Cry ‘Havoc’

May 27, 2010

Cry ‘Havoc” and let slip the courses of Summer!

A new semester is upon us, at least those of us who are working over the Summer term.  At this moment there are 830 courses in Palomar’s Summer 2010 term, and many of those will have Blackboard components.  Here are some things to think about, when getting a Blackboard course ready for this new term:

The shells for Summer 2010 courses have been around for about two months now, in accordance with our typical course lifecycle rule of creating the course shell 90 days prior to the start of the semester.  Some faculty have already transferred their materials into those new course shells, but many have not yet.

If you have material in a previous course that you want to also have in the new course, you have two options:  the Copy Course tool, or to do a Course Export and then a Course Import.  There are pros and cons to each technique.

The Copy Course tool has to be initiated from the course with the content, typically this is the older course.  You would tell the Copy Course tool which of your courses is the destination, and check the boxes for what you want to copy over.  However, if you try to copy the Settings for your course (which includes the style of course menu and banner in the Announcements area) you may receive an error.

If you opt for an Export and Import, you would first go into the older course and use the Course Export tool to create an export file, then save the file onto your computer.  You would next go into the new, empty course, and use the Import Package tool to pull the contents of your export file into the new course.  However, if your course contains more than 250 Mb of data, you will be unable to import the file contents.

Regardless of which method, or neither, that you use for porting over materials, there are a couple other things to be sure to do in your new course site.  Particularly, post an Announcement to start off the semester right.  (And, please, make it a new announcement rather than doing a Modify of an old one.  Announcements have the original date posted on them, and it really looks bad to see a June 2010 class start with a January 2006 post.)  Also, of course, none of your students will be able to get into the course site until you have manually made it available to them.

In the Control Panel, under Settings, is the Course Availability control.  It’s a simple Yes/No radio button control, but until and unless an instructor switches things from the default “No” position, students are unable to see any of the contents of the course site.  Some faculty make their course sites available to students well in advance of the start of semester, and use Blackboard as a tool to prepare students to show up at the first class session actually ready to work; others will wait until right at, or even after, the start of the semester before making the course available.  Whichever way you choose, just remember to make the course available before telling your students to go there – our tech support phone rings quite a lot when that step is forgotten.

So, there you have it.  Summer is here, and if you’re not enjoying a nice vacation it is time to be sure your Blackboard course is ready!

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Walking the Campus

May 26, 2010

Today I took a walk around the San Marcos campus; this is fairly unusual for me, as I don’t get out of the office much.  Few people were around, as it’s just after the end of an academic year.  I suspect the staff on campus outnumbered the students, although I was asked for directions from one student during my wandering.

I walked past many classrooms, the Student Union, and – of course – the construction going on nearly smack in the middle of campus.  The shells of two buildings were crawling with construction workers, all busily accomplishing things that no one will notice later unless they don’t do their jobs right.

The whole campus put me in mind of how Blackboard has been implemented at Palomar:  Much of the campus is the same now as it was when I first came to Palomar years ago, and the old familiar brickwork that I’m used to is even being added to the new construction to keep a similar look and feel.  However, unlike when I first started here, there are now numerous building with elevator shafts; there was a time when only the LL building had elevators.  On an invisible level, there is wireless Internet access across a good bit of campus now, as well as wired network access in pretty much every room.  When I came on-board here the computer lab in the Library had four computers with modems for dial-up Internet service.  As much as things have stayed the same on campus, they’ve really changed, too.

Blackboard was first introduced on campus over a decade ago, and comparing what it looked like back then with what it is now, there are a lot of similarities still.  The Control Panel is nearly unchanged in appearance, even if the functions have shifted a bit; some courses use the buttons styles and Content Area names that were standard (required, actually) back a dozen years ago; there are even a few syllabi that list the old address for our Blackboard system that hasn’t worked since mid-2005.  But like the changes to campus buildings, some new construction on the Blackboard front will change the way courses can be conducted online.  With the advent of the new version of Blackboard which will be in effect starting Spring 2011, things like the Control Panel screen and the button-based course menu are going away.  The Digital Dropbox tool (which I’ve railed against for several years now) will be gone.  And it’s entirely possible that students and faculty will be using the Blackboard system without real computers.

Although Palomar isn’t going to change the version of Blackboard we use until the Spring 2011 term, we are enabling the Blackboard Mobile Learn tool in mid-June, so that users may begin reading and posting to Blackboard courses using iPads, iPhones, BlackBerrys, and Android devices.  (This makes me a bit sad, as I’m a Windows Mobile user and am left out in the cold with this app, at least for the moment.)

I guess, if there’s any moral to this rambling post, it’s this:  Change is coming to Palomar’s Blackboard system; if I do my job properly in constructing the new system, things will go smoothly; but even with all these changes, many things will stay the same, work the same, and the service you should expect out of us should only get better.