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Towards a Successful Rollover in Blackboard

Rollover is the transition between academic sessions - the creation of new courses, the copying of old courses, the enrolling of students into next year's modules... In essence, it should be a relatively straightforward process, and for those of us with the integration features of Enterprise it ought to be a breeze. But if there’s anything you learn being a Blackboard administrator, it’s never to underestimate the size of a potential headache. The beginning of the year is crucial, getting everyone into courses as soon as humanly possible (‘cause you can bet your bottom dollar there’s a human in there somewhere), but even with Enterprise, your integration is only as good as your data… The end of the year is equally important, and can be just as frustratingly complex. These are a few questions which prompt our organisation of rollover. If it’s your first time, then I hope they’re helpful

Copying Courses. Are you going retain courses as accessible to students?

There are lots of reasons to do this. They range from you not having to worry about students taking resits and stopping you recycling courses until September; not recycling a course after the deadline you gave and then a member of staff wanting the gradebook; finding time to recycle Education or Masters level courses all on the 30th of September because one cohort begin the day after the last one leaves… Very fundamentally, it saves students printing all the documents during the last week of term – after all, if we’re going to make their resources available online and expect them not to print them, then we have to make sure they’re still there when they want to look back and revise last year’s materials. By keeping your courses available and creating/copying new versions each year, you remove many of the issues of trying to rollover courses by recycling. This should also minimise the rollover forms you find yourself creating. So let’s assume you’ll do this – for Teaching and Learning statutes on keeping materials for a certain time, if nothing else.
How do you identify your courses? Are they tagged with a year? If you take a year identifier from student records, think how this might impact on your job as administrator when looking for courses. Doing list/modify with numerous years of courses gets to be a long list. Mine are DEPTcode_year but I’ll be updating them this year to change old course IDs so that previous years are listed at the very end of current ones.

And are you going retain courses as accessible to staff?

What about your instructors? Do you trust them to post content into the current year’s courses if you leave them with access to last year’s courses? How/when are you going to take them out of this year’s courses? There are two windows of development opportunity for staff. Those whose partners are teachers, or have children of school age, may well be happy to sort out their courses in July; others will wait until September. If you make changes early, the first group will have new courses to be working with (and potentially new features) – but make sure they appreciate things they may have to do and what you are planning on doing. You’d be surprised how many people will post to the old course even when you’ve given them the shiny new one… So it’s a good idea to stop them seeing two versions of their modules. But instead of removing them from old courses when they’re copied, just disable them – so if you need to reactivate them you can.

Who is going to copy the courses?

At the end of the previous paragraph, you should have started thinking about when you’re going to copy courses. But this means you either have to have courses to copy as (any detail changes in codes or titles) or new courses to copy into. When do you know what courses will be taught next year? And when do you REALLY know? I now get lists of new modules (and existing modules with any code change) direct from the Undergraduate Section and Student Records – too many years of being given incorrect codes from Departments the day before term starts… These are created as empty course shells through the snapshot.

Some institutions last year used the Course Copy button on the Control Panel and gave instructors guidance on doing this themselves. I’m all for ‘ownership’ (read ‘their fault’ ? ) but it wouldn’t work for us. We’d have less than half of the courses ready to use at the beginning of the academic year. So we copy for them. In fact I can do this through the snapshot scripts with Enterprise, but I used to do it by hand before, so it is feasible in Basic too. There have been problems with the copy functionality, but it’s working for me in 6.1.5.5. Instead of doing a Copy Course Materials into new course I created a new snapshot.properties.rollover file to use with CRS_COPYINTO which does not copy the following: Announcements, Calendar, Chat Archive, Gradebook, Drop Box and Membership (enrolment).

Creating new courses.

Think carefully about new courses. Using a template is quite a good idea to include content as well as have set buttons (only for Enterprise though, I’m afraid). New courses here this year will have a link button to the Library’s Reserved Reading lists, the module entry in the Faculty Handbook (effectively the Course Info) and the current week’s timetable. It all saves staff a little time, and are handy links to get going with. It also opens up a sense of the potential of using Blackboard. You could extend that to include a link to the subject specific help on the Library webpages, which contain onward links to LTSN resources, electronic journals, databases etc…

Who fills forms in?

Previously, lots of forms for different options have been put before our academics and a deadline given for completion. Last year, almost half the departments sent a departmental response from the administrator or secretary. This year the rollover information has been made available to all instructors, but the rollover instructions sent direct to Board of Studies administrators and requested back from them. They actually seem happy to take on this as an extra responsibility, so ensure everything is correct. But then I did send it them before they got involved with exams, which is probably a good thing. Minimising necessary form return is a huge plus. So far, so good…

Using the Catalog.

Many of our students want to see other modules, for the purposes of choosing next year’s modules, or purely for sideways learning. Also, members of staff want to share good practice by seeing each other’s work. The best way to do this is by enabling guest access and turning on the catalog. Beware! The enthusiastic students with half an ounce of wit will be looking for the modules that publish the weekly problem solutions and choosing those modules after they’ve downloaded the solutions… I don’t know what the answer is, short of reminding staff to put any solutions under a button which is not guest enabled, and empowering them to make the choice.


Staff enrolments.

If you have a record of module convenors then you can fetch this in through snapshot. If you don’t, it’s worth thinking about it. At present my staff enrolments come into a database which prints me a list of “course id, user id ,p” ready to batch enrol. It’s a halfway step (I check all additions to courses with the convenor as policy) but until Blackboard adds a function to enrol a user directly as an instructor, any summer development time producing a dynamically-driven instructor list will be a bonus. Quite a few people on the blackboard-usergroup mail list are happy to share how they do this.

Durham Rollover #4

As I said, nothing’s perfect, but here’s our process for 2004.

Instructions to staff (partial)

During the rollover a number of things actually happen:

• there are hardware/software upgrades to the machines
• new courses are created for modules running in 2004/5
• content is copied into the new courses from the ones you are using now
• courses you are using now are re-identified as 2003/4 in their titles for clarity
• scripts are prepared to enrol students into their 2004/5 modules from August (they retain access to this year's courses)
• changes will be made to enable staff to request removal from courses you will not be teaching on next year and to claim the ones you will

Instructions to self

• Export list of courses from database
• Send course list to administrators to notify of rollover/hibernate (teach alternate years)/delete & module convenors (will be automatic to Undergraduate Section from 2004/5 – hooray!)
• Edit list to re-classify 2003/4 courses with _2003 in course_key and title
• Export user list to check for dodgy accounts and remove
• Extract instructor/course list to compare with rollover info
• Create new modules with template from data supplied by Student Records
• Run snapshot of instructor enrolment
• Use snapshot crs_copyinto to copy existing modules into new courses
• Use snapshot to disable (not remove) instructors from _2003 courses
• Create and assign catalog categories via snapshot
• Update courses with guest access and catalog availability
• Begin enrolment of 2004/5 courses (registration for continuing students in Durham happens in June)
• Delete old/empty modules and rogue guest accounts
• Get on with helping staff create content! (Have a holiday…)

Author: Kate Boardman

30 June 2004

VLE: Blackboard

 


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