Report on Blackboard – Learning Management System Page 1 of 3 Sept 14, 2007 Report to SCC Campus Information Technology Committee By Melissa Green, Instructional Development Coordinator Shared Governance role in LMS selection ♦ A district-wide evaluation of learning management options was initiated by ETC in 2000-01 and faculty selected Blackboard because of the “ease of use” for students and faculty. (So easy to use, why attend the four-day training?) We began using Blackboard in 2001 as part of the California Virtual Campus with a limit of 25 courses per campus. ♦ Campus IT reports to Academic and Classified Senates and Management Council. Campus IT representatives also participate on the Educational Technology Committee, ETC, a shared governance committee comprised of representation from all Los Rios colleges. The Blackboard Academic System (Bb) is used by all colleges in Los Rios for online, hybrid and web-enhanced classes. Fall 2007 – first 8 weeks data Online Other Course sections 108 316 Enrollments 4124 10606 Required Updates Every software publisher continues to improve their product and add features over time. So we can expect that all software will be updated regularly. It is not just the LMS software that changes, it is also our own computer operating systems and the Office Suite used. When we started using Bb, the version was 5.5 when Bb was written in PERL. Desktop operating systems were Windows NT and Macintosh OS 9. At Los Rios, are now using Bb version 7.1. written in Java. Our computers will be upgraded to Windows Vista, Office 2007, Macintosh OS X 10.5 and Office 2008. Bb has not officially "blessed" Microsoft Vista or Internet Explorer 7 as compatible with version 7.1. The current release of Bb is up to version 7.3. Soon corporate support for Bb 7.1 will expire and we will be forced to update. In Los Rios we test the next Bb update before applying it to our production server. Our testing process reviews features but cannot test the update under user load. Los Rios policy recommends that we do not adopt a new release of Blackboard software until other colleges have discovered the bugs and Bb has published hot fixes. Sometimes testing of a release or hot fix is fast tracked because Bb Corporate promises the hot fix solves problems identified with our current production version. Report on Blackboard – Learning Management System Page 2 of 3 Sample Problems Problems with Bb do not occur in all courses or for all users. Often this is because of the range of features used independently in each course. Some problems are caused by users trying to post large files or inappropriate file types for an online environment. Sometimes the users do not understand the feature and are twisting a feature in unintended ways. We try to balance these issues in training during the SCC Online Institutes and SCC has started a Blog to report issues to faculty. However, there are other problems that are caused by networks, server hardware and vendor software. As the district office IT contractor identifies problems to corporate Bb, where vendor support points to weaknesses in our networks and server hardware. Over the last three years DO-IT has systematically improved our networks and hardware but we still experience problems. DO-IT has isolated the remaining source of Bb problems as too many users and poorly written Java code. Over three years we have not been able to keep course statistics and tracked data for more than a week and we are struggling with the assessment modules of Bb especially during midterms and finals. Within the Bb software, too many records are colliding in the database when many users are taking tests. Other problems arise when courses are recycled for a new semester, but some orphan data remains. The batch process to archive courses had glitches last spring. At the end of spring 2007, we attempted a massive cleanup of orphan data but the process recommended by Bb did not work. As summer 2007 courses began, Bb had a catastrophic failure and content in some courses was lost. System backups can restore complete file systems but not individual courses or components of courses. When classes began for fall 2007, Bill Karns (Vice Chancellor for Education and Technology) asked that web-enhanced classes not use surveys or tests within Bb taking away one essential feedback option and justification for using Bb in the first place. It is critical that students and faculty can rely on the learning management system for course content and grades. Evaluating Bb and Reviewing Options for Learning Management Options ETC members agreed that a review of Bb is long overdue and a survey of students and faculty was released last spring. It is time to evaluate our LMS options to identify the best fit for the Los Rios colleges. The process will include interested faculty who are invested in the LMS choice and can see beyond simple self interest. Participation will require action over a short timeframe in October and November 2007. I am drafting a survey for all Bb users to identify critical LMS features and to prepare alternative scenarios for course content, including non-LMS options: Manila (membership), wserver (password protected directories), Adobe Acrobat (password protected files), and CD-ROM / DVD media. Report on Blackboard – Learning Management System Page 3 of 3 Recommendations proposed for IT action Integrate Bb Request & Status with our Online Grading System Students are not served by the current process for faculty to request Bb course shells or to link rosters to Bb courses. This recommendation is not tied to bb and should be fast tracked for programming for summer 2008. Identify Hybrid, Online and Web Enhanced courses in Peoplesoft along with orientation time, day and location Students are not served by the lack of information about courses using our LMS. Currently courses are not identified by mode of delivery in Peoplesoft when assigned by deans. This information is required to adequately plan for services, prepare the printed and online schedules.. Orientation information is stored in a “notes” field that is not searchable. Orientation information is usually out-of-date and other decentralized approaches to informing students of these important meetings are chaotic. Media Server Faculty are responding to various learning styles of students and are adding video and audio content in the LMS. It is best if these large files are hosted on a media server with links from the LMS. Media Server implementation is in progress. Help Desk All student and faculty help requests should go through the 24/7 Help Desk and not directly to Melissa or Jory.
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