Faculty Blackboard Managed Hosting Questions


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/ .

Our Helpdesk System

Help Preserver

For several years now we have used a vendor-hosted helpdesk system called “Kayako Fusion.”  Kayako is the name of the company, Fusion the name of the software.  It is a great product at a fair price.  It has worked well and has made our organization better able to serve Palomar College faculty, staff and students.  (The company is located in the Punjab, but that is neither here nor there in the Internet age). Being vendor hosted, however, creates some limitations. Beginning August 1st we have taken the next step in making this product more effective by hosting it locally.

The good news is we can now use Palomar LDAP (light duty authentication protocol—the same used to login to Blackboard, WordPress and your web sites) to login to our helpdesk system and to track the progress of help request tickets.  (Remember, I am talking about the Academic Technology helpdesk, not the Information Services helpdesk, the one you go to for on-campus computer or email problems).  The way the “soon to be old” system works is that when a user creates a help request ticket via the web site, she has to submit an email address and the system creates a password at random so that the user can have an ongoing dialog with us as we work through solving their issue.  Since the password is so random, few people can remember it and therefore interactions are limited.  With the new system the userid and password will be the same ones used to login to Blackboard.  Therefore, users can login BEFORE they create a help ticket request, and we will better be able to serve them.

Since the system will be pulling their personal information from what is called their Palomar Active Directory account, it will use their Palomar email as the primary email address.  this is a bit of a limitation, because many students and some professors do not want to use their Palomar email address as their primary email contact point, but it is possible to enter an alternative email in the system, so it is not a serious disadvantage.

Currently, if help requests come in via email (atrc@palomar.edu) or phone (760-744-1150 ext. 2862), and the user does not leave all the information we need to contact them and work on their help request we have to contact them, if possible, and ascertain this information.  I’m talking about basic information like their own contact information, phone number, etc.  Under the new system if users email us from a Palomar College email address, or call from a Palomar College telephone, the information will be captured automatically, the help ticket created, and the user will be able to track the progress of the ticket by logging into the help system web site with their Palomar login credentials.  If the user emails us from a non-Palomar email address about a new issue they will receive an automated reply asking them to create a ticket via our help desk web site or to resubmit the request from their Palomar email address.

For these reasons, we are encouraging users to submit help requests to the new web site, effective August 1, 2012, at http://www.palomar.edu/atrc/helpdesk.  Remember, this address will not be effective until August 1.  The current helpdesk web site is at http://palomaratrc.helpserve.com.  The current site will remain active for a couple of months after the switchover, but contain only redirection information to the new site.

To summarize, Academic Technology help will still be available via the new helpdesk web site, email, phone and live chat.  Tickets generated via any of these methods will be associated with the users Palomar login account, and they will be able to track ticket progress by logging in to the web site with their Palomar userid and password.  If students have password login problems, as often happens at the beginning of semesters, they can reset them in the eServices system.

Copying Blackboard Courses for New Semesters

Copy IconYesterday I presented a (very poorly attended) webinar on the topic of copying course material from one Blackboard course site into another. Given that the Summer 2012 courses were just created last week, it seemed a timely enough topic… I hope that many faculty will be prepping their Summer courses prior to the end of the semester, rather than waiting until the eleventh hour before the next term begins, at any rate.

You can view the recording of the course copy 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. The course copy tool has to be started from the course site containing the information you want to copy. In other words, go into the “old” course, and copy the material into the “new” course from there.
  2. The course copy tool is nested under Packages and Utilities on the Control Panel menu.
  3. If you want to copy over a test that is already deployed, you will need to copy both the content area containing the test deployment, AND the “Test, Surveys & Pools” check box lower down the page.
  4. If you check the box to copy over the Availability setting, then yes, whatever availability setting is set for the old course will be applied to the new course. If you copy that setting from an available course, it will make your new course immediately be available. (This may or may not be a problem, depending on how much “post copy manipulation” you need to do to your course content.)
  5. When you submit the course copy request, you will be told that you will receive an email when the course copy is done. Wait until you receive this email before trying to work with the content copying into the new course site. (Also, although I did not say this in the webinar, do NOT get impatient with the course copy and tell it to go again, because you WILL end up with duplicates of your content once both copies finish.)

As always, if instructors have problems with the course copy tool, please let the techs in Academic Technology know. Happy course copying!

Welcome Back

Welcome back faculty members (if, in fact, you took off the summer at all) to the fall 2011 semester. We have been quite busy and are starting to feel growing pains with our systems. It also seems as though no matter how much time we have to do things, we always need about two more weeks. I bet most of you are feeling the same way about the semester about to begin.

Dr. Lillian PaynYour new Academic Technology Coordinator is Dr. Lillian Payn. Please contact Lillian at ext. 3626 if you have needs or concerns related to Academic Technology.

We have upgraded the Blackboard system over the summer to version 9.1, Service Pack 6. New features include Interactive Rubrics, an enhancement to the Needs Grading tool, an intuitive Timed Assessments enhancement, and better SCORM integration. bug fixes include various IE8 issues with the grade center and item copy fixes. We do not anticipate having to upgrade again until after the end of the fall semester.

There will be a new training approach for Blackboard this semester. We are moving our Blackboard training online, so those who intend to teach Blackboard can experience it (and practice with it) during their training. The first of 4 6-hour workshops, “Teaching with Blackboard: Getting Ready for Day One,” begins August 18 at the pre-plenary event. The three subsequent workshops will be held as follows:

Part 2:
Teaching with Blackboard: Building Your Course
September 23 – October 7
Meets online. Six hours of self-arranged time between Sept. 23 and Oct. 7
Sign-up deadline with PD: Sept. 21

Part 3:
Teaching with Blackboard: Evaluating Learning
October 14 – 28
Meets online. Six hours of self-arranged time between Oct. 14 – 28
Sign-up deadline with PD: Oct. 13

Part 4:
Teaching with Blackboard: Communicating with Your Students
November 4– 18
Meets online. Six hours of self-arranged time between Nov. 4 – 18
Sign-up deadline with PD: Nov. 3

Our full training schedule can be found here.

wordpress-logoWe have implemented a new version of WordPress (this blog) on Palomar servers. It has run very smoothly all summer, until now. In the last week for reasons we are trying to discover it has slowed to a crawl. If that has been your experience in accessing this blog, sorry. We feel fairly confident that we can fix it, one way or another (it”s a really complicated story), but in the mean time please be patient. If you absolutely have to get a non-Blackboard blog up and running we suggest you use the free WordPress.com site, and then when our implementation is running smoothly export your .com site and import it here. As I say, it is a complicated story and we have a few fixes we need to work through, but it all takes time and this is crunch time for many more critical systems. (Where, o where, is that extra two weeks we need?)

The other system that we face challenges with—and this is a more serious matter—is our streaming media storage system. We have encoded and streamed many video and audio files for faculty members under the authority of the TEACH Act, fair use, and by permission of the copyright holder. So many, in fact, that the storage we originally had allocated is now full. Actually, we initially asked for more storage than we got, but that”s another matter. Until our friends in the IS department solve the storage issue, we will not be able to accept any more videos or audios for encoding. If you have brought in a video or audio that you no longer use, please let us know so that we can delete it from the file structure.

This is another problem we expect to be solved, but probably later than sooner. IS is working on a long term storage solution (i.e., 6-12 months out). Whether they can solve our short term need is an open question. We will be meeting with them soon to discuss the matter.

If you visit our web site you will notice we have upgraded our Help System. You now have the option to Live Chat with one of our techs (when the Live Chat button says “ONLINE”). This is the absolute quickest way to get help. The second fastest way to get help is to create a Help Request Ticket using the Help system. Before you submit your ticket, however, try searching our Knowledgbase. Your problem may have a simple solution that you can read about, rather than waiting for our techs to respond. You can also send us email or call us. If you have to leave us a message, your voice message will automatically create a job ticket. Same with emails. They go straight to the ticketing system. Please provide as much information as you can when asking for help. For instance, what kind of computer you are using, what operating system, what browser and what version of the browser.

Help, I need somebody

Help, not just anybody,
Help, you know I need someone,

There really are two types of folks that use our services. The first group is those faculty trying to plan for doing something new, such as beginning to use Blackboard for the first time or introducing something like a polling technology into their classroom environment. The second group is those faculty who are doing something, new or old, and need some “Help!”

How should those seekers after assistance contact us, to get their problems resolved as quickly as possible?  There really are a number of ways, depending on exactly what the situation is.

If you are physically in the classroom, trying to do something with the technology in the room for your students, and something isn’t working correctly (i.e. data projector won’t work, Internet is down) then you likely don’t want to talk to Academic Technology at all.  Your first stop in getting help in that situation is to call up the Information Services Helpdesk (at 760-744-1150 X2140) and speak to someone there.  Although it is also possible to email the I.S. Helpdesk (at helpdesk@palomar.edu), you really want to do a phone call to get the quickest response during class time.

If what you are having trouble with is not a time intensive situation (that is, you don’t have students sitting idle waiting for your problem to be solved), that’s most likely when Academic Technology will be of use to you.  The absolute fastest way to get support from us would be through our newly launched Live Support system; you can see if there are available support techs on that system by looking for the button either on the upper right corner of our ATRC website, or on the lower left corner of our own helpdesk site.  If the button says that Live Support is online, then you should be able to click the button and start a chat session with someone at our end immediately.  If the button indicates that we are away, or some other status than online, you can leave us a message (which will show up in our support ticket system), and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

If you end up leaving us a message, or you decide to open a support ticket instead of trying the Live Support, do make sure you give us as much information as possible.  In particular, leaving screen shots of (or a copy and paste of the text from) error messages you may see will help us immensely.  Otherwise the first thing we end up doing is to write you back and ask for more detail, which isn’t overly helpful for anyone.

If you absolutely must, you may phone for support from Academic Technology at 760-744-1150 X2862.  However, if the support techs are dealing with Live Support sessions, or responding to tickets (or otherwise unavailable), you will end up having to leave a voice message.  The same advice as above about leaving a message applies, so give us as much detail as you can about the problem you are experiencing. Also, do everyone involved a favor and slow down when you say your name and phone number; you may know your name and number very well, but chances are we do not.

Finally, at least for the next several weeks, be aware that Palomar College has changed their hours of operation.  Until just prior to the start of the Fall term, there will be no technical support available from Academic Technology on Fridays, Saturdays, or Sundays. I know it’s not possible to plan your technical problems to occur only Monday through Thursday, but anything that comes into the support system after we leave on Thursday evening will have to wait until next week.

Commencement Day

AT GravitarToday is the last day of our spring 2011 semester, and also commencement day.  Just as the day marks the commencement of our students’ ongoing career and educational journeys, so it marks ours in continuing to support technology enhanced education at Palomar College.

This semester has seen many changes in our systems, both technically, referring to back-end configuration and hardware platforms, and in terms of user interfaces.  The changes have all been for the better and have been implemented successfully.  We made a major change in the Blackboard system beginning this semester.  We adopted both an entirely new version, with a radical change in user interface, and are running it on an entirely new (and different) hardware platform.  The user interface is the much more visual, web 2.0-ish version 9.1.  Controls are now associated directly with the items being controlled, and drag-and-drop is the rule.  In it’s way it is just as successful as the ribbon interface is in Microsoft Office.  There are still a few who opine for the old interface, it’s true, but its like they say, the best interface is always the first one you learn.  We believe that in this case, however, that change has been good.

The hardware changes to the Blackboard system, while being invisible to end users, have been very significant to us.  We are now running on virtualized front-end servers, a SANS storage system, and a clustered SQL back-end.  I know this means little to most people, but it’s a big deal to us.  Before the semester began we had no way of load testing the system so could not be sure we would not have serious problems.  On days one and two of the semester we DID have serious problems, but that is only because we had underestimated the amount of RAM each virtual server would need.  (We didn’t actually underestimate it, we asked for enough but didn’t get it in time, but let that alone).  We quickly discovered that we needed to double the RAM and ever since have not had problems.  We are now poised to double the processors in the front end servers too, after some testing.  We hope this will meet the needs of the students and faculty when fall semester begins.  As with all ongoing efforts, time will tell.  We think it will.  We know for sure, though, that after the initial heavy rush our virtualized environment can adapt and be tuned to meet all the District’s needs.

We have to give kudos to our friends in the IS department for setting up the hardware environment that Blackboard is now running on.  It has long been a dream of mine—not yet even fully realized—to fully centralize the hardware environment for all educational technology systems run on and our friends in the IS department agree.  They have done a fantastic job and have proved very responsive to our needs.  Thanks to Don Sullins, Jose Vargas, David Brown and Mike Dimmick for their work on the new system.  We have enjoyed 100% system up time throughout the semester.

It is not only Blackboard that is running on a new platform.  So are our web services (District and academic web sites) and our streaming media services.  Both these systems have also been virtualized and are running better than they every have, with redundancy and backup built in.  At last our systems are ‘growing up.’

I would like to commend faculty members for bringing their videos in to be re-encoded on our new SmoothStream/Silverlight platform.  It has been an enormous task, but it is now accomplished.  Part of the process has been to add web captioning on the streamed video, and thank you to Sherry Goldsmith for funding and processing all those mp3 files and making our dream of fully captioning our streamed educational collection a reality.  It is not at 100%, but close.  Streaming media is now faster, clearer, and more secure, with built-in redundant servers, backup, and greater security.

The same is true of our web services.  The IS department has set up a new virtualized multi-server IIS front-end structure for us with a SANS back-end and we are in the process of migrating over all existing web content to the new structure.  Our plans have changed, somewhat on this project because of our successful, recent WordPress implementation.  After years of trying to train users to edit web sites with various Microsoft and Adobe products, we have had to recognize that this is just too foreign to most of them to be practical.  Not so WordPress, however.  We love WordPress and think it will be the dominant method for maintaining web sites at Palomar College and, we hope, bring blogging in a significant way to our community.  If you want a WordPress site or blog, please contact our office (ext. 2862) and we’ll tell you how.

Our systems are now redundant, backed up, secure, and efficient.  Technically we have made great strides this semester.

That was the look back, so what’s coming next semester that will be new?

We will emphasize WordPress, as indicated above.  We will upgrade Blackboard to the latest service packs and adding a couple of building blocks:  McGraw-Hill Connect, NBC Learn (for a six month trial).  (There will be an upgrade June 2-3 before the beginning of the summer semester, and August 16-17 before the fall semester).  We will also be upgrading our help ticketing system, adding live chat, remote desktop assistance, and better ticket management features.  That upgrade will also be occurring June 2-3.  Since our funds are limited, we are going to let our StudyMate and Respondus licenses lapse (if you don’t know what those are, you are in the overwhelming majority) and put the money into licenses for Camtasia and, we hope, NBC Learn, if there is sufficient faculty demand.  We will be moving our Blackboard core training online, as it should be.  David offered several highly successful workshops on Blackb0ard in preparation to our 9.1 upgrade and also during the last semester, and now, beginning this coming fall, those workshops will be fully online.  We will also be repeating much of our PD training on evergreen topics, PowerPoint, Web authoring, Google Earth, and the other topics we typically train on.  We are also making good use of our new WordPress implementation, consolidating several of our Academic Technology blogs into this one and streamlining our communications through the blog, Twitter, Facebook and a YouTube Channel.  See our web site for the details.

We hope we have been effective at meeting the needs of the academic community this semester, and hope you will join with us in these new ventures commencing now.