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/ .

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.

How to Create Links to Journal Databases

This post will be pretty Palomar College specific, but may help instructors from other schools with general concepts.

As instructors develop course materials for students, they almost always find that there are supplemental documents that they want their students to read.  These are usually articles published in various journals.  A traditional approach has been to Xerox these articles and hand them out in class.  This has a couple of problems: 1,,) except for cases of spontaneous need, this is a copyright violation; and 2) it is expensive to Xerox so many documents.  Unfortunately this practice has been ported over to the electronic world of Blackboard, where professors may scan in the documents and place PDF versions of them in their Blackboard courses for student consumption.  This is even more a clear copyright violation and, in most cases, unnecessary.

There is an easier way.

Palomar College maintains subscriptions to various electronic journal databases that contain thousands of articles from all sorts of journals.  Our librarians, in concert with professors, have chosen the databases that contain the most useful journals for student research in a community college.  It is possible, and indeed a best practice, rather than creating handouts for students or illegally scanning documents for upload to Blackboard to create links from within Blackboard to the articles you wish your students to read.  If the student wishes to print the article, so that she can have a hard copy, she can.  It is all legal because the college has paid the license fee that allows permission to print.  There are three main journal database vendors with whom the college has contracted: EBSCO, JSTOR and PROQUEST.  We also have various Gale Group databases, but links to Gale resources will not work for off-campus students.

Here is how to create links to those journals from within Blackboard that will work for both on-campus and off-campus students.

The Databases

Access the college’s journal databases through the Library’s database web page: http://www.palomar.edu/library/OnlineDatabases/databases.htm

Note that the databases are usually identified by vendor, either by being followed by an indicator like (EBSCO) or  (ProQuest), or simply by name, like JSTOR.  These are the major research journal databases we will discuss here.  There are several others that the techniques discussed here will work with, and we will mention them below.

When one accesses these databases from on-campus, it is simply a matter of clicking a link and accessing the database home page.  From off-campus, however, the user must supply his/her Palomar College credentials (username and password) before gaining access to the database.  This is because the databases monitor incoming web traffic, and traffic that comes from the range of valid Palomar College IP addresses is permitted through unchallenged.  From off-campus the database access must be routed through what is called a proxy server in order to let the database web servers know that this is a valid Palomar College inquiry, and not just some random attempt by an anonymous web user to access freely access for-pay information.  The proxy server tells the database server that this is a valid Palomar inquiry, provided that the user can provide valid Palomar credentials, i.e., the user’s Palomar College username and password.  For students this is their eServices/Blackboard username and password.  For faculty members this is their Palomar College email username and password.

Each of the journal databases mentioned above, EBSCO, JSTOR and ProQuest, have a slightly different terminology for the link that identifies the permanent location of an article, known as a permalink in blogging parlance.  EBSCO calls theirs a “Persistent Link,” JSTOR calls theirs a “Stable Link,” and ProQuest omits the adjective and just calls it a link.  If you are interested in the particulars of how to find these links from each of these vendors, see my lengthier article here.

The point is, once you have obtained the permalink, or PURL, as they used to be called (persistent-URL), for it to work for off-campus students at Palomar College it must be prefixed with the address of the Proxy server, along with an argument that identifies the specific article.  Like this:


This seems complicated, but really isn’t.  The key is in remembering to use the proxy prefix each time you create a link.  Watch this brief (2:55) screen video for a How-To on easily doing this:

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If you have followed the tips in this little video, it will be easy for you to create links to the supplemental articles you wish your students to read.  To learn how to make external links in Blackboard, see the same article referenced above.   Using this technique will enable your students–they are free to email the articles to themselves, print them, copy and paste from them, etc.; it will also save your departments duplication budgets; and protect the District and yourselves from potential copyright violations.

This article is my contribution to our monthly podcast roll-up, so here is my audio contribution on this topic as well.