Category Archives: KnowledgeBaseVista4

Bringing Blackboard Vista 8 into the Oracle 11g world..

Just a few notes, probably only of significance to myself, of the work involved when the technology around a software changes even as that software is being brought to an end of life…

Blackboard’s CE and Vista product is scheduled to be de-supported in January of 2013. Notre Dame will continue to run it as we come along side it with another system and move our Faculty and Students to it.

  • Meanwhile Oracle has de-supported (as of June 2010) its database software version Oracle 10g, on which many institutions have been running their Bb Vista databases.
  • Meanwhile Oracle has acquired Java and issued Update 29 of Java 6 (available for PCs Oct 10th and for Mac 10.6.8 and Mac 10.7.1 shortly thereafter) with which Bb Vista 8 doesn’t play well.
  • Meanwhile Oracle 11g is being deployed as a database cluster – RAC, that is, a feature some of this older software wouldn’t have dreamed of.

This just makes keeping the old girl running that much more of an effort.

This week here at Notre Dame we validated our Bb Vista 8 Dev environment to service pack 6 (SP6) on our Oracle 11g RAC database farm. Here were our tests:

Test Result
NDCustom copy content tool (uses siapi) perl, cron, DB link to Banner, permissions, UI display: all looks good
Created supersections with our NDcustom job (uses siapi) Same as above. Passed.
Took a quiz while stopping the database on one node (no failover). System Exception error. Session remained open. Saved answers were saved. When database ‘returned’ saves continued. Repeated logged messages as app tried to reconnect to the database. Passed
Took a quiz while gracefully failing over database nodes. No system exception error. Session remained open. Everything saved correctly. Only indication the db node had failed over was watching the netstat –a close connections on 1 db and open on another node, also saw 1 unpinned connection error in the logs. RAC works!
JMS real-time messaging server failover Still fails. Same behavior as always. Recommend Weblogic setting to leave Target set to a single non-migratable node.
Background Jobs: Garbage Collection. Deleted hundreds of courses. Checked timing & completion. No essential change in performance. GC completes & took over an hour. Our live system job  averages 2 hrs nightly on 10g to complete. We now anticipate the same on 11g.
Background Jobs: Content Index Search No essential change between 10g and 11g. Works. Passes.
Background Jobs: Tracking Event No essential change between 10g and 11g. Works. Passes.

Blackboard/SunGard Grade Adapter Integration

Integration Dependencies

  • Banner Configuration
  • Your Institution’s grading validation rules and their application to each gradeable course (Please comment or email if you have more details).
  • The Luminis grade adapter (SunGard product)
  • The Blackboard Vista/CE JMS architecture as it pertains to clustered environments.  Hopefully Release 8, Service Pack 1’s ‘fix’ will more broadly address the architecture rather than just supply a fix. These two issues currently make grade exchange non-functional (as well as reliable enrollment synchronization) in clustered application environments:

4.2.0.x / 6.2.0.x
IMS API/3rd Party Integration
Other nodes in the cluster are incorrectly picking Grade Exchange events, preventing the JMS node from picking up the Grade Exchange and processing it in a timely manner.
Scheduled to be fixed in Release 8.0 SP1

4.2.0.x / 6.2.0.x
IMS API/3rd Party Integration
Live Luminis events and SIAPI imports on Clustered AP2 systems may fail as they are being dispersed across all nodes. so that events are processed out of order.
Scheduled to be fixed in Release 8.0 SP1

GradeBook Usability Issues

Current Vista/CE 4.2.x/6.3.x
  • SIS” is not Faculty friendly. As a non-standard implementatioln, it is non-intuitive that clicking this ‘greater than’ sign merely presents the page on which grade submission is accomplished. Most faculty believe they ARE submitting grades by clicking it. export_to_sis_green_arrow_poor_design

When another screen presents itself, they find it confusing.

    • By default the dropdown screen above displays only “Select”, so that it’s not even clear where Faculty might go inside their GradeBooks to submit their students’ midterm or final grades.


    • “SIS” itself is not a term in use by our Faculty.
    • Whether by poor design, or by defect, the 4.2.3 trials ran at the University of Notre Dame indicate no controls exist for resubmitting grades (SunGard defect?) should multiple Instructors use the same coursesite and accidentally attempt to submit a midterm or final grade for a student for which they are not the Banner Instructor of Record.
Next Gen “Grade Center” (not in Vista/CE 8 but the version after that)
    • The University of Notre Dame is currently evaluating a sandbox copy of the Blackboard Academic Suite which is said to already contain the gradebook which is to be used in the next gen merged product. The new Grade Center has no obvious way to submit grades to an SIS. We are currently investigating whether this is because the sandbox isn’t integrated with an SIS or whether the Bb Academic Suite enables grade submission through some other tool besides the Grading mechanism.
    • It is unclear to me whether the current integration issues, with enrollment synching, as well as grade exchange, are being adequately considered and client design input invited. Stay tuned to this channel as I learn more.

Configure an Anonymous Gradeable Discussion Topic at your own risk …

How should this feature be designed? It’s bewildering.

I got an email this week from an Instructor who wanted students to be able to submit suggestions through a discussion topic without peer pressure. So she configured the topic to be anonymous.

But she wanted to offer a grade for some of the best ideas. So she configured the topic to be gradeable.

But anonymous from student to student is also anonymous to the Instructor. Go figure.

But the system allowed her to do it anyway.

Obviously a bug. But how should it work?

Grade Submission from Bb Vista to SCT Sungard Banner: Testing Failures Continue

Yesterday’s testing revealed a new flaw/quirk -call it what you will: a new way grade submission fails.

The first section of midterm grades contained 243 students. All students were selected to Export to SIS. I pushed the button as the Instructor at 2:27pm. Almost instantaneously, as soon as I canceled out of that screen and got back in, the message awaited me, "Grade Exported to SIS."

Sweet. Elegant. But not repeatable. Read on…

Then, at 2:59pm, I submitted the midterm grades for the 2nd class, one of 220 students, to which I was also assigned as Instructor. My colleague at the Registrar’s Office was on the phone with me.

I immediately notice in the Weblogic Console, unlike the first attempt, I now have a 1 in the "Messages Pending Count" of the Outbound queue. At 3:04pm, 5 minutes after submission, my colleague says Banner has received 77 of the midterm grades. We had experienced a 5 minute latency before when messages go to the Vista Internal Queue.

And there seems to be no way to predict what messages will queue and what won’t.

But this time, ah… this time, it stops there. Only 77 of the 220 grades are received by Banner. Then it gets weirder. In Bb Vista, the Instructor gets no "Grade Exported to SIS" comforting message. Instead, after 30 minutes, all grades, including the 77 that made it over, receive this message:


DST Change only Three Weeks Away…

Those of you who think the blog bug is being neutralized in one Laura Gekeler, think again… I will be here.

You haven’t heard from me because we have a number of open support tickets of a serious (to us) nature. Last week I even missed the VistaSWAT call which I knew would discuss this DST hotfix topic, but I was engaged in tracking down an SCT Banner / Bb Vista sync problem …another posting.

So what’s up with this DST time issue? We have a Support Bulletin released Jan. 29th telling us there’s a Hotfix release candidate for Daylight Savings problems. A release candidate? Three weeks from the event horizon? You’ve got to be kidding. Blackboard… come on!

I am NOT installing a release candidate in production. I am NOT installing a release candidate in development and believing I can then jump to the final release for installation into production. Hello?

Why are we even dealing with daylight savings time again?

What are other DST symptoms in your environments? I see this one where assignments set up now which are due on March 9th get assigned a due time an hour later than what you set it, as opposed to assignments on this side of the date shift. I have to assume this occurs in other date sensitive tools as well.



The calendar tool has its own problems in addition to daylight savings.

Weekly Feature? User tutorials… in Jing

I finally had a chance to play around with TechSmith’s ‘quick and dirty’ screen capture freebie called Jing. Here’s the result of some caffeine, a Plantronic headset with mic, and a whole bunch of support tickets that started me thinking… It only records, no editing that I can find. Output is a .swf file. This may become a weekly feature on this blog…

File Upload in Notre Dame’s Concourse CMS (Bb Vista)

The part that doesn’t work so well is embedding it so that it plays in the blog window (a la YouTube). It does not miniaturize well, so any embedding code I use causes the view to be of only part of the original Flash. This was my final attempt at embed src code:

Post SP3 Garbage Collection Failures

I opened ticket #504803 with Bb on Monday and was less than gratified to not get a response until today. (Our TSM is on vacation according to his out of office reply message).

So today I’m told to run the GC utility. I thought SP3 was supposed to correct GC?

Now, all I’ve consulted up to now is the serverAdmin UI, so before I go off trying to get this scheduled before the start of the semester, I’ve got some questions (I wish the Bb reply asked these questions, but all they said was to run the GC utility).

So, I ran “select * from archive_unit where deleted = 1” logged in as both the webct schema user and the webct$PF schema user and lo and behold, there are no records marked for deletion.

So why does the UI persist in telling me my GC’s are failing?