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!

Dates and Disasters

April 30, 2010

April has been quite a month for Palomar’s Blackboard system, including two disasters on Thursday, April 8th.  To my amusement the major disaster that ended in ten hours of data loss went by with barely a comment, which the minor disaster that just blocked access to the system for about three hours got a furor of complaints.

May should be quite a month too, with the traditional dates of note for Blackboard courses right around the end of the academic year.

Here’s the bare bones of what was and will be important with Palomar’s Blackboard system:

  • Spring 2010 semester ends on Friday, May 21st.
  • Student access to the semester-length Blackboard courses will end two weeks later, so by Saturday, June 5th most students will no longer be able to access the Spring 2010 course sites.
  • The old Spring 2009 Blackboard courses will be removed from the system on the morning of Tuesday, May 25th.  If you haven’t yet, this would be a good time to archive your old courses.
  • The Fall 2010 Blackboard courses will be created the morning of Friday, May 21st, approximately 90 days before the start of the Fall semester.
  • Thursday, April 8th saw two system disasters take down Palomar’s Blackboard system; neither of these was the fault of the Blackboard software, but were instead classic cases of GIGO.  (That’s “Garbage In, Garbage Out” for those who don’t know that particular acronym.)  All things considered, we recovered from both those disasters pretty well.
  • We are changing the scheduling of Blackboard maintenance in accordance with the unanimous will of responding faculty); now Reboot Wednesday will happen every Wednesday instead of only on the first Wednesday of the month.  Expect regular Blackboard outages each Wednesday between 6 and 7 AM.

That’s pretty much it, although Terry and I found enough to fill over twenty minutes of audio on these topics.