2019/2020 Modules now available (staff)

Modules for the academic year 2019/20 are now available for staff teaching on modules. You may have noticed that a new tab has appeared on the top menu of your Blackboard screen:

If you’re enrolled as a staff member on the module in Astra then you should be able to view your modules for next academic year. If you’re not able to see a module that you are enrolled on then contact your Departmental Administrator. Students won’t be enrolled on the module until registration is complete.

We’ve created 2019/20 modules earlier this year in order to assist staff in getting their modules ready following the second phase of Blank Course Copy, following last year’s Blank Course Copy for all Year 1 on campus modules.

This year, Blank Course Copy applies to all on-campus Year 2 and Year 3 modules. Year 2 and 3 modules created blank last year with your Departmental Template will be copied over into this year’s module.

We’ve got the following support available to help with Blank Course Copy:

If you have any queries regarding Blank Course Copy, or need further assistance, please email elearning@aber.ac.uk.

A reminder, that Blackboard will be unavailable on Thursday 29th August, 09:30-12:30 and will be at risk until 14:00 whilst we complete our work to migrate to SaaS. Blackboard will then be read only until Monday 2nd September.

Blackboard SaaS Update 5

Da iawn ni! The big development of this month has been a working version of the Welsh language interface. After a lot of thinking, and some investigations we have managed to

Iaith Gwaith logo - speech bubble containing the word Cymraeg

find a way to recreate our Welsh language tabs and boxes on the new SaaS environment. As users you won’t notice anything different, but for us it’s a major step forward. And it’s all nicely documented (all 9 pages of it!) to make sure that anyone in the team can do it, should we need to. It’s nice to see Blackboard back to its bilingual normality!

We’re also looking for teaching and administrative staff to help test the new Blackboard SaaS environment. If you are interested, please email us on elearning@aber.ac.uk

We’ll give our testers access to copies of their Blackboard modules on the SaaS site. We will then ask you to

  • Look at the course materials and check they work as you expect
  • Use some of the Blackboard tools to make sure they are working normally
  • Spot and report any problems or issues

All staff are welcome to join the testing. We are especially looking for staff who use Blackboard in Welsh or who use tools like tests and discussion boards.

If you would like more information, you can email elearning@aber.ac.uk

Blackboard SaaS Update 4

The focus of most of our testing over the last month has been making sure that our local settings in Blackboard work correctly. We’ve spent a lot of time working on the Welsh language translation. Our translation files are quite old and need updating, so we’ll be spending time getting the Welsh interface working correctly.

We’re also checking all the main Blackboard tools to make sure that they work as we expect – and for that to work properly we will need your help. We plan to invite staff to test the new SaaS environment to get more feedback – look out for an email inviting you to join the testing group.

In the last blog post we mentioned we are planning downtime for the final data transfer. It has been quite hard to find a suitable time that isn’t either too early or disruptive during the supplementary exam period. We believe that we’ve now found a suitable date. Our plan is to take Blackboard out of service on 29th August. It should take a couple of hours to transfer the data and when we bring Blackboard back into service it will be read-only until 2nd September. If staff need access to update anything between 29th August and 2nd September, please email elearning@aber.ac.uk

Blackboard SaaS Update 2

At the end of last month, we blogged about getting our hands on a test Blackboard SaaS environment. This month we’ve started the process of testing the environment and finding out the differences and similarities between SaaS and our current version of Blackboard.

A lot of the work this month is being done by our Blackboard Project Manager in Amsterdam. Blackboard have taken a full copy of our local version and are importing it into the new SaaS system. Once this is done, we’ll be able to have a look at our existing courses, check that the migration process has worked and that everything is behaving as expected. This will mean looking at existing content, testing all the tools work properly, and running through all the normal daily processes we use.

In the meantime, we are testing all the Building Blocks that have been developed in-house at AU. Building Blocks are the Blackboard name for extension tools – some examples of Building Blocks you’ll recognise are Turnitin and Panopto. A Building Block embeds third-party functionality into Blackboard, for example using Blackboard enrolments to control permissions, and making it easy to display content in a Blackboard module. However, there are other tools that you use every day, but you probably don’t even know have been created at AU. The scrolling banner and My Modules box are examples of these. We also have some tools that we as System Admins use and ordinary users will never see – things that allow us to deliver the NSS information to third year students or provide a Blackboard feed to ApAber.

The testing process has involved documenting what each tool does and how it behaves now. We then use the same tool in our SaaS environment to check that it has the same outcome and behaves the same way. We make sure that all Building Blocks are tested in multiple browsers, as well as on PC and Apple. Where appropriate we’ll also test on a mobile device. And of course, we check in both English and Welsh. Once this has been done, we’ll pass feedback to our local developers for any changes that might be needed. And then the process starts again.

We’re also getting used to the continuous deployment cycle that we talked about in the last blog post. This means making sure we receive the emails that come from Blackboard and read them closely to look at what’s changing for our environment. We may have fixes for problems we’ve reported or new / updated tools. Once the deployment has been installed, we then need to test each of the new items to make sure it does what we expect it to do as well as making sure that our bug has been fixed where appropriate. We may also need to update our documentation, FAQs etc to reflect the changes that will be made.

Blackboard SaaS update 1

Blackboard LogoMany of you will have seen the announcement that AU is moving to the cloud-hosted, Blackboard SaaS platform. We plan to provide a monthly update on the progress of the project via the E-learning blog and this is our first update.

SaaS stands for Software as a Service, and there are advantages of moving to using Blackboard SaaS. The first, and most welcome one, is no more downtime once we have migrated to SaaS . Currently we have two planned maintenance periods every year – two days during the Christmas vacation and two days in the summer. Followers of this blog will know how difficult it is to plan these, and how it is virtually impossible to find a time that suits everyone. Blackboard SaaS is upgraded without any downtime (you can find out more about this and other SaaS features at https://uk.blackboard.com/learning-management-system/saas-deployment.html).

There will be a period of downtime as part of the migration process, but this will be communicated to you closer to the time. And the good news is that once we have moved, there will be no more Christmas or summer downtime announcements!

SaaS is upgraded using a ‘continuous deployment’ method – this means that every month Blackboard will be updated to the latest version. This update includes both bug fixes and new features. So, you should find problems get fixed earlier and you won’t have to wait too long for new tools or updates to current tools.

There is plenty of information about Blackboard SaaS online; if you do have a look, please note that there are two different versions of Blackboard available on SaaS, Original and Ultra. We’re planning to move to the Original version initially – and we’ll consider Ultra in the future.

Since we sent out the initial announcement, the E-learning Group and Systems Integration team have spent a lot of time getting to know SaaS. One of the most exciting things has been being given access to a completely fresh, new version of Blackboard. Most of us have never seen Blackboard without any courses or any users – it was a little bit like being faced with a patch of fresh snow!!

Our first priorities are to make sure that all the main features work as expected, and to check that all the add-ins (or Building Blocks) we use work correctly. We use Building Blocks for a whole host of things, from Turnitin and Panopto, to the scrolling banner on the homepage.

If you have any questions about Blackboard SaaS, you can contact us on elearning@aber.ac.uk