Will performance problems with Blackboard be resolved?

QUESTION:
What is the situation regarding the performance issues that are sometimes / often experienced by Blackboard users?

 
ANSWER:
Since September 2012 the Blackboard system has been delivered via an externally hosted managed service provided by Blackboard in Amsterdam. Following reports of a number of performance issues impacting on student learning and University staff, Information Services have been working with Blackboard as upmost priority to resolve these problems.

As part of the investigations, discussions have taken place with other institutions that use Blackboard (Keele, Liverpool, Manchester, and Leicester); sharing experiences and best practice and facilitating comparative tests from other campuses to our Blackboard environment in Amsterdam.

As a result of investigations, a number of performance issues have been resolved which related to the configuration of the hosted server environment in Amsterdam.

However, more recently on-going testing has established that there was also an issue relating to a network device within the University. This has recently been resolved and the latest tests undertaken this week indicate a very significant decrease in the time taken to download files from the Blackboard server. Further monitoring and investigation will take place to ensure that performance is at the optimum level possible.

Information Services appreciate the support given by colleagues across the institution during the investigation which has proven very difficult to resolve.

Why are Blackboard down times scheduled to coincide with exams and assignment hand-ins?

QUESTION:

Why are Blackboard down times scheduled to coincide with exams and assignment hand-ins?

On 18 December staff in the School of Computing received an email announcing that Blackboard would be unavailable on 5/6 January and were told that this had been scheduled from the start of term. This was the first that I, and as far as I know other members of teaching staff had heard of this.

Exams began on 7 January which meant that students needed access to revision material. My students were scheduled to hand in via Blackboard on 6 January. Term had finished on 14 December which meant a scramble to email students to ensure they knew they had to download in advance/that the assignment hand in had been extended.

Can IS: (i) avoid scheduling downtime for the week preceding the January exams, the week preceding the start of the summer assessment period, the week before the referral week.  (ii) email teaching staff well in advance to inform them about downtimes so that we can make sure our students know.

 
ANSWER:
Information Services publishes a calendar of planned maintenance via the web and also provides updates of this regularly via RSS.

The first weekend of every month and the last weekend following the end of term was approved by Deans/Directors (at the Information Strategy Group) as the agreed period when IS may need to schedule planned IT maintenance.

The work on 5th and 6th January was the essential replacement of end of life core network equipment which would become unsupported if not replaced. This upgrade had been scheduled to utilise one of the defined maintenance periods and was publicised as follows:
•The downtime was first notified via RSS on 1st October as part of the published schedule to August 2013.
•A reminder was published on RSS on 23rd November and again 18th December.
•It was also included on the IS blog.

RSS is the University’s communication mechanism and we use this to publish information about planned downtime. We have added the following message now to these communications asking that staff consider the impact of the planned downtime and let colleagues and students know if they think it will have an adverse impact:

We do publish the details of this Scheduled IT maintenance unavailability in as many places as possible to give advanced warning, but appreciate it is sometimes difficult to inform everyone especially distance learners. If you feel the work detailed below may affect your colleagues or students please can we ask that you pass this information onto them too, to ensure all are aware of any interruption to their access to resources and services. As always if you have any queries please contact the service desk

Moving forwards, a cross University group is in the process of being formed to refine the principles agreed by ISG to minimise the impact on University activities.

Why is access to Blackboard so tightly controlled?

Question:

Why is access to Blackboard so tightly controlled? I only have access to Blackboard for modules on which I’m the leader, or where the module leader has requested that I be added. This means that none of us has much insight into the other modules a student is taking.
 
In other institutions I’ve encountered, all staff have access to the Blackboard VLE for all modules. This makes it easy to check, for example, that the students are not being taught the same material elsewhere; and to learn from each others’ ‘best practice’.  I can think of no reason why the same system does not cooperate at Staffs.

Answer:

There is no “policy” as such about this.   Practice here has always been to give access on  Blackboard modules to those staff requested by the module leader.  Staff access to a module gives rights to post and change things that a module leader may wish to control.   We have had requests (for example where a module is taught across partners) to make this even more restrictive, but have decided not to do this.  

It is possible to give read-only access but this would result in a huge list of names on the module in BB which would confuse students and would not be practical.   Guest access would enable ANYONE to view a module, but that is not something Faculties have asked for (as it would make their content freely available to anybody outside of the organisation.)

It is likely that a University that can do what is described as using the BB Content and Community systems (we currently just use the Learning system) – but that comes with a heavy additional cost which is not something we can approve at this time.