Friday, August 24, 2007

Discuss ‘safe computing practices’ with students

    Start the conversation with these highlights:
  • Keep a copy of your assignments in a word processor document before submitting.
  • Don’t wait until the deadline to start a test because a heavy user load could cause test problems.
  • Let your students know how to reach you when they encounter a problem. Remind them about contacting the Help Desk for technical support.
  • Instant messaging (IM) and Chat should be disabled during online tests or exams, as these disrupt the web connection to the assessment.
  • Read the online help information before you need it.

Start out the semester with these tips

  • Make your course available to students. Students will not see a link to an unavailable course after all rosters have been linked on Saturday, August 25, 2007. You must submit a request each
  • Report all Bb problems directly to the Help Desk 1-866/353-9451 
(available 24/7 - students & faculty).
  • Read and bookmark the SCC Bb Blog http://www.scc.losrios.edu/~bbsite/blog.html.
    If your course is missing content from the May-to-June migration, and you do not have a backup copy and you need the course restored, go to http://scc.losrios.edu/de/webdata/distance_ed_form.html and submit the report.
  • Use safe computing practices and prepare alternative methods for students to contact you and submit assignments. Remember that the Online Grading System includes a Contact Students tab for each roster with an easy way to email your students. Keep a backup copy of your content offline, especially your gradebook.
  • Online & Hybrid courses using Assessments (tests and surveys) should change the deployment to one-question at a time and prohibit backtracking. Review the other suggestions for successful test taking at the Help Tab in Bb > Instructions for Students Using Blackboard: http://ic.arc.losrios.edu/~itc/Blackboard/pages/quizproblems.htm .
  • Suggest your students enroll in Skills for Online Student Success - this HCD 320 course is one-unit. Orientation is on Wednesday, August 29, 6:00 pm - 7:30 pm in LR 141.
  • Sign up and review the Blackboard Knowledge Base to track your trouble reports and to subscribe to help articles about the features you use. Advocate your students use this site and subscribe to the same articles for easy access to help http://d2.parature.com/ics/support/default.asp?deptID=4018. Read the Help Tab information when in Bb.

Blogging For Peace of Mind

You want news about what’s been happening lately with our Bb server:

Bb Blog is updated daily (or more often) as events unfold.
Learn about known issues other users are experiencing with Bb before you contact the Help Desk.
Review recent issues and search reports and solutions by keyword.
Subscribe to to this blog using your favorite RSS Reader or view it from any web browser.
http://www.scc.losrios.edu/~bbsite/blog.html

Friday, August 17, 2007

Highlight of Urgent Message (posted below)

Dear Deans and Department Chairs,

All district faculty received the notice below regarding Blackboard (Bb). Please note that as the message (posted below) delineates, there are severe restrictions to Blackboard. I have highlighted a few important things you should be aware of and listed a process for contacting our Sac City Blackboard Team.

Highlights:

1. Bb not available for any users from 2 to 6 am everyday
2. Faculty will be blocked from importing package content (.zip file) and we currently have no solutions for this problem
3. Web-Enhanced Faculty are asked NOT to use Assessments e.g., Tests, Quizzes and Surveys (online and hybrid classes can continue to use assessments)
4. Some functions have been blocked from faculty and coordinators

Questions: Faculty have been asked to call their Coordinators for assistance. In order to create better communication between faculty and Melissa and Jory, please ask your faculty to use the following guidelines:

>>General questions and issues calls should be routed to
the Help Desk – 1-866-353-9451
>>To report network or server problems call the same Help Desk

>>When emailing Melissa regarding
using features in Bb
, be sure to use a detailed subject line e.g., “Blackboard Feature Help on ______ “
>>When emailing Jory regarding
missing content, course creation and enrollment
links your subject line should begin “Blackboard Course _________ “

>>For current status and known issues, watch and read our SCC Blackboard Blog at http://www.scc.losrios.edu/~bbsite/blog.html
This blog contains useful information as is always up-to-date.

Rhonda Rios Kravitz
Dean, Library Resources Division
558-2254

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URGENT Message re Fall 2007

URGENT Message to Blackboard Faculty for Fall 2007:

Background: Those faculty who use online testing know that there have been problems with this Blackboard feature for several years. Specifically, students have been “knocked out” of a quiz or test, meaning that they are unable to complete the exam unless the faculty resets their test. For the student this means they start over - sometimes multiple times. For faculty, this means resetting quizzes and possible compromise of the integrity of the testing process.

Over the years, we have identified things that students can do to minimize this risk (browsers, settings, actions during a test, etc.) and have communicated these to students and faculty.
We have also identified things that faculty can do when creating their tests to minimize these risks (details available in our training materials, etc.)
Despite these efforts, there have still been times when students were not able to complete an online test on the first attempt and some of these were due to system congestion issues because of Blackboard's poorly designed software.
Substantial increases in hardware over the years has not been able to reduce these occurrences to zero.

Between Spring and Summer, we undertook a massive cleanup of our system including a fresh install of the software and re-creation all courses from an archive to try to ensure these problems would not continue to occur.
· While this process did have many positive effects, Blackboard did not warn us that the archive and restore process with this version was NOT reliable.
· Because of this, some courses failed to restore at all and others had missing content.
· We became aware of these problems in early June and began communicating with faculty to get them to check their classes.
· Over the summer many missing classes and many with missing content have already been restored.
· This process may need to continue as faculty who have been away all summer locate problems in their courses just before the term starts.
· If you have not yet checked your Blackboard sites, please consult previous emails about how and what to look for in your classes.
· This course restoration process and other administrative processes severely tax the system and degrade performance for users (again due to inefficient software code).

Another cause for concern is that during the summer finals week, online testing problems became apparent at usage levels which are a small fraction of the average fall or spring semester usage.
During those times, students could not complete their exams and many faculty were unable to access the grade book.
These problems occurred when as few as 75 faculty and students have been using the system. (In a primary semester Los Rios accommodates 500 to 700 concurrent users during the more active parts of each day.)

In preparation for a fall semester where 7% more courses are scheduled to be taught as fully online courses, we have been forced to take action to ensure that Blackboard can function smoothly throughout the term. The actions items decided upon for Fall 2007 are detailed below.

ACTION ITEMS:

1) Blackboard coordinators are identifying and removing any unnecessary courses from the system – especially those with large numbers of questions pools and tests.
a) You may be contacted if you have multiple copies of your course in case you may not need them all this semester.
2) The Blackboard system will not be available from 2 am – 6 am every day in order for ALL course maintenance activities to occur during that time when users are not on the system.
a) That may mean that there will be a delay in getting courses restored, copied, etc. since these actions will now be queued and run overnight. If there is a backlog greater than the time available each night, then there could be longer delays in completing these tasks.
b) PLEASE let the coordinators know immediately what you need for Fall semester so that all of this work can be done this week BEFORE the term starts.
3) Some Blackboard functions have been blocked from faculty use to preserve good performance for all users.
a) Faculty cannot remove a quiz pool from the Pool Manager or a Test from the Test Manager. You CAN "undeploy" or remove an instance of a test from a content area and from the gradebook.
i) If you need to have quiz pools or tests removed altogether, provide the exact information to your college Blackboard coordinator.
b) Faculty cannot create an archive or export of their course.
i) If you need this, your coordinator can assist.
c) Faculty cannot import a package of course content into their existing class.
i) Contact your coordinator for assistance.
ii) You CAN import question pools into the pool manager.
4) We are now requesting cooperation from the faculty who teach web-enhanced classes in reducing the use of online testing. (Online and hybrid classes can continue to use online testing.)
a) If you can reasonably use an alternative face-to-face method for testing (or submitted projects rather than exams) without undue hardship, we are requesting that you do so.
b) Online instructors have no other options and we need to ensure that the testing feature is not overtaxed and is working satisfactorily for those classes who must use it.

The Blackboard coordinators and the District Office IT staff have put in many long hours to try to resolve these problems and will continue to do so. We are also trying to escalate the process for selecting another Learning Management System (LMS) and we are looking at other options to try to make sure that Blackboard will be reliable and available to all for whatever remaining time we have on that system. You will have lots of opportunities this semester to have input on the selection of another system so we hope you will be involved in that process.

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Help Desk Knowledge Base

Our contracted Help Desk service includes a knowledge base and support tracking system. Reviewing the content of the KB is well worth the time to identify the articles related to the features you use in your Bb courses. Recommend to students that they also use the KB and sign up for membership to "subscribe" to the articles you have identified as a strategy for success in your classes.

http://d2.parature.com/ics/support/default.asp?deptID=4018

BB Database Error

Blackboard is cranky this morning. You will be able to log in but click a class or organization link and you will get a Database Error message.

Reported to Help Desk!

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Delete Old Tests & Pools by 8/22

Last spring semester we had to restrict the option for faculty to delete tests or pools. Before fall semester begins you have an opportunity to delete old tests or pools. This is a small window of time, and this action will take some time to complete. Be patient.

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All calls to Help Desk -- please!

ALL SCC Blackaboard users - students and faculty should contact the Help Desk to report problems.

To contact the Los Rios eLearning Help Desk by phone:
--Dial 1-866-353-9451.
--The system will direct your call to the first available Help Desk staff member.
--The Help Desk is now staffed 24 hrs a day and 7 days a week.


To get help through "live chat" with the Help Desk staff.
--You can use the link below.
--Link to Live Chat with Help Desk Staff

To facilitate a prompt solution to your problem, please be sure provide the following information.

+ your full name as a registered student and your Los Rios Bb login name,
+ your email address,
+ your instructor's name,
+ the name of the class in which you are enrolled,
+ the details of the difficulty you are experiencing using Los Rios eLearning Bb,
+ your computer operating system (Windows XP, 2000, Me, etc. or Macintosh OS X), and
+ the web browser you are using to access the class (Firefox, Internet Explorer, Netscape, etc.).

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Make Your Class Available to students

All SCC Blackboard courses were made unavailable to students on August 15th. When your course has content ready for Fall 2007, then make your course available to students after rosters are attached beginning Thursday, August 23rd.

Control Panel > Settings > Course Availability > Yes & Submit.

This process will help us identify courses that are no longer in use.

Please take this step if you do not need to reference OLD courses on our Blackboard server: Enter a course, go to
Control Panel > List/Modify Users > Search button (no criteria needed) and click the Properties button related to your name. Choose Student and click the Submit button. This will hide the course from your Welcome and Courses tabs! Hurray, a shorter list!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Course Map & Hidden Course Content Areas

This information is worth repeating since it was originally published in May 2007.

Greetings SCC Bb Users — I’ve been talking with our Bb faculty about the maintenance during Many and June and how best to capture the changes you are making in your courses since May 1st.

In reviewing options with Kathleen Allen of Nursing, we worked out two options and I’ve detailed the steps in screen snapshots. See the URLs below. But some of you will just need a nudge to get started:

Show the Course Map – a handy tool for all courses (students can use this feature to navigate the course)
By using Control Panel > Course Design > Manage Tool Panel > Quick Tool view Panel Options > Display Course Map
Expand the content areas and print this page. At the end of the semester, print another copy to compare the differences.

Hidden Content - the sneaky approach — If you don’t want to recreate the content for your summer or fall course, you can create a hidden area and copy added content for this month. Then export this one area and import it into your restored course. You might want to see the pictures on this multi-step process. It is critical that you only download the one new content area in your archive. (You won’t want to delete all the duplicate content, trust me on this!) You are responsible to archive this new content area and to import it into your course!

For details, view either the Quicktime movie slide show or open the PDF file:

http://scc.losrios.edu/~bbsite/coursemap_export.mov
best for dialup connections, 1.8 MB
http://scc.losrios.edu/~bbsite/coursemap_export_lg.mov
best for broadband connections, 5.6 MB

http://scc.losrios.edu/~bbsite/coursemap_export.pdf
alternative option is an Acrobat document, 6.3 MB

Monday, August 13, 2007

Bb Up for Faculty - Check Course List ASAP

Please read the following information carefully and check your Blackboard sites immediately.

1) Some Blackboard course sites were inadvertently removed from the system this summer. Please check on your Welcome screen and make sure all your courses your need for fall semester are listed. Missing courses can be restored from the May 30 archive if necessary. We need to know exactly which course site is missing, please use the online form to report missing Bb courses. You will need to report the course section number (5-digits) and specify the semester (spring/summer/fall) you last used the course.

2) SOME course archives did not install on the new system correctly and while the course and its folders are intact, some COURSE CONTENT is missing. Please check your courses and notify your college Blackboard administrator if any course content is missing. (In these cases, users have reported that when they log into their course, they see the same navigation structure that was set up previously, but when clicking on a course navigation link, the page displays “Folder empty.” Make sure to check this from the Control Panel, not just from the Course Menu buttons since content no longer available to students will only appear in the Control Panel view.

3) All content creation options do not all appear. Click on the Control Panel, then into any Content Area, if you see Learning Unit (instead of Test) across the top of that screen and do NOT see the pull-down menu on the upper right of the screen (where assignments and Turnitin assignments are created), let us know. This can easily be fixed. There is a link on the Help Tab to instructors for how to fix this problem.

4. Discussion board postings say "anonymous". If your discussion board postings say anonymous, then delete the entire board and recreate it. There is no other fix for this problem.

5) Announcements were removed from all courses and these will need to be recreated by instructors.

Downtime and maintenance schedule:

8/13/07 to 8/14/07
Faculty access to Bb, course recycle occurring, but access allowed for CRC Institute

8/13/07
First day for Faculty to access Blackboard (but be aware Student data deletions are in progress)

8/22/07
Begin linking Fall 2007 rosters to Blackboard course sites

8/25/07
Fall 2007 Semester (Saturday Classes) Start

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Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Reminder: last day to access Blackboard

Friday, August 10 is the last day for faculty to access Blackboard before the system is taken down for maintenance.
Access for faculty will be restored Thursday, August 16.

Do not wait until after August 10 to download your gradebook!  System administrators will NOT be able to retrieve it.

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Monday, August 6, 2007

"Turn It In" option missing from content area menu

This problem was identified in June after the change-over.  When trying to add a Turnitin assignment, some users do not see Turn It In as an option on the drop down menu.  We sent out a message to instructors telling them to look for it and also created instructions on how to fix it.  We still don't know exactly why some classes are affected and not others.  If Turnitin is missing, many other content options are missing also.

Here is the link for how to fix it.  It is also on the Blackboard Help tab under important information for Summer and Fall.

http://ic.arc.losrios.edu/~itc/Blackboard/pages/restore_content_creation_options.htm

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Check your Blackboard sites

Important for all faculty from Melissa Green & Jory Hadsell:

1) Some Blackboard course sites were inadvertently removed from the system this summer. Please check on your Welcome screen and make sure all your courses are there. These can be restored without problems from the May 30 archive but we need to know exactly which course site is missing. If an entire course is missing, contact your college Blackboard administrator for assistance. (Be sure your email includes "Blackboard Spring 07 Course MISSING" as the subject and complete details in the body of your message, your login id, the course name and course id. Let us know if you have an archive of the course stored locally as a .zip file.)

2) SOME course archives did not install on the new system correctly and while the course and its folders are intact, some course content is missing. Please check your courses and notify your college Blackboard administrator if any course content is missing. (In these cases, users have reported that when they log into their course, they see the same navigation structure that was set up previously, but when clicking on a course navigation link, the page displays “Folder empty.” Make sure to check this from the Control Panel, not just from the Course Menu buttons since content no longer available to students will only appear in the Control Panel view.

3) All content creation options do not all appear. Click on the Control Panel, then into any Content Area, if you see Learning Unit (instead of Test) across the top of that screen and do NOT see the pull-down menu on the upper right of the screen (where assignments and Turnitin assignments are created), let us know. This can easily be fixed. There is a link on the Help Tab to instructors for how to fix this problem.

4. Discussion board postings say "anonymous". If your discussion board postings say anonymous, then delete the entire board and recreate it. There is no other fix for this problem.

5) Announcements were removed from all courses and these will need to be recreated by instructors.

6) Now is the best time to plan your course backup strategy. Plan on keeping a copy of your content on your local computer on a weekly basis if not daily. Your students should also keep copies of their work before and after submitting it to you.

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Gimmie the TEXT, madam, Plain Text

Today, and in the past, faculty have called to report they cannot delete content items added to their courses. After some investigation, the only commonality I can find is copying and pasting from either Word or web pages is the culprit. Sometimes copying from Word brings in extra formatting characters. We see this when working with our Manila sites as well. I wonder if copying from a web page might bring along an extra html tag that is not closed properly in a Bb text field?

Protect yourself in two ways: 1) have a backup of everything (important) that you post to Bb and 2) purge the formating before pasting.

The rest of this post focuses on purging the formating by using either TextEdit (Macintosh) or NotePad (Windows). So your computer will need to be powerful enough to open three application - a web browser, Microsoft Word and a text editor. You will copy from web/Word and paste into the text editor, then select and copy again before pasting into a Bb text box.

In converting Word files to Manila or Bb, I like to work a chunk of text at at time. I turn off WYSIWYG / Visual Text Editor and move all the content over and submit to publish the text. This might mean publishing several Manila stories or several content items/folders/announcement/discussion descriptions. After I'm convinced that the text appears without problems, then I might turn on the WYSIWYG editor to make the text pretty. But lately, I'm focused on getting the content posted and the pretty text steps are not taken.

When Tonie Hilligoss (Sociology) called today, the second discussion item had lost the Modify/Remove buttons. Adding a new Forum worked but after the problem forum nothing new displayed. From the System Admin tab, coordinators can purge one content area of a course. This is drastic and not incremental - all of the discussion boards or all of the announcements are purged. So it is important to have a backup copy of your course content. It is also easier to develop a consistent pattern and instructions while working in a word processing application rather than working directly in Bb.

Bb Server End/Start Semester Timeline

Summer to Fall Downtime Schedule:
  • 8/9/07-Summer’07 Semester ends
  • 8/10/07-Summer’07 Grades Due
  • 8/10/07-Last day for Faculty to access Blackboard server -- Be sure to download your gradebooks!
  • 8/11/07 to 8/12/07-Blackboard down for maintenance
  • 8/13/07 to 8/14/07-Course Recycle occurring, but access allowed for Faculty and CRC Institute
  • 8/13/07-First day for Faculty to access Blackboard (but be aware Student data deletions are in progress)
  • 8/22/07-Coordinators begin linking rosters to Blackboard course sites
  • 8/25/07-Fall 2007 Semester (Saturday Classes) Start

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System downtime schedule and restoring missing courses

Below is the schedule for Blackboard downtime and maintenance between summer and fall semesters.   Also, please read the following information carefully and check your Blackboard sites immediately.

 

1)  Some Blackboard course sites were inadvertently removed from the system this summer.  Please check on your Welcome screen and make sure all your courses are there.  These can be restored without problems from the May 30 archive but we need to know exactly which course site is missing.   If an entire course is missing, contact your college Blackboard administrator for assistance.

 

2)  SOME course archives did not install on the new system correctly and while the course and its folders are intact, some course content is missing.  Please check your courses and notify your college Blackboard administrator if any course content is missing.  (In these cases, users have reported that when they log into their course, they see the same navigation structure that was set up previously, but when clicking on a course navigation link, the page displays “Folder empty.”  Make sure to check this from the Control Panel, not just from the Course Menu buttons since content no longer available to students will only appear in the Control Panel view.

3)  All content creation options do not all appear.  Click on the Control Panel, then into any Content Area, if you see Learning Unit (instead of Test) across the top of that screen and do NOT see the pull-down menu on the upper right of the screen (where assignments and Turnitin assignments are created), let us know.  This can easily be fixed.  There is a link on the Help Tab to instructors for how to fix this problem.

4.  Discussion board postings say "anonymous".  If your discussion board postings say anonymous, then delete the entire board and recreate it.  There is no other fix for this problem.

5)  Announcements were removed from all courses and these will need to be recreated by instructors.

 

Downtime and maintenance schedule:

 

8/9/07                  Summer’07 Semester ends

8/10/07         Summer’07 Grades Due

8/10/07         Last day for Faculty to access Blackboard server -- Be sure to download your gradebooks!

8/11/07 to 8/12/07      Blackboard down for maintenance

8/13/07 to 8/14/07      Course Recycle occurring, but access allowed for Faculty and CRC Institute

8/13/07                 First day for Faculty to access Blackboard (but be aware Student data deletions are in progress)

8/22/07                 Fall student enrollments linked to Blackboard course sites

8/25/07                 Fall 2007 Semester (Saturday Classes) Start

 


------ End of Forwarded Message

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Mac Users - RSS desktop screen saver

While we are on the topic of reading RSS headlines, the Mac OS X 10.4 operating system includes an option to view RSS headlines via the screen saver. Here's how to set this up:

Introduction to Safari & RSS feeds:
This software is very cool! Use the Bookmarks > Show All Bookmarks menu to open the list on screen in the left pane. In the Collections list near the top is All RSS Feeds. Click this item once to display all the items in this folder in the right pane. The list is organized by Bookmark, Parent and Address. At the bottom of this window is a search box, try filtering this long list to just entries with "bbc" somewhere in the description. To clear the search filter, click the (X). Look at the Address items and note that they begin with feed:// and end with .xml -- two very distinguising features! Next, open a feed - the BBC News Technology item perhaps. The display in Safari changes dramatically. On the top is a light blue header, on the right side you see a search box, article length button and sort options. Experiment with the article length to see expanding content from headlines to full text. Under Actions, there is an option to Mail Link to This Page.

Add a feed to Safari (so you can set it as a screen saver):
Hopefully you are reading this post directly from the source and not just a feed, our URL is feed://www.scc.losrios.edu/~bbsite/bbstatus.xml. There are at least two ways to add this site as a regular feed. First, show all bookmarks then drag the URL to the News folder under All RSS Feeds. Review that the SCC Blackboard Blog now appears in the All RSS Feeds list. If this method does not work, try this second method: confirm the URL is feed://www.scc.losrios.edu/~bbsite/bbstatus.xml and then use Bookmarks > Add Bookmark > choose News from the drop down menu. Confirm that SCC Blackboard Blog now appears in the All RSS Feeds list.

Success! Now choose this feed as your screen saver:
Open the System Preferences from the Dock. Click once on Desktop & Screen Saver on the top row. From the list of Screen savers, scroll to RSS Visualizer, click the Options ... button to see your subscribed list of feeds. Choose SCC Blackboard Blog from this long list. Now, when you are not actively using your computer it will keep track of Bb News for you. The visualizer is quite mesmerizing, to read the details of a headline, press the associated numeric key.

I'm a News Groupie!
Safari let me take RSS feeds one step further, create a sub-folder in Bookmarks > News called "SCC News." Now visit each RSS feed page (remember the URL will end in .xml) and then use the Bookmarks > Add Bookmark > News > SCC News each time. View the list of all bookmarks, Bookmarks > Show All Bookmarks and expand the News folder to show all items or sub-folders. Now drag the 'SCC News" items to Safari's Bookmark toolbar. Now you have easy access to all your new subscriptions! View them individually or view them all. Use the Article Length button and Sort options to control the display of content. Click a headline to view the details on the source blog.

If you are a Windows Internet Explorer user experiementing with RSS feeds, write out the detailed instructions (this post is a model) and send it to me to post here.

I can see this technique used by faculty reading student blogs, and managing their classes as "collections."

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