Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Blackboard 9 Notifications feature has serious problems

Over the last 4 months we've upgraded our two Blackboard servers to Blackboard version 9, and have recently applied Service Pack 1.

The upgrade process for each upgrade has gone pretty smoothly. We had some issues with availability of tabs being reset, but other than that, the upgrades went very well.

Staff uptake and adaptation to the new interface has been very good. Very few problems were found. The original version 9 release had two issues with the GradeCentre though.

1. Because the name column is now split into separate columns for surname and forenames for students, the sort algorithm was broken. When a user sorted by surname, the student order wasn't also sorted by forenames, so Bobby Smith could have been appearing before Andy Smith in a class. This could have led to some incorrect data being entered by staff. Fortunately, they noticed this, worked around it, and our IT department bore the brunt of the moans and groans.

2. SmartViews couldn't be exported. The SmartView feature is a great addition to the GradeCentre. We group all of the classes taking a subject into the same Blackboard course (so if there are four classes of IG Maths, the students from all four classes are enrolled in the same course). SmartViews allowed teaching staff to distinguish each class when they were entering grades. In version 8 you could have a SmartView displayed, and when you downloaded the GradeCentre, only the data for the students displayed was downloaded. Unfortunately, this was broken in version 9, and the entire GradeCentre was downloaded, even if a SmartView was showing. The IT Department bore the pain from this as well.

Good news was that these two issues were addressed in Service Pack 1.

Then we stuck the notifications and email problems.

Oh dear.

The first issue we hit was that staff who had more than 81 users in their course, found that they couldn't use the Send Email to Users function from the GradeCentre. It just fails. BBSupport followed this up, and it's been acknowledged as a bug. Worked fine in 8, and apparently works fine if you run your system on an OS other than Windows. Oh well, we wait for a fix.

OK, shouldn't be a problem though, BB Learn 9 has a new funky notifications system, enabling users to either receive individual emails, or a daily digest of new changes to course content (like new announcements added to courses that users belong to). So, if an announcement was added, all the users in a course would get a notification email, which they could use to access course content.

However, it's not that simple.

When users receive the email and click the link in the email, they will receive a red error screen, unless they have logged into Blackboard previously, and have an authenticated session. But if the user has an authenticated session, why bother with the notification email? A number of the other modules (My Courses, What's New) will have given the user the information already.

OK, I can see why the linked content isn't already available - so the user should be given an authentication dialog box for them to complete, so that they can then access the content.

Unfortunately, this isn't the behaviour. There is no method available for an unauthenticated user to access the content.

Blackboard support tell me that this is Feature by Design. Humph, interesting design.

Let's hope enough people raise this issue with Blackboard and submit a Suggestion to have this behaviour changed.

Currently I'm regretting the move to 9.

Posted via email from Andy's posterous

1 comment:

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