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UMBC Blackboard Update
Fall 2003

This update is provided by the Office of Information Technology for students, faculty and staff using Blackboard at UMBC. If you have questions or suggestions, contact John Fritz at fritz@umbc.edu or 410.455.6596. For more information about using Blackboard, visit http://blackboard.umbc.edu or send email to blackboard@umbc.edu.


1. Bb6 Upgrade Postponed for All But Pilot Courses in Spring 2004
2. UMBC Course Template To Be Used for Creating New Bb Courses
3. Spring 2004 Course Requests Due by 12/15

4. End of Semester Maintenance: Deleting/Hiding Old Courses & Unenrolling Students
5. Tip: Deleting Multiple Files in the Digital Drop Box
6. Tip: Creating Multiple Questions for Assessments at Once
7. FYI: January Training Schedule Available
8. FYI: OIT Seeks Graduate Assistant for Blackboard Support
9. FYI: Call for Presentations: Annual Conference on Distance Teaching & Learning (Deadline:1/31/04)


1. Bb6 Upgrade Postponed for All But Pilot Courses in Spring 2004

Unfortunately, OIT will not be proceeding with the planned upgrade to Blackboard version 6 for the Spring 2004 semester. While the October 26 test migration worked well, OIT’s Infrastructure and New Media groups have been focused on supporting the PeopleSoft initiative and don't want to proceed with a major Blackboard upgrade while there are still ongoing PeopleSoft issues. We want to be able to provide our full focus when we upgrade and feel it is best to wait until summer.

Blackboard 6 Features

If you’re considering piloting a Bb 6 course for Spring 2004, there are a few unique features in that we think faculty may find useful:

  • “Prune & Graft” content within a course or from one course to another. Import content once and move it wherever you like.
  • Collect assignments anywhere within the course, not just the digital drop box.
  • Export AND import the gradebook to/from Excel.
  • Customize the menus by adding your own content buttons and related folders and files

For more information, see Blackboard's own product overview site.

However, we do feel confident to move forward with a pilot of up to 20 courses that would help us test our customizations of Blackboard 6. Specifically, we would be testing our implementation of UMBC’s Web Single Sign-On system that allows UMBC users to login with their UMBC userid & password. Additionally, we want to test our data migration procedure that allows us to “auto enroll” all Blackboard course sites with officially enrolled UMBC students. Both features are critical to the user experience at UMBC, which has more than 10,000 users, 400 courses, 200 faculty and 100 organizations every semester.

Finally, we will be testing server “load balancing,” an optimal configuration for high demand installations of the software that Blackboard has said will be available in its 6.1 release in January 2004.

While a few faculty have been using Bb 6 since January 2003, the Spring 2004 pilot period would actually test UMBC’s authentication and auto enrollment customizations and Blackboard’s 6.1 release so that we can be ready for the full migration and upgrade at the end of the semester (in late May).

Blackboard 6 Course “Pilot” Guidelines

If you choose to pilot a course, OIT had developed the following guidelines or tips:

  • The course you choose to pilot will be copied into the version 6 server on January 9, 2003. Before this date, do all of your course development in our current server at http://blackboard.umbc.edu. After that date, do all of your course development on the Bb6 server (URL to be announced).
  • OIT will place an announcement in your course describing what you and your students need to do if you encounter a problem in the version 6 pilot environment. For example, you MUST first send an email request for help that contains a subject line of “BB6 Pilot Issue or Problem” followed by the specific nature of your problem (e.g., can’t login, software problem, etc.). We would ask to keep this announcement in your course throughout the semester.
  • Throughout the semester, you and your students may be asked to complete a survey about your experience with the software.
  • At the end of the semester, your course will NOT be migrated with all other courses. Instead, all pilot courses will be individually imported after the migration is complete for all courses, probably the end of May, before Summer Session I begins.
  • If you are interested in piloting a course on version 6 for the Spring 2004 semester, please send email to blackboard@umbc.edu or contact Bob Armstrong at rarmstro@umbc.edu or 5-3885.

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2. UMBC Course Template to be Used for Creating New Bb Courses

For all NEW courses to be taught in the Spring 2004 semester, OIT will be copying from a new UMBC Blackboard Course Template that faculty will need to customize and make available. Specifically, faculty will need to “turn on” or “make available” any courses that have been copied from the UMBC Bb Course Template, which contains specific instructions on how to do this, as well as how to insert your own course content to setup a basic course.

In the past, OIT has fulfilled requests for new courses only to find that the courses were never used. Apart from the time it takes us to create the course, students find themselves enrolled in a course that isn’t used (which is frustrating). They also can't leave it (which is irritating).

If you are already familiar with how to customize a Blackboard course, you will simply need to hide or remove the instructions in your template-based course. If you’re just starting out, the Template’s instructions will provide a basic orientation on how to do this. Alternately, you can sign up for one of our Introduction to Blackboard training workshops or request individual assistance by sending email to blackboard@umbc.edu.

UMBC Blackboard Template Guidelines

• OIT prefers all course management requests to be submitted through the course “create/copy/delete” form under the “Faculty” section on the UMBC Blackboard support page at http://blackboard.umbc.edu. This process will not change because of the new template.

• The new UMBC Blackboard Template will ONLY be used for NEW course requests, not copies of old courses. Also, the new Template will NOT override existing departmental templates (e.g., English, History, etc.).

• Your course will NOT be “auto enrolled” nor will it appear in the Blackboard course catalog unless you make it available (control panel --> course settings --> course availability).

• Tip: Customize your course before you make it available. By default, any course copied from the template will contain instructions on how to customize the course. OIT recommends that you hide or remove the Template’s instructions and add your own content. If you only turn the course on—but don’t customize the content—then your course “content” will look irrelevant to students.

• By default, the availability for all template-based courses will be set to “expire” two days after final grades are due for a semester (e.g., May 28 for Spring 2004). In addition to automatically updating the Blackboard course catalog, this will ensure that students don’t continue to have a link to a course they’re no longer enrolled in.

• Tip: You can bypass the default “expiration” by changing the course availability setting (see ? navigation above), but OIT asks that you delete all students who have not specifically requested continued access or an incomplete.

• If you simply make the course unavailable when you’re done with it, all students will still be enrolled, but they will not have a visible link to the course. Only the instructor will have a link that says (unavailable). If you delete students from the course, then you should export the gradebook and keep a copy for your records—if you used Bb to record grades. You may also want to export the gradebook if you request to delete the course altogether. OIT will not delete a course without a request from the instructor to do so, nor will we export or save a gradebook for any deleted course.

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3. Spring 2004 Course Requests Due by 12/15

Are you planning to re-use a Blackboard course for the upcoming Spring 2004 semester? Copying the content from a previously created course can save you a lot of development time when it comes time to start a new semester. Our policy has always been to copy just the content, assessments and the discussion boards so you don’t have to worry about deleting the users. OIT would like all Spring 2004 course copy requests by Monday, December 15 so that we can avoid the start of semester crush in mid-to-late January.

To have a course copied simply submit the course “create/copy/delete” form that can be found on the UMBC Blackboard Support site (http://blackboard.umbc.edu). Make sure you select the “copy” radio button and supply the following in the “Comments” section:

• Course title, ID, number and semester of the course that is to be copied
• Course title, ID, number and semester of the NEW course.

Note: If you try to reuse a course by deleting students from an old course and enrolling new ones, “auto enrollment” will not work since it is tied to current semester courses and your course ID will reflect a prior semester. Also, your course would not be listed in the Blackboard catalog because it would not be considered “current.”

4. End of Semester Maintenance: Deleting/Hiding Old Courses & Unenrolling Students

If you’re not planning on using a course again and you don’t need the content, now is the perfect time to submit a request to have it deleted. Just submit a course deletion request that can be found at the UMBC Blackboard Support site (http://blackboard.umbc.edu). Complete the form and make sure you select the “Delete” radio button and OIT will take care of the rest. Just remember that once a course is deleted it is gone forever!!

Alternately, you can "hide" make your course "unavailable" (control panel --> course settings --> course availability). While instructors will still have a link the course with "(unavailable)" next to it, the course will not appear as a link to students. For more information, see the "Enrolling & Removing Students" help sheet on the UMBC Blackboard Support site. Remember: students CAN'T unenroll themselves from an old course, so faculty either need to delete the students after the course is finished, or hide/delete the course. Either way, the course link will no longer appear to students.

Tip: Deleting the students will also remove their grades from your course, so if you use Blackboard's gradebook, but want to a record after you delete students or your course, export your gradebook to Excel. For more information, see the "Exporting your Gradebook" tip sheet on the UMBC Blackboard Site.

If you have any questions, please send email to blackboard@umbc.edu or contact Bob Armstrong at rarmstro@umbc.edu or 5-3885.

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5. Tip: Deleting Multiple Files in the Digital Drop Box

Do you use the Digital Drop Box (DDB) in your course and can’t figure out an easy way to delete all of those files once an assignment is completed? We discovered a great solution that was developed by David Carter-Tod at Wytheville Community College in Virginia. The solution involves an easy to use “bookmarklet” that once set up will allow you to delete all or part of your files in the DDB at once. By simply copying a “bookmarklet” into the Favorites in your Internet Explorer browser, opening your Blackboard course to the DDB page and selecting the bookmark, a Java script will generate a page with all of the files listed with check boxes that make it easy to select the files you want to delete. Just remember, once the files are deleted they are gone forever!!

You can access the help sheet on the main UMBC Blackboard Support site (http://blackboard.umbc.edu) and following the directions. If you have any questions, please contact Bob Armstrong at rarmstro@umbc.edu or 5-3885.

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6. Tip: Creating Multiple Questions for Assessments at Once

Generating quiz questions in Blackboard can be a slow and tedious process. Again, thanks to David Cater-Tod from Wytheville Community College in Virginia who has developed a Blackboard Quiz question generator that allows you to take precisely formatted text files and turn them into quiz questions that can be used in any Blackboard course. The quiz generator allows the user to create most types of questions including multiple-choice, multiple-answer, true/false, essay, ordering, fill-in-the-blank, and matching. Once the process has been completed a file will be created that can then be imported into the Blackboard course Pool Manager. The questions in the Pool Manager can then be used to create assessments in your course.

David makes the process easy by providing a clear and concise set of directions. The link to the actual quiz generator form is http://www.wcc.vccs.edu/services/blackboard/createQuiz.html .If you have any questions, please send email to blackboard@umbc.edu or contact Bob Armstrong at rarmstro@umbc.edu or 5-3885.

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7. FYI: January Training Schedule Available

If you want to refresh your current skills or explore new territory, OIT will be offering Blackboard training starting in January. Most workshops are no more than one hour and have been scheduled during the day, evening and some weekends. Sample topics include the following:

• Introduction to Blackboard
• Adding Content to Your Blackboard Course/Community
• Managing the Blackboard Gradebook and Assessments/Surveys
• Building Interactivity Through Blackboard’s Communications Tools
• Blackboard Maintenance (end of semesters only)

To sign up for a workshop, visit http://www.umbc.edu/training.

Note: Departmental TAs are welcome to attend any faculty/staff Blackboard workshop. Also, OIT is happy to present short Blackboard demos at departmental faculty meetings or to discuss custom departmental training for faculty and/or TAs, which has been successful for the English and history departments. For more information, send email to blackboard@umbc.edu or contact John Fritz at fritz@umbc.edu or 5-6596.

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8. OIT Seeks Graduate Assistant for Blackboard Support

The Office of Information Technology is seeking a graduate assistant to help support students, faculty and staff using UMBC's Blackboard course management system (http://blackboard.umbc.edu). This is a 9-month, 20 hour per week appointment starting in January 2004. The search begins immediately and will continue until the position is filled.


The Blackboard Support GA will work as a member of OIT's New Media Learning & Development unit to assist with the creation and copying of Blackboard courses, development of Blackboard training workshops and related materials, and one-on-one end user support. The successful candidate must be self-directed and work well communicating information to technical and non-technical users. The candidate must also be able to interact with customers of all levels in a highly professional and competent manner.


The qualified candidate must be an officially registered UMBC graduate student with demonstrable experience providing end-user technical support (Blackboard support experience is highly desirable). In addition, the candidate must have good problem-solving, organization and oral/written communications skills.


For consideration, email a resume and cover letter to:

Bob Armstrong
Instructional Designer
New Media Learning & Development Unit
Office of Information Technology

Alternately, you may post your resume and cover letter in the "Digital Drop Box" of the Blackboard Users Group "community" on UMBC's Blackboard server at http://blackboard.umbc.edu. If you are not currently enrolled in this community, login to blackboard, select the "Community" tab at the top and enter BUG in the search box. Enroll yourself and then you can submit to the digital drop box using the "Tools" menu item. Please send an email to rarmstrong@umbc.edu indicating that your materials have been posted to the digital drop box.

Office of Information Technology • Main Office: ECS 125 • Phone: 410-455-3838 • Email: oit@umbc.edu