Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Problems with Blackboard Vista

In previous years my courses used versions of the WebCT course software, but this year they were 'upgraded' to the Vista platform; WebCT has been bought out by Blackboard, so this is a Blackboard system.

Some new 'features' of Vista have worked very well (for example creating and giving homework to sub-groups of students), but others (and some old stuff) have not. I've been keeping a list of the issues that our local tech support people didn't solve, hoping that someone would someday ask me about problems I've experienced. But nobody's asked, so I'm posting the list here (Mainly so I can throw out the sheet of paper it's written on).

First a complaint about the technical support. The problem isn't the support people, who do their best, but the way UBC allocates resources. Years ago UBC decided to transfer funds and responsibility for computer support to local units (Faculties and Departments), rather than providing it centrally for everyone. I don't know whether this was driven by budget issues (dreams of 'cost recovery' were in the air) or by the hope that local support would better suit user's needs, but the consequences for university-wide resources such as Vista have been disastrous. Instead of having a central support group with experts available when we need them, we have many dispersed department-level support people, each working part-time (ours is only available after 4pm) providing support for a system they haven't been able to learn in depth. Worse, each answer they provide is only available to the individual who asked the question. Because there is no discussion board individual users have no way to learn from answers given to anyone else.

So here's my list:

I can't connect to Vista with Safari on my office computer. I can connect with Safari at home, and with Firefox in my office, but when I try to connect with Safari I get the message that I already have a connection and can't have two. And yes, I've emptied the Safari cache, and tried quitting Firefox.

When I do connect with Firefox, I get several problems that I didn't get before I upgraded to Leopard.

First, every time I connect I get 'Code not verified' security warnings (two). I can't find any way to stop them appearing.

Second, when I try to upload files to Vista from my computer, I get a warning that a Java applet isn't working and that I will have to use a more cumbersome method.

Third, when I download results from quizzes, all of the question marks, percent symbols, and single and double quotes in students' answers have been replaced by 'Unicode' codes (e.g. ''' replaces every '?').

Other problems may not have anything to do with using Leopard:

For a while I couldn't upload student marks for one segment of the course. I'd get a 'System exception' error, which apparently just means that for unknown reasons Vista has failed to do what was asked of it.

When I click on View Submissions for an assessment in the Assessment Manager, sometimes I'm taken to the submissions for that assessment, and sometimes I'm instead taken to the submissions for whatever assessment the Manager feels I should be looking at. No rhyme or reason that I can detect.

Sometimes the settings for quiz questions appear to have been reverted, even though I'm quite sure I set them up correctly.

The system claims that it will show me the number of times individual students have read discussion board posts, but the numbers it provides are obviously very wrong.

I've had lots of other problems that our local support person was able to solve, but not these.

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