Thanks to reorganization inside the corporate offices at Blackboard, NAU is seeing some rapid deployment of new features and functionality inside Blackboard Learn, and they have worked with NAU to overcome some difficulties we'd experienced beginning mid-term in the fall 2012 semester. With better monitoring capability, more thorough testing, and a move toward fail-safe redundancy, our current Blackboard implementation and all subsequent releases will prove far more stable than ever.
New Blackboard Learn Functionality
New features will help faculty members save time managing their classes:
- Test completion/attempt certification—In the
past, faculty needed to contact support in order to find out when/if a student
attempted to take a test in Blackboard. Now the professor has access to a class
roster that shows the date and time a student started the test, elected to save
questions, and completed the test. A sample is show above.
- Faculty can now
manage content from their desktops. Blackboard Drive allows a professor to manage, edit,
or share files using Windows Explorer, Mac OS X Finder, and Microsoft
- The faculty member no longer has to wait for
submitted assignments to download. Inline Assessment Grading allows the grader
to view and edit submissions within the web browser.
- The newly enhanced grade book allows more
flexibility in how it is displayed as well as the ability to scroll through the
entire book instead of having to page from front to back.
- Better integration with BB Collaboration allows
faculty and staff in Blended or fully on-line courses to add a synchronous
component to the course. Each course can have a standing collaborate session
for the faculty member as well as for the class. These sessions can even be
accessed via a mobile device.
Retention Center now provides an online view of student participation across
the course for faculty members. In the past, professors have only been able to view the
last time students used the application and how long they were logged in. The
new functionality provides a dashboard for faculty to see if students have been
accessing the online material; how long they are spending in the course,;if
they have missed assignments; and any grade alerts that have been generated.
The faculty member can then generated messages from the retention center
provided critical feedback to at risk students.
Blackboard Learn Issues Resolved and Stability Returned
Fall 2012 saw BB Learn perform well until mid-term assignment submittals. At that time a flaw, which caused the application to fail, was encountered. This flaw continued to plague the system and a decision was made to hire Blackboard Professional Services to come to campus to help resolve the issue.
BB Professional Services was able to help the NAU staff to resolve the issue after several weeks of troubleshooting, and the system has remained stable since that time.
The system ran well through the Spring 2013 semester with only one instance of a significant half-hour service interruption which was caused by a hardware set-up issue that was not attributable to BB Learn.
ITS continues to focus on providing a stable BB Learn Platform:
- Proactive application monitoring. A monitoring service was hired with the sole purpose of alerting the administrators to any abnormal activity within the system. This external campus service attempts to login to BB Learn every five minutes. If it cannot login to the application an alert text is sent to ITS staff. This is an external service so that we are alerted by a system even if the on-campus network is down.
- Testing process. ITS has been working very closely with the eLearning Center to test all newly delivered functionality as well as software bug fixes prior to installing in our production/live BB Learn environment. We have been able to fix issues prior to them impacting the campus and on one occasion halted planned upgrades as a result of issues found through this process.
- Additional hardware. ITS is continuing to review the hardware systems that run our BB Learn application, and has purchased additional systems to be implemented this fall to provide even more redundancy to the system.
- Easier Feedback mechanism. Starting with Fall 2013 a new feedback mechanism has been added to every page of BB Learn. This will provide an easier mechanism for students and faculty to give direct feedback to ITS on how to improve the application. We have hired additional staff to help us monitor and respond to issues as they arise.