Blackboard 9.1 bugs

BbSince I started teaching a live course in Blackboard 9.1 this Spring, I’ve discovered some bugs and glitches that hopefully will get ironed out. Here’s a list and current status:

1. Discussion grader won’t work (click “grade” for student to grade their participation and nothing happens; has been reported to Bb but no details on when a fix is coming.)

2. Logging into Blackboard 9.1 from the log-in screen sometimes gets ignored. (clicking login just refreshes the page, but doesn’t get me in; ECU is still trying to figure out what’s up)

3. E-mail all students from the grade book will e-mail everyone, even students that have been made unavailable (not something we commonly do at ECU, but it is a bug; no fix known).

4. Whenever I submit an update for anything, a green confirmation bar appears at the top of the page. I then scroll down the page to grade something else, and it jumps back to the top every time (it seems that green bar takes a while to finish loading…even though it appears instantly. Waiting for 6+ seconds after it appears will allow you to scroll that page without a forced visit to the top again. (nagging glitch!!)

Overall, it has been quite smooth other than the discussion grader not working. Students seemed pleased and like the new look/feel. The journal feature is reaping major benefits, as students are reflecting very effectively.

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Blackboard 9.1 Grade Center filtering

WIth my large online course of 100 students (no T.A. by the way!), the Blackboard grade center loads dog-slow most of the time (even when empty at the beginning of the semester). I needed a way to view only things I care about at any given time.

Well, I’ve discovered smart views! Listed under the “manage” button, you can create special views that filter out everything in your grade book except what you need. For example, I only wanted to see items that needed grading (quizzes that went over time limits, written assignments waiting to be graded, etc.). I simply set-up a new smart view that would only show that info. Now it only shows students that have ungraded items and the grade center loads really fast!

I also created a smart view that shows me only certain chunks of the grade center. Example: I only want to see student grades for course assignments related to chapters 1-5 in the textbook. No problem: the smart view for chapters 1-5, when clicked, shows me just those columns.

This is definitely a timesaver, since I don’t have to go into the full grade center in order to view a smart view. The smart views are displayed below the grade center link in the new control panel of Blackboard 9.1.

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Students and the Proctoring System

Since sending my MUSC 2226 students the link to the UNC exam proctoring site, I checked to see how many had reserved a proctor (I sent my students the link back in December when I originally keyed in my exam info).

Surprise! As of today, 20 students have reserved a proctoring system. Many chose ECU’s own proctoring center, located next door to K&W Cafeteria.

The proctoring system sent out a message to students when I first created the exam entry back in late December, but since some students have come and gone, I wanted to send a reminder. Unfortunately, the UNC system won’t do that this early (it nags the students as the exam gets closer). However, a quick e-mail to Mandy Dough fixed that. She asked the techie guys to trigger another reminder to my roster today. They said they hope to have a way to have faculty do this within a week or so.

I haven’t seen the message that goes out to the students, but it basically indicates the course and exam(s) that will need proctoring, along with links and basic instructions.

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Blackboard 9.1 compatible browsers

I wanted to pass along a web site that shows which browsers are best for Blackboard 9.1:

http://kb.blackboard.com/pages/viewpage.action?pageId=55574750

Basically, Firefox 3.6 is the best for ALL Mac users; Firefox 3.6 and Internet Explorer 8 (Windows Vista or Windows 7) work best for Windows PCs, although I think there’s an issue with IE 8, so I’d recommend Firefox 3.6 only for any user.

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First impressions: UNC proctoring system

In addition to testing Blackboard 9.1 this Spring in my MUSC 2226 online course (100 students), I chose to also incorporate the exam proctoring system at UNC-GA’s academic services site. This system is only for online courses at the present time.

I contacted Mandy Dough who resides at ECU and handles coordination of the proctoring service. After giving her my course information, it took a couple of days before my course was entered into the system. EASY

When you first visit the UNC Online Academic Services page, you have to login before you can begin to schedule your exams in the system. Scheduling must be done before your students can log in and reserve a proctor. The cool thing is that you use your PirateID and password when you login to the UNC site! The first time you login, you have to select ECU as your campus. Future logins automatically remember ECU. EASY

Once you log-in, You are greeted with a listing of your courses that have been entered into the proctoring system. Students cannot see it as of yet. Clicking a course brings up three tabs, including your class roster (it talks with Banner), and a listing of exams which is blank by default. I clicked the “Add Exam or Exam Details” button and followed the instructions. FAIRLY EASY

I learned that it is very important that you don’t enter an exam into the system unless you are absolutely confident that that exam date (or dates, since you can make it available for a period of time without worry) is/are solid. Once the exam is entered in, it can be deleted, but that would require students to re-reserve a proctor once you re-post an exam. Luckily, the system allows you to make a few adjustments (typos to the proctor’s instructions, student instructions, etc.) but you can’t adjust the date(s) of the exam. Lastly, if you click the “provide” button at the end of entering in your exam info, that makes the exam available on the dates you’ve provided. You can click that button early or wait until closer to the exam time. I chose to click it when I created the exam entry (nothing will change between now and April!)

I chose to only give my last exam as a proctored exam. With this new to myself and my students, I didn’t want to add any more undue stress to my students. After all, they are also dealing with the new Blackboard 9 test too!

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Blackboard 9.1 and Internet Explorer

One bug that has been driving me crazy involves Internet Explorer. It ignores HTML tags that involve images and aligning them left or right. I use HTML to spruce up my Blackboard course and add images that go with announcements, etc.. They look fine with Safari and Firefox, but lousy with IE. I had to create HTML tables in announcements or wherever I wanted images to wrap to the right of text, to force Internet Explorer to display things right.

Matt Long has let Blackboard, Inc. know, but I haven’t heard anything yet.

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Hampton U. offers doctoral degrees online

Sure, we all know about bachelors and masters degrees online, but a doctorate? Not only a doctorate but one in nursing, business leadership, and educational leadership and management (eh-hem, ECU?).

It’s all part of their new virtual campus starting this Fall. They’ll also have two masters degrees and eight bachelor’s degrees, along with assortment of associate degrees and certificates. It’s $425 per CH for bachelors degrees and $600 per CH for graduate and doctorate.

I see this is potentially major competition with ECU as a leader in distance education, assuming these are quality programs and everything is properly accredited.

Oh, did I mention? They’ll have a 24/7 help desk too. Here’s the full story from the Daily Press:

http://www.dailypress.com/news/hampton/hampton-university/dp-nws-hu-online-20100702,0,5068187.story

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Questions being asked when students choose online instructors

Students seeking online courses are starting to get more guidance from all sorts of sources in what they should be looking for in an instructor who teaches online. According to a recent US News and World Repoort article, there are six primary questions that all students should ask when choosing an online instructor:

1. Are you proficient at using a variety of software programs?
2. How quickly do you respond to student e-mail?
3. Do you utilize new technologies in the course?
4. Do you set clear expectations and instructions for students?
5. How do you build an online community?
6. How flexible are you with adult learners?

Within the comments provided by readers of the article, additional (and useful) questions were added, including: Who developed the curriculum and What accommodations do you make if I have trouble mastering the material or a concept?

To delve more into these areas of focus, check out the article.

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Google Apps continue to grab foothold in schools

Google reveals that two more US states have given the green light for interested school districts to begin using the company’s Web-based applications, reports Information Week:

http://www.informationweek.com/news/storage/security/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=225701685&subSection=News

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Senator raises concerns about for-profit colleges

Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) raised concerns today that the rapidly growing number of students enrolled in for-profit colleges coupled with a dramatic increase in federal student aid dollars flowing to these schools may create a national crisis in higher education. Durbin made his remarks today in speech before the National Press Club.

“There is growing concern that we could be looking at a repeat of the subprime mortgage fiasco, with low-income, high-risk students mortgaging their futures – not on overpriced homes this time, but on worthless diplomas,” said Durbin.

“Let me be clear: There are many good trade schools and for-profit colleges, and they serve a vital purpose, supplying job training that helps people take the next step up the economic ladder. But there are also a lot of bad for-profit schools that are raking in huge amounts of federal dollars while leaving students poorly trained and over their heads in debt.”

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