Upgrading Version 6
Upgrading our Blackboard LS from 5.6 to 6.1
To briefly revisit the technical specifications to our particular implementation of Blackboard, we installed the Enterprise Edition of the Blackboard Learning System 5.6 running under the Microsoft Advanced Server Operating System, with an SQL Server 2000 back-end database. We fully integrated and automated our data imports using the Blackboard snapshot process with our SIS, personnel, agency and timetabling systems. However, our test server specification is a much lower specified standard Dell Workstation, running Windows 2000 server and why this is important will become apparent when describing the upgrade process below.
My first point of contact to kick-off our upgrade process was my very helpful Blackboard account manager, who explained the process of how he would set up the download of the new software and send me a license key to access it. He also explained that we would have 30 days or so to put the new software on our test server in order to “demo” the process and software before upgrading the live production server. He also suggested that as we had been running the system for two academic years and would want to migrate our existing courses and content, it would be wise to consider the purchase of two days consultancy to help with the migration of these materials into version 6.1. I then received my license key and duly downloaded the new software from the “behind the blackboard” site and began my planned upgrade schedule.
My first misunderstanding was that this was an “upgrade” of Blackboard LS 5.6 to 6.1 where the current software installation is upgraded to the latest version 6.1. It is not. It is a new installation of the latest version 6.1. A subtle, but important difference to take into account when planning your “upgrade”. In order to install Blackboard LS 6.1 we had to first uninstall version 5.6. This was not apparent in any of the documentation that I reviewed prior to the installation and, call me stupid, but I initially ran the new version 6.1 installation as an upgrade over 5.6, after installing the pre-requisites as instructed. Surprise, surprise, but the install failed. Fortunately, there was a log file produced on failure that gave an indication as to the nature of the problem, but this meant we had to do a manual uninstall of Blackboard 5.6 which was a bit messy and somewhat time consuming. Eventually, however, we were able to completely uninstall version 5.6 and successfully ran the installation file for 6.1.
I mentioned earlier that, due to reasons of economy, we ran our test server on only a basic Dell workstation. Although this is a Dell Pentium 4 workstation (and obviously well below the Blackboard minimum specification for the Blackboard LS) it had been perfectly adequate for our needs of testing and demo of the Blackboard LS 5.6 for the last two years The “upgrade” path recommended by Blackboard was very sensibly to install, migrate, test and document everything on the test server first, before attempting anything on our production server. However, this was not possible on our current test server and therefore required the hardware to be upgraded to something closer to Blackboard’s minimum specification.
My next misunderstanding was that our current snapshot process would be a straight copy into the new version. This is not the case. Blackboard 6.1 has the integration and data management tools build into the software, but not the snapshot controller. It still utilises the data files we extract from our current systems, but it does not use the Perl scripts and custom files as in Version 5.6
Lessons learnt so far:
- Be aware this is not an upgrade but a new installation.
- The recommended upgrade path could have hardware, software and/or usage implications for your test server, especially, if like us, you have other uses your test server.
- The new software is free but if you require any consultancy services from Blackboard, as recommended for the course migrations, ensure you have some money set aside in your budget.
- If you are using the Snapshot Controller in your current Blackboard implementation, be aware there is different implementation of the Snapshot Controller in version 6.1
To be continued:
In the next edition of ‘bbmatters’ I will finish the saga of our upgrade to 6.1 by describing our course content migration from 5.6 to 6.1 and our first data import using the Snapshot tool into 6.1.
New College Durham