait, submit them to our helpdesk system right away.

New Blackboard version in the Sandbox

Blackboard Logo

As you may recall, Palomar maintains a Blackboard Sandbox environment so that the faculty can get accustomed to new versions of Blackboard prior to encountering them in production. There’s a new version up on BbSandbox now, Blackboard Learn version 9.1 Service Pack 10. (I’ll just say “SP10″ from here on, okay?)

The very first thing you’ll notice about SP10 is immediately after you log in; the whole screen will be a notice to let you know that the controls in the upper right corner of the screen are different. (How many of you knew there were even controls up there in the first place?) At any rate, you now have some informational menus, course hopping capabilities, and access to your account settings and other such information up in that corner of the screen, right next to the stylish new look for the logout button.

For most people the most significant change with SP10 is that the Visual Text Box Editor of prior versions is now replaced with the Content Editor, which looks quite different (and works significantly better). However, we here at Palomar have been using the Early Release version of the Content Editor since the start of the Summer term, so the only real changes here are some different styling around the Mashup Tool menu.

SP10 introduces a new File Picker tool as well, a huge improvement over the previous tool, although this will only matter if you use the “Browse Course” button when attaching a file. For those who just use the “Browse My Computer” button, nothing has changed.

There actually are a whole bunch of structural changes in the way the system works, a whole horde of security improvements, better browser compatibility support, and new tools available in SP10 that I can’t really show off yet. Some simply do not show up for users (such as the security improvements), and others I’ll be announcing as some time goes by. After all, I need time to put these new features through their paces before I can tell you about them. Similarly, I would encourage you to use the BbSandbox system and put SP10 to the test with the functions that you use in Blackboard. After all, that’s the whole reason we have a sandbox environment in the first place!

Free Microsoft Software

Software box with Windows logo

UPDATE: Be aware that Palomar’s Academic Technology department has discontinued our participation in the MSDN Academic Alliance program as of October 2013. No old accounts function, and no requests for new accounts will be processed.

No, this is not spam, nor a phishing attempt. It’s not even a hoax, although I’ve found it difficult to convince people that I’m serious. There is a whole slew of Microsoft products available free for the asking to the students and employees of Palomar College.

Now, before you get your hopes up, this does NOT include Microsoft Office. Let me say that again – no Office. If you’re interested in getting a copy of Office I can certainly point you towards some excellent discounts (although the pricing for students is higher than that for employees, strangely enough) that have been arranged through the Foundation for California Community Colleges. At the time of this posting, the latest versions of Office are, for Windows, Office 2010, and for Mac, Office 2011. For students a license of Office will run around $110, while the employee price is only $40 (or $50 if you want the installation discs instead of a download).

As I say, I’m not talking about Office. The free software I refer to is through a program called the MSDN Academic Alliance, and includes a whole variety of software including operating systems. Need a copy of Windows 8? Free. How about a license of Windows Server 2008 R2? Free. Want a license of SQL Server 2008 or Exchange Server 2010 to put on there? Free. Want your own copy of Expression Web? Sorry, you’ll have to get the whole Expression Studio… for free.

Do you see the trend here? Yeah, free software.

There are a few more “normal” programs that might be of interest, such as Access, Visio, or Streets and Trips 2010. (Things like Visio don’t really count towards the “no Office” limitation, as Microsoft has never seemed to consider Visio a real part of the Office family. Maybe a second cousin twice removed, but not real family.)

So what’s the catch? Really there isn’t one. You can read up about all the terms on our web site about the Academic Alliance if you like, or just submit a ticket to our helpdesk system requesting one for yourself. If you do submit a ticket, be sure and select the department “MSDN Academic Alliance”, then make the Subject read “Request MSDNAA Account”. You can expect to receive a response back once your information is processed, but it can take several days since the account creation process is not automated. (Yes, I end up personally prepping your account.)

Once your account is set up, you just log in and use the site as if you were shopping for the software, but on “checkout” everything is $0.00. There’s certainly no credit card information or anything else of the sort involved. It’s just that, when you actually do the checkout, that’s when your license keys for your software are generated. Then you can follow the instructions to download the software, and of course use those license keys when you install things.

So, to summarize:

  • The MSDN Academic Alliance has bunches of free software.
  • This is available to employees and ALL STUDENTS of Palomar College.
  • Just submit a ticket to request an account.
  • The Academic Alliance does not include Microsoft Office.