David Lyon

Bb User's Conference '05 - Draft Notes   [show]  [hide]

From April 11-14 2005, I attended the Blackboard User's Conference in Baltimore. The User's Conference seems designed to appeal to a mass Blackboard audience. The exhibit hall had a rich representation of vendors and products and Bb offered help with technical support issues. They were very responsive. I think the main benefit of this conference was the face-to-face meetings with Bb and other Bb users and learning of Bb services and timelines. Lest I forget, Bb also hosted a lunch meeting with CSU customers.

I met other people involved with Blackboard and Blackboard provided a complete list of attendees. Perhaps some collaboration will result.

< 1 Opening Session

Cal Ripken was the featured speaker. He is knowledgeable of blackboard through the local schools, I believe. His speech was motivational, not really specific to blackboard.

< 2 Troubleshooting Techniques for Blackboard System Administrators

This overcrowded session was for those wishing to learn how to better troubleshoot tickets with Blackboard support.

This was presented by the senior manager for consulting operations and two of the product support engineers at Blackboard. The PSEs are considered second tier support and specialize on the more difficult technical issues. The goal of this session seemed to be to help clients gain optimal use of the support mechanism (Behind the blackboard, log collection, escalation, etc). They explained how to streamline the ticket turn-around by setting the severity level properly (Bb may adjust if too high/low) and providing adequate logging information. I believe the Knowledge base was also referenced. It can be used to find a solution to more common issues, rather than having to log a ticket.

< 3 An Administrative Framework for the Blackboard Academic Suite

This session was presented by Chris Jones, Director of e-Learning at the Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

Chris explained the comprehensive framework that they have developed to manage Bb growth while at the same time, maintaining a level of customer service. They use a five layer model (taken from the abstract).

  • Strategic Development - vision and direction
  • Business Management - licenses and relationship
  • Systems Operations - day-to-day processes
  • Systems Development - responding to new opportunities
  • Infrastructure Management - hardware and software

They have a distributed matrix that covers the various responsibilities. This is something that would be very useful here - to eliminate any confusion.

It might be worth while to talk to Chris further - they are in the process of phasing out WebCT. Chris also mentioned that using ASP (assuming Bb hosting of services) is working out well.

< 4 CSU User's Meeting

Blackboard hosted a lunch for all CSU representatives attending.

A report card of CSU issues is being developed. Accessibility was an issue brought up by Long Beach. Colors for unread/read discussion threads was a big issue. The issue hasn't been responded to adequately by blackboard, according to those Long Beach. California state laws are mandating accessibility.

Blackboard indicates they have done quite a bit. They have an annual audit for compliance and treat accessibility issues as software defects. The audit is done by a 3rd party company. Blackboards last audit revealed they were 95% compliant with 508, markedly better than anyone. Someone in the meeting suggested we have a CSU accessibility liaison.

Bb indicates that there is a ground-up redevelopment of the user interface. This has been vetted with a couple of customers doing studies. They are gathering feedback now. Next is to plan how to implement and schedule it in. It is likely to be release 8. The earliest would be late next year.

The CSU has a center and EASI group training for courses. There was talk of a local group meeting. Bb is hosting a a May regional event. There are 40 community colleges using Bb in California.

Bb says that with application pack 3, there is a summary of known issues. They hired a root cause analyst to identify causes. These are fed back to programmers.

Application pack 3 transaction handling integration has had tremendous work done on it. Students can use Bb to check grades, balances, and add money to a food card. It is compatible w/Windows and UNIX edition of the transaction system. It requires version 3.1 of Windows/UNIX systems.

There are 7 CSU and a total of 35 ASP clients (blackboard hosted) in California. Data centers have much room for growth. Bb has re-architected their original data center. There was a total capital investment of two million.

Bb has a TCO report to justify using ASP. One could save over $ 100,000 over three years. Enterprise edition clients save even more. They have 3 shifts in the US today and skills are transferable. There is one European shift. Locally, building blocks can also hosted on the ASP site. No command line access is given. Bb is diligent about tickets and fixing problems.

< 5 Blackboard Building Blocks: Advanced Topic

This was presented by a senior architect from Blackboard. Blackboard Building Blocks provides the framework to extend blackboard. We don't currently utilize this but it is something should consider.

How do web services relate to building blocks? See below.

  • Definitions
  • SOAP the XML description of remote method binding.
    UDDI See the whatis definition.
    WSDL web service description method.

    Building blocks is a service oriented architecture. Put semantics into the message, rather than method. Building blocks are considered external web services. Think of blackboard as the server, not the Database.

    Building blocks are Java web applications with added metadata.

  • Challenges
    • Session Management
    • Use cookie redirects early on. Do as much as possible in a single call as calls are expensive

< 6 Blackboard Leaning System Becomes a Mission-Critical Application: A Success Story

Gary Friesen, Director of Academic Technology at Taylor University presented this session about their experience with the Bb deployment.

They do not want IT driving the direction - the Provost should. The University did re-org with Provost over both IT & AA - since 2002. Programs drive the technology. IT is much more service oriented since late 1990s.

The Director of Academic Technology position created in 1999. Every classroom was equipped with smart technology in 2004. AA technology has been reorganized. See the distance learning site at http://cll.taylor.edu/. The supply store is integrated with faculty lab. As part of extending classrooms, they also provide academic video feeds.

They are moving hard from "We do NOT support that!" to "The Answer is YES (almost always)". This has increased faculty trust and provided a reservoir of good-will for when we don't deliver. The administration was sold on the high Bb usage (70% in 2003), authorizing spending of 35000 $ for enterprise edition of Bb. This is no longer a single-department effort.

Taylor is still manually running batch files and looking into snapshot data integration. Cal Poly already does snapshot integration.

< 6.1 Reasons for Blackboard's Success at Taylor
  • Ease of use sold itself
  • Aggressive promotion
  • Aggressive philosophy - provide immediate access to faculty
  • Ready assistance
  • Word of mouth
  • Pressure from students
  • Effective training events
  • Bb resources site - for tips
  • Non-classroom applications (always said "yes")
    • perspective students
    • Who's new
    • Library orientation
    • Departmental sites
    • Used Books site
    • Lab schedules
    • Discussion boards
    • Student discussions
    • Tracking workouts
    • Promotion portfolios
    • Comprehensive exams
< 6.2 Creative re-purposing of Blackboard
  • E-portfolios - most significant impact.
  • Why buy the content system - Bb does all of this. They use Bb basic and provide a link directly to your portfolio. Current status: all freshman begin e-portfolio in COS104 - work on it for four years.

    The Career development office assists students in the senior year. Now, all student teachers must do an E-Portfolio.

< 6.3 Key Players

There were 6 key players.

  • AA high level admin
  • IT director
  • AA cheerleader
  • IT specialist
  • SIS data specialist
  • AA program assistant

The technical solution is often the easiest part.

URL: visit portfolio catalog

< 7 Other

I spoke to Bb support about an issue where the Email body is coming in blank when sent from Bb. One faculty has reported this. Bb indicated this was supposedly fixed in an earlier version.

  • Aglix
  • I was impressed by a product demo by Aglix. They offer the Backpack suite. These products allow students to download course information, giving them mark-up capability and refresh options. They can "sync up" and then do work off-line. A preview edition CD is available upon request.

  • Application Pack 3
  • I saw a demo of Application Pack 3 and its features and other products (literature available upon request). Application Pack 3 provides a much improved look and feel and some new features. Bb demonstrated some nice login screen customization (optional).

    Other features (selected) are listed below.

    • Adaptive Release
    • Course content can be displayed for a limited period of time or when users meet some predetermined requirement. Content can be audience specific.

    • Syllabus Builder
    • The Syllabus Builder is a tool that makes Syllabus creation simple for all level of experience.

    • Gradebook and Assessment
    • The Performance Dashboard tool has been added, allowing instructors to see key information and outcomes for all course users. It displays information such as last login time, course role, content availability.

      There are many more Assessment improvements - information available upon request.

    • Course Map Enhancement
    • The course map and menu have both been enhanced. The course map has been completely redesigned to support the new advanced course menu.

    • Community System
      • Direct Access Branding - to the initial tabs and modules
      • Module Tab enhancements
      • What's New Module