Palomar Streaming Video and Chrome

Chrome icon

Users of Google’s Chrome browser who are trying to play back videos from Palomar’s streaming video system are in for a treat… and by treat I mean an error message indicating that Silverlight is not installed. Diligent users go load up the newest version of Silverlight, only to be told that Silverlight is not installed. Continue reading “Palomar Streaming Video and Chrome”

Video Everywhere

Ever wish you could assign your students to leave a video recording of themselves presenting something, right into a discussion board post in Blackboard? Ever have a need to quickly record feedback for a student, so that they can review your comments when looking at their grade?

Blackboard has a way.

Starting with version 9.1 Service Pack 10, a new tool is available which can meet that need. Called, variously, either “Video Everywhere” or “Record from Webcam”, this simple tool leverages the YouTube service to not just allow playback of video (as the YouTube mashup component does), but also allows users in Blackboard to record new video footage into their YouTube accounts and immediately post the recording in the Blackboard content editor screen.

At the moment we only have this tool available on the Palomar Blackboard Sandbox environment, but beginning in early January this tool will be available on our production Blackboard system as well. There is a “Getting Started With Video Everywhere” document available from Blackboard, from among the other resources available on their “On Demand” site. Blackboard has also put together a video to explain how the Video Everywhere tool might be used:

I’ve also prepared a video demonstrating how someone would record and post a video using that tool. The Blackboard documentation does give some caveats about how Internet Explorer and Chrome browsers might need their settings changed, but I didn’t need to make such changes on my own system when using the Record from Webcam tool.

Submitted for your approval: Video Everywhere.

New Semester, New Webinars

Now that the Spring 2012 semester is in progress, I’d like to draw attention to the series of webinars that we in Academic Technology are conducting this semester. Every Tuesday, at 2 PM (with the exception of during Spring Break), we will conduct an online session on one of a variety of topics. To see a list of upcoming topics, take a look at our ATRC Training Schedule. We are conducting these sessions using the Blackboard Collaborate tool (which is available for faculty to use with students through the Blackboard system), so if you are curious about using that tool you may want to participate in a webinar just to experience that.

I actually have already done one such webinar this term, which sadly had zero attendees. However, attended or not, we are committed to making these topics available for faculty, thus are recording each webinar session and making them available on a Webinar Archives page. If you cannot make it to a webinar you are interested in, please check the archives list to see the recorded session.

The first of these webinars, “Your New Semester Blackboard Checklist“, is available for review on the archives page already. The runtime is 16 minutes, so if you haven’t launched your course site yet, you may want to take a look at the recording before doing so.

Have a great semester, and if you run into any problems, remember that we’re here to help!

Blackboard Learn 9.1 SP5 Notes

So at the end of last week the Palomar Blackboard system went though an upgrade process to the most currently released version of the Blackboard Learn software.  (For version number hounds, we were at 9.1 Service Pack 3, and are now at 9.1 Service Pack 5.)  Most folks would respond to that with a rousing cry of “so what?!”  Here is what Palomar faculty should be aware of regarding this new version of Blackboard:

Network Folder iconFile size limits: For years I’ve been warning faculty about a limit in Blackboard, where course archives and imports over 250 Mb in size would simply not import into a new course.  This was a real problem for some instructors, as their disciplines required the use of large file types (Graphic Communications, I’m looking at you), and of course there have always been the occasional need for larger files that are kept in a secured location where offloading onto some web space was not a practical solution.  Finally those days are over!  Although there is still a maximum file size limitation, that limit has been raised to 2.5 Gb.  So, should you be an instructor whose course export file is over that size… see me after class, and we can work on getting your file sizes shrunk down.

Changes in supported web browsers:  A constant problem, web browser versions keep marching on, while the Blackboard system versions advance at a much slower pace.  With Service Pack 5, the Blackboard support techs now list Safari 5, Internet Explorer 9, and Firefox 4 as being supported in some capacity.  Although IE 9 and FF 4 are not listed as certified or compatible, at least we will be able to take browser-specific issues we encounter to the support folks and not be ignored totally.  In partial answer to some of the questions posed through this spring’s Blackboard Faculty Satisfaction Survey on why we do upgrades – upgrading the system is the only real way we have to gain support from the company for users who upgrade to new browsers.  For those that wonder is the version and type of browser really makes that much of a difference – yes, yes it does.  Or, at least, if anything goes wrong at all, the browser version matters.

There are some miscellaneous and sundry improvements in the system performance, security, and administrative functionality, but nothing that ought to matter a great deal for faculty.  However, with our upgrade to Service Pack 5, we are also introducing two new expanded functions to our Blackboard system.  Say hello to the McGraw-Hill Connect service, and a pilot program of the NBC Learn service!

McGraw-Hill & Blackboard logosMcGraw-Hill Connect allows for integration of course material maintained by that publisher which may be used seamlessly with our Blackboard environment.  For details on that service, contact a McGraw-Hill publisher rep, or examine their online explanation of the service.

NBC Learn puts a whole spectrum of content from the archives at NBC at your fingertips for use within your Blackboard courses.  The methods of applying this material are fairly straightforward, and Blackboard provides a “how-to” video demonstration on using the NBC Learn content in a course site.  At the moment we are evaluating the usefulness of the NBC Learn content, so please take a few moments to examine their offerings and let us know if you find it worth-while.  We have until Halloween to decide if we want to license this content, so help us decide it it is a trick or a treat!

We will, of course, have more news coming about both the McGraw-Hill Connect and NBC Learn pilot programs.  But as those tools, and the new changes to Blackboard, are all currently in effect, it seemed wise to get something out to inform faculty as soon as possible.

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.



Last night my colleagues and I presented our semi-annual plenary break out on Academic Technology at Palomar College. It was well attended, but necessarily by only a small percentage of the enormous number of adjunct professors employed by the college. As a reference for those who did not attend, here is an encapsulated version.

We conducted our workshop using the sandbox AT@PC workshop course we had developed. Each professor at Palomar College has an account on our sandbox system. We set the course up for self-enrollment through the Academic Technology Training course, also on the sandbox system.

One of the features we demonstrated throughout the evening was interactive polls embedded in the PowerPoint we used, and interfaced through web pages linked from the sandbox course.  The polls are a marvel from Poll Everywhere.  A free version is available for up to 30 participants, and for-pay options are available for larger audiences.  Poll Everywhere instant interactive polls can be voted by students using a web interface (which can be placed in a Blackboard course), by cell phone, or via Twitter.  It just works.  Truly, as long as one of these voting methods is available, there is no longer a need for expensive, hardware-based classroom clicker systems.

We began with a myth-buster session on what Academic Technology at our school DOES NOT do.

  • Campus email system
  • eServices student information system
  • Networking and classroom or office computers
  • AV

What we do do is:

  • Administer the Blackboard Enterprise system
  • Provide Streaming media services and encode media
  • Print and Graphic media creation
  • Web page authoring and administration
  • Technology training for faculty
  • Software evaluation and access
  • Hardware checkout
  • The AT computer labs, including the faculty technology center

For details on what we do and access to our tutorials and other training materials,our web site is the heart of our operation.

We then presented a longish segment on the new Blackboard implementation at our school–version 9.1.  Though we have been working hard on publicizing and training on the new version,and in fact have touched record numbers of our faculty members, still a large number need last minute assistance.  Bb 9.1 is live now, and faculty members who use Blackboard have no choice but to learn it.  Consequently, we are repeating the training we offered throughout last semester in a unique 3-part series of four workshops:

Teaching with Blackboard: Getting Ready for Day One (3 parts – sign up for all three)
Facilitated by:     David Gray & Chris Norcross
Dates/Times:     Part 1 of 3: Friday, January 14, 9:00am – 11:00am
Part 2 of 3: Friday, January 21, 8:00am – 10:00am
Part 3 of 3: Friday, January 28, 9:00am – 11:00am
Location:     LL-109

Teaching With Blackboard: Building Your Course (3 parts – sign up for all three)
Facilitated by:     David Gray & Chris Norcross
Dates/Times:     Part 1 of 3: Friday, February 4, 9:00am – 11:00am
Part 2 of 3: Friday, February 11, 9:00am – 11:00am
Part 3 of 3: Friday, February 25, 9:00am – 11:00am
Location:     LL-109

Teaching With Blackboard: Evaluating Learning (3 parts – sign up for all three)
Facilitated by:     David Gray & Chris Norcross
Dates/Times:     Part 1 of 3: Friday, April 1, 9:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Part 2 of 3: Friday, April 8, 9:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Part 3 of 3: Friday, April 15, 9:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Location:     LL-109

Teaching With Blackboard: Communicating with Your Students (3 parts – sign up for all three)
Facilitated by:     David Gray & Chris Norcross
Dates/Times:     Friday, April 22, 9:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Friday, April 29, 9:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Friday, May 6, 9:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Location:     LL-109

As I write, Dave and Chris are busily presented part-1 of the first series to a roomful of rapt (or is that desperation?) faculty members.

In an effort to formalize the informal, we will be continuing this semester with our “Blackboard with Cream & Sugar” sessions.  Drop by room LL-111 Wednesday mornings between 7:30 and 10:30AM.  You bring the questions and ideas, we bring the coffee, tea and (we hope) answers.

The next topic was training.  Haydn described our training pages and in particular the training schedule on the web.  Then we mentioned some of the new and exciting training opportunities that we are making available to faculty members this spring, including workshops on Twitter, the Flip video cameras, web page authoring with Expression Web 4, the Google Public Data Explorer, PowerPoint (with a new one on methods of making a video from your PowerPoint and placing it on the web), Word 2010, Using Google Earth, and, of course, lots more on Blackboard.

We also have an extensive set of tutorials available online for those who like to work in a self-directed manner.

The next topic was streaming media.  The old media server is now turned off, the new Silverlight/SmoothStreaming system is the only one we are using.  If your videos no longer play, that is why.  Contact us for help.

In a discussion of copyright clearance and the TEACH Act in particular, we did make these three important points to remember:

  1. If a DVD exists of the video you want to use, we must use it as our source to copy rather than a VHS version.
  2. We cannot accept “self-recorded” media–that is, video you have recorded off TV–as source media.  It must be a “legally obtained” original.
  3. If we have copied/encoded media for you under the terms of the TEACH Act, you CANNOT use it in a face-to-face class meeting.  It can only be used for distance education.

Finally we spoke about how to obtain low-cost or free software from the FCCC and from our Microsoft Academic Alliance.

We appreciate the time of the professors who joined us last night, and hope this post will share in part the evening we all enjoyed.  Now, have a great semester.