Blackboard Satisfaction Survey Results – Likes

May 12, 2011

Taking a look at the first of the three open-ended questions posed in our Blackboard Faculty Satisfaction Survey hasn’t been a huge surprise, which is a good thing.  (I’d hate to think my feel for faculty opinions is too far off of reality.)  The question: “What do you like best about Blackboard?”

259 faculty responded to this question (out of 301 total survey respondents), which makes for quite a lot of commentary reading.  In an attempt to process what themes might be present in a mass of text, I like to create a Wordle and view the word frequency use graphically.  (To see any of the smaller text entries, you will want to click the thumbnail image below and see the larger version.)

Wordle of what faculty like about Blackboard

It was gratifying to see what the largest word (and therefore the presumed primary focus of the comments) worked out to be.

Looking over the actual comments, I noticed a high frequency of comments (nearly 10%, 24 to be specific) mentioning the “ease of use” of Blackboard.  I’m not too surprised to see quite a few comments liking “grades” or other grade-related functions such as “Gradebook”.  Keep in mind that this is what faculty like about Blackboard, not necessarily that it’s what is easy to do in Blackboard.

Not all the comments are sunny and bright, of course.  One professor writes “Not sure there is anything that stands out that can’t be done elsewhere better.”  This is a valid point; the best analogy I’ve ever heard used to  describe Blackboard came from a support tech at some past conference: “Blackboard is Tupperware.”  All it is ever going to do is hold the material faculty put into it, and by trying to support all the different things that faculty want at the same time it can be difficult to do any one specific thing the best.  Certainly there are better discussion board systems, better content management systems, etc.  I’m not sure that there are systems that do significantly better that do as much (in potential, at least) as Blackboard while allowing institutional SIS integration.  The recurring theme I hear when faculty come back to using Blackboard is that although it doesn’t do any one thing the best, it does bundle tools together in a way that is “good enough.”

One particularly glowing comment mentions that the professor “Couldn’t live without it.”  I’ll admit to amazement, when our system is down for upgrades or maintenance, at how many faculty seem to want to interact with our Blackboard system even in what is typically thought of as “down time” between semesters.  I’ve had a professor want to know if I really must have the system offline on New Year’s Eve… sheesh, go party and I’ll try to have the system back online before morning!

One aspect that comes through looking at the comments directly that isn’t apparent from the Wordle is how often faculty referred to the discussion board.  (Seems folks don’t know how to refer to it: DB, disc. brd, forums, there were too many ways to describe that function to become prominent in the image.)  We generally get poor attendance at training workshops covering the discussion board though, so perhaps faculty feel like they truly have a good grasp on how to use that tool; apparently they like the function well enough.

That pretty much wraps up my thoughts on what faculty “like best about Blackboard” at the moment.  I’m sure I’ll be revisiting some of these issues once I’ve had a chance to ponder the other two open-ended questions on what faculty like least and what they would change.

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Reliability Wins!

April 29, 2010

A month ago I asked for feedback from faculty at Palomar as to their preference for less scheduled system outages or less liklihood of system failures… and got back only two responses.  So, with 100% of responders in favor of more frequent scheduled system outages, our planned outage schedule has changed.

Instead of Reboot Wednesday coming on the first Wednesday of every month, Reboot Wednesday is now every Wednesday!  At or around 6 AM each Wednesday morning, the Palomar Blackboard system will be restarted.  This process may around an hour, although we will obviously take all steps we can to minimize the downtime.


Reliability vs. Uptime

March 31, 2010

I’ve been doing some prep-work for our new Blackboard Learn environment that will be launched here at Palomar for Spring 2011 (knock wood).  Part of that is system documentation, and there’s a massive amount of procedural data that is included along with information like serial numbers and IP addresses.  Working through the operations workbook for our existing Blackboard 8 system I looked at some of our times at which we consider it acceptible to have the system down for maintenance:

There are daily and weekly windows when the system can be routinely backed up, where sluggish response times are acceptable. A short (up to an hour) window of system down-time is acceptable on the “Reboot Wednesday” times between 6 and 7 a.m. on the first Wednesday of each month. However, the only time when extended system down-time is acceptable would be during the annual windows.

Daily: 2 a.m. to 7 a.m.

Weekly: Saturday, 7 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Monthly: First Wednesday, 6 a.m. to  7 a.m.

Annually: The first full week in January, also any time window between the end of the Summer term and beginning of Fall.

Generally speaking we don’t use the Daily time windows, or Weekly ones, but we do try to restart all the servers on Reboot Wednesdays.  (This deals with several possible technical problems that may bring the system down unexpectedly.  If it didn’t help things, believe me, we wouldn’t do it.)  The support line and ticketing system seldom see any activity during these times, which leads me to believe that few people are impacted by those downtimes.

Whenever we do upgrades and significant maintenance to the Blackboard environment between semesters, we do receive quite a number of calls… but there really isn’t any way around that, sadly.

Obviously there are other times when the system may seize up, and it’s inaccessible to users.  We try to get things running again as quickly as possible, of course, but that sort of thing isn’t what we schedule for.  It is possible that if we do schedule more frequent maintenance windows, akin to what we do on Reboot Wednesdays, that we might see fewer or no other system seizures, though.

The reason I’m sharing all this is that I’m interested how the plans we have for Palomar measure up.  So, for Palomar faculty, please comment on this post and let me know how you feel about the idea of having more frequent, planned, system outages.  For non-Palomar faculty, please comment about how this sort of maintenance schedule measures up against what you’re accustomed to at your institutions.  I’d really appreciate hearing what everyone thinks on this topic!


Palomar System Outage, 1/4-1/7/2010

December 23, 2009

Palomar’s Blackboard system will be down for maintenance and system patches beginning Monday, January 4th at 6 AM.  As usual we will try to get the system back online as quickly as possible, but Palomar’s Blackboard system may be offline until Thursday, January 7th at 7 AM.


Palomar System Outage, 12/27-12/30

December 16, 2009

It’s always great to start on a high note, isn’t it?

Palomar’s Blackboard system will be offline from about 5 PM on Sunday, December 27th until about 10 AM on Wednesday, December 30th, 2009.

Fortunately, after this power outage, all the electrical work by SDG&E should be done in the data center on Palomar’s San Marcos campus.  In theory this means that we should not have further outages due to local electrical system problems, and our data center should also be able to survive short-term local black-outs without losing web services such as Blackboard.