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!

Blackboard, Publisher Content, and the Future

February 10, 2010

Ray Henderson, President of the Blackboard Learn division at Blackboard, blogged today about progress that Blackboard is making on backing up past claims about embracing openness in their product.  You can read his full blog post over on his blog, titled “Blackboard’s Open Standards Commitments: Progress Made“.  It makes for some interesting reading, for someone who understands some of the tech-ese and history of getting publisher content into Learning Management Systems such as Blackboard.  However, I’d like to try and offer a “what does that mean for us?” perspective for faculty using Blackboard.

The “Common Cartridge” standard that Blackboard is planning support for is a set of rules that content providers such as textbook publishers can use when creating their content.  Following those standards should make it easy for a content provider to make just one set of content, but have it be available in multiple systems such as Blackboard, Moodle, Sakai, whatever flavor of system that supports that Common Cartridge standard.

One thing this should mean for faculty is that, when trying to get content from your publisher rep, it should be far more difficult for the rep to provide you with the wrong stuff.  It also means that, should you teach at multiple institutions using different systems, you’ll have a good chance of using just one content source that can be imported into your courses at each institution.  This is what, in the tech support business, we refer to as “A Good Thing”.

There are certainly other implications to Blackboard becoming involved in, and planning support for, the Common Cartridge standard, but I don’t want to muddy the waters here.  The take-away point for faculty is:  This should make moving content into your courses better.