Take the time to redesign

Every system has a group of policy and practice associated with it: WebCT 4.x and Bb Vista 3.x to Bb Vista 8.x are no exceptions.

Why do we upgrade and insist on keeping our old policy and practice? It’s time consuming to include rethinking the business in an upgrade. But from WebCT 4 to Bb Vista, it’s just possible there are efficiencies to gain.

Or, you could do them later. As a separate project. But periodically, as newer versions have different features, it will be worth it.

Can you avoid customizing? These are not the days to be thinking of customizing… with change inevitable, you will be rewriting that customization again and again.

Notre Dame has three main customizations we designed back in Vista 3, two of which have methods in vanilla Bb Vista we could adapt. Our three:

1. Instructor Control of Copy Content (what)

Customized version: We used SunGard Banner’s SSB pages to build a custom page. We put in a database link between Banner and Vista. We created some perl to take query returns and create the xml to run through siapi such that a section could be deleted and recreated using Instructor-specified content (usually the content from last semester). cron looks for new requests every 20 minutes and processes them.

Vanilla option: If no content was assigned as default when the section was originally created, Instructor/Designers logging in for the first time see a ‘Copy Content’ screen and are able to navigate to any other content on the server which they’ve previously designed. Business Practice Change? Negligible. Administrator intervention? Still needed if the content belongs to another Instructor.

2. Instructor Control of Course Link Visibility to Students (when)

Customized version: Again we used SunGard Banner’s SSB pages to build a custom page to expose sections to Instructors. We did a big no-no on this one to cover for make this work in spite of LDI’s real-time synchronization, a database trigger (unsupported by Bb). Essentially we fudge the section start and end dates, making them identical at initial import (along with institution use of Learning Context, Course Availability to Students section start/end date setting), prohibiting real-time events from changing those section dates. If an Instructor specifies the section link should be visible to students, we create a siapi event (which our trigger allows through) changing the start date /time to be one hour prior to the Instructor’s click and the section end date/time to be 3 weeks later than the official end of term date). We record the instructor’s action in a table so that we can reverse the visibility at the end of the semester.

Vanilla option: Use the institutional Learning Context "Course Availability to Students" setting of "Not available before section starts/after section ends" and Unlock it, so that Instructors can enter their coursesite, navigate to it, and open their own section to students by changing that setting to "Always available" at whatever point in time, before the semester starts several weeks after, or whatever day they want the link to become visible. Caveat: We still can not use the term setting or it will not truly give Instructors control of ‘when,’ which means that we still need some kind of administrative intervention to close a semester after it’s over.

3. Instructor Control of Multiple Section Combinations into Single Coursesite (how many)

Customized version: SunGard Banner SSB page. Perl. Bb Vista command line siapi. cron job. Instructor selects which of their sections they wish to combine into a ‘supersection,’ our Perl script checks to see if any of those sections are already crosslisted and if so, de-crosslists through xml before the command line to crosslist all their sections into a single coursesite. Caveats: Administrator intervention required if multiple Instructors wish to team teach since no one of them has access to all sections to initiate the cross-list.

Vanilla option: None currently exists.

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3 responses to “Take the time to redesign

  1. 1. Samford moved from CE4 to CE6 a bit late and fortunately found the Bb solution as our means of operating.
    2. We opted to make the course/sections unavailable and leave it up to the prof to turn it on when they are ready. So start/end dates are from Banner. Also, our CIO has a philosophy to make coursework available to students for several years for reference, so we don’t make them unavailable. We even have the CE4 server still running for historical purposes and access. I would like to know your rationale for making them unavailable.
    3. I like your process and would love to have it. I didn’t hear back from your programmer.
    Thanks for all your helpful comments.

  2. Dennis,
    Our courses are blended. Instructors make use of assessments without much thought to resuse issues. We figure we’re removing just a little of student honor code violations by making past courses and their associated quizzes, etc. unavailable. That’s one rationale. (Is it as lame as it sounds now that I type it?)
    Another issue that comes up is the length of My Blackboard course list and its sort order making it difficult for students to find current semester links if there are past semester links visible.

  3. Eek, We don’t want to use the institutional setting for Student Course Availability of ‘No access before/after sectin start/end dates’!!!
    We want to set it to NEVER, and reset and apply to children at term boundaries.

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