For the last week there have been some rumors about Blackboard and its future circulating around the college. I wanted to take this opportunity to give you a peek at what is happening behind the scenes in an effort to be fully transparent, calm some fears, and explain what we have been working on and what our concerns are going forward.
What is happening with Fall courses in Blackboard 9.1?
We currently have 633 courses being offered in Blackboard 9.1. Shortly after these courses were launched, we started receiving calls with complaints that students were unable to open attached files in some of these courses.
After investigating these reports and performing a significant amount of testing, we discovered that the Course Copy feature in Blackboard 9.1 is essentially broken. Allow me to explain. When an instructor copies a course from a development shell into an actual credit CRN shell within Blackboard 9.1, the course appears to copy successfully. Unfortunately, most files (word files, pdf files, etc) that are attached to a course are not brought along to the new (destination) course. The quick workaround is to re-attach the files in the new course. We understand that this is very time consuming and extremely inconvenient and it is not a true fix. This was obviously a stop-gap solution and not what we expect faculty to have to do in the Spring or future semesters.
Since the course copy issue was discovered, we have been in constant contact with Blackboard engineers. Blackboard has acknowledged that the Course Copy feature is broken in Blackboard 9.1. The company had not publicly disclosed this critical bug, while at the same time they had been encouraging all institutions to upgrade to version 9.1 from WebCT CE8 and Blackboard 9.0. This Course Copy bug is not only affecting Valencia, but it is affecting every institution in the country who has upgraded to version 9.1.
Why did we upgrade to version 9.1 if this bug existed?
Over the summer of 2010, there were 115 faculty who participated in training to learn the new system and start building their fall courses. At that time, we did not have anyone report issues nor did we experience the “course copy bug”. In September we were notified that Blackboard released a critical service patch to resolve problems with course assessments and assignments. We followed protocol and installed the patch with the Service Pack during the first week of September. It was shortly after this that we started seeing sporadic issues reported from faculty related to course copy. Over the past few weeks, the increased usage of Blackboard 9.1 has resulted in additional reports from faculty related to the course copy bug.
What are we doing about this critical problem?
Blackboard has released a command line utility that fixes some of the broken course copies. We have to run this manually on each course once we are made aware of the broken course. We have fixed several courses with this utility, but unfortunately it does not fix every course. It also requires that faculty contact the firstname.lastname@example.org help desk when errors are encountered so we know to run this utility on a faculty member’s course.
Blackboard is telling us that the Course Copy feature is working properly in Service Pack 3. This service pack is scheduled to be released in November. We obviously cannot wait until November, when Blackboard is expected to release Service Pack 3, and determine if the Course Copy problem is fixed.
On Monday, October 11th, key members from OIT will be meeting with Blackboard executives and engineers. We are seeking reassurance that the Course Copy process is indeed fixed and working as expected in Service Pack 3. We will also be requesting a beta copy of Service Pack 3 that we can test in our development servers. Finally, we will be discussing alternative plans that may allow us to get around the Course Copy bug should it not be fixed in time for the Spring courses.
We are also investigating the option of extending the migration period by an extra term by requesting an extension of our WebCT license from Blackboard. There will be more information about this possibility should an extension of the migration be necessary and possible. The WebCT license is currently scheduled to expire on June 30, 2011.
There have been rumors circulating stating that we will not allow people to migrate to Blackboard in the Spring. These rumors are false. We are engaging every possible resource to resolve the Course Copy feature. I would also like to personally assure you of our full support to ensure a successful Spring term in Blackboard Learn.
I will be sending another email late Monday or early Tuesday explaining the information that we gathered in our meeting with the Blackboard executives, as well as any decisions that may need to be made as a result of the meeting.
We are dedicated to being fully transparent about the migration process and to keeping the Valencia community fully informed of everything related to Blackboard Learn, including the bugs that we are encountering as we work with this new learning management system.
How can you stay abreast of news and information about the Blackboard Migration?
I would like to list some of the the resources and communication venues that we have made available to faculty:
- Blackboard 9.1 Project Status website: http://www.valenciacc.edu/oit/ltad/instructTools/blackboard/projectStatus.cfm
- Blackboard 9.1 Bug List and workarounds: http://www.valenciacc.edu/oit/ltad/instructTools/blackboard/ValenciasBugListforBBLearn.cfm
- Valencia Moving to BB9 Blog: http://movingtobb9.wordpress.com/
- Valencia LTAD Twitter feed: http://twitter.com/ValenciaLTAD
- Valencia LTAD Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Valencia-LTAD/124797597568194
Finally, I would like to thank each and every one of you for your patience and support during this difficult transition period. I assure you that we understand the difficulties that you are experiencing and I want you to know that we are working around the clock to resolve all outstanding issues.
Grace & Peace,
Angelique Smith, M.Ed.
Director, Learning Technology & Alternative Delivery