Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Information about Bb5 Outage

David Carter-Tod (ITS - Client Services, Virginia Community College System) posted the following on Wednesday, August 31, 2005 - 4:17 pm


The following message has just been sent to the Technology Council, Academic Vice-Presidents, and CSLs.

On August 23, the Blackboard 5 environment experienced a catastrophic failure. Since that time, VCCS engineers have been working diligently to restore service. The length of the outage as well as its severe impact on those students and faculty using the system requires a more detailed explanation than has been provided to date. I will therefore attempt to summarize events as best I can.

The cause appears to have been a hardware failure impacting the storage system of the shared content file system where any files attached to courses are stored. The storage system consists of an array of hard drives similar to those found in a desktop computer, though much faster in terms of read and writes times. To ensure against the failure of any one hard drive, these drives are configured to redundantly store all data across all drives in the array. In the event of a failure, the information stored on a failed disk can be reconstructed using the data on the remaining ones.

It would appear that the Blackboard 5 system experienced multiple disk failures resulting in a corrupt file system that is not recoverable. The system is, however, backed up onto tapes for just such an event. The VCCS uses a backup system from IBM called Tivoli Storage Manager. The last backup of the system was performed on August 13, just prior to the release of the new Blackboard environment, Blackboard 6. VCCS engineers are now working to restore the Blackboard system from these backup tapes. The immense size of the file system (approximately 12 million files) which serves all 23 colleges in the VCCS system has complicated the restore process. The restore process has failed several times with each attempt taking up to 14 hours. This has resulted in a much longer outage than was originally anticipated.

The problems experienced are complex and extremely difficult to overcome given the long time required for each attempt. At this point, we have completed a partial restore and can allow access to those users with an urgent need. It must be understood, however, that the file system is only partially restored at this point. Users will occasionally find broken links or missing content. This is to be expected at this stage.

Below are some guidelines for instructors using the partially restored system:

From a user perspective what may be missing are files that were attached to course elements, for example, uploaded .doc files or .ppt files. These could be in regular content areas (e.g. Course Information, Syllabus) or in quizzes where images were used.


  • Do not remove broken links, the missing content will be restored in due time. If the link is removed, the content will not be accessible once the restore is complete.
  • Missing content may be available from courses copied to Blackboard 6 or from local college backups of Blackboard courses. If content that is critical to users is missing in Blackboard 5, but available in Blackboard 6, faculty may choose to upload it to Blackboard 5 for use during this restoration period. We recommend that it is uploaded as a new item rather than replacing a missing content item.
  • Students must be informed of the limitations of the current Blackboard 5 environment and be asked to refrain from calling the college help desk or their Blackboard Administration to report missing content or broken links.

The partially restored Blackboard 5 environment can be accessed by going to the link below., as well as the link from Blackboard 6, will continue to show the outage notice until the restore process is complete.

Engineers believe they have resolved the issues that have caused previous restoration attempts to fail. The restoration of all missing content has begun, but will be initially written to another location to allow users to access the system during the process. When the restoration is complete, a short outage will be required to add the restored content to the system. This outage will be announced in advance. It is anticipated that the restore process now underway will take at least two days to complete.

It is important to note that the vulnerabilities of the Blackboard 5 environment have been largely eliminated in the Blackboard 6 environment. Not only is a failure of this type much less likely, the restoration would also be easier and quicker. I will address this topic in more detail later.

Please feel free to contact me if you have questions.

Ralph Lucia

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Blackboard Statistics!

Blackboard Statistics for Fall 2005
(as of August 29, 2005)
  • 400 courses
  • 135 instructors
  • 7328 students loaded

Hits to the Support Site for Distance and Distributive Learning

Week of 8/22 – 8/28/05

  • 11,665 page views
  • 5,717 visits
  • 2,333 unique visitors

Month of August (through 8/29)

  • 23,838 page views
  • 11,797 visits
  • 3,825 unique visitors


  • 151,574 page views
  • 104,474 visits
  • 18,427 unique visitors

Keep up the good work!!!!

Friday, August 19, 2005

Respondus, Softchalk and Impatica

Posted on Thursday, August 18, 2005 - 4:02 pm:

We have deployed a VCCS Faculty Software module on the Teach tab that links to download and installation for Respondus, Softchalk and Impatica.

It is set as removable and is also visible for placement.

Thanks David

David Carter-Tod
ITS - Client Services Virginia Community College System

Monday, August 15, 2005

Blackboard Admin. Meeting Minutes 8/12/05

I've pulled out the revelant portions from the minutes (.pdf):

Changing Passwords
A couple of Blackboard Administrators reported that they are having problems with the instructor’s password in Blackboard 6 reverting to the date of birth.
One of the causes is that data integrity is now being enforced between Blackboard and My VCCS. If someone’s password “switches” to their date of birth, it is because it now synching their passwords. The reason for this issue has not occurred previously was in Blackboard 5, faculty accounts and passwords were created and managed in the GUI. However, in Blackboard 6, accounts are managed through My VCCS. If you have a faculty member whose password reverts to their date of birth, please direct them to the change my password in My VCCS to create a new, more secure password. Password changes are real time from My VCCS to other enterprise systems (please note that passwords in bbtrain and turtle are not updated.)
Another issue that was reported was that instructors are prompted to login when they try to access Blackboard through single sign-on. The ITS Blackboard team has not been able to reproduce this problem. If a user experiences this problem, please open an IssueTrak help ticket.

Blackboard System Settings
Personal Information and Address Book

The personal information and address book are currently turned on in production. These need to be disabled for users, since user data is updated in PeopleSoft. (Note: This setting was changed Friday, August 12 after the meeting.)

Self Enroll Setting
A Blackboard Administrator requested that the “self enrollment” setting be turned
on for faculty to allow students to self enroll in courses, without being batch loaded based on their PeopleSoft registration. Currently self-enrollment is turned off as a feature at the individual course level. This means that an individual instructor cannot turn it on, but a system administrator may do so by accessing the properties of the course from the System Admin control panel. The ITS Blackboard team was told this was inconvenient to have to do this now, when instructors were allowed to do this in Blackboard 5 themselves. It was also mentioned that self-enrollment would be helpful for Organizations.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

New Student Email System!

The new student email system went live Firday, August 13, 2005. The transition was transparent and successful and should pose no problems to your students.

Students' old mail is located at and will be available until September 30, 2005. When students login to their email, they will see directions for forwarding all important messages that they may wish to keep. If you want to view what the students will see go to:

All documentation on the new student email (including FAQs) is located at:

Faculty can also 'preview' the new system by logging in with their SIS/Blackboard UserID and password.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Students Loaded into Bb6!

I will begin loading students into FA05 courses on Monday and continue loading daily until the end of the Add period. As always I load but do not "drop". Please monitor you SIS lists!

Posted on Friday, August 05, 2005 - 6:17 pm:

We are pleased to announce that users (staff, faculty, and students) along with their primary and secondary roles have been successfully loaded in Blackboard 6 ( One item to note is that students are active and enabled in Initially we said that they would be disabled, but we have discovered that as disabled, you would not be able to enroll them into your courses. If this poses a problem/challenge for you or your college, please let us know.

A couple items to note. Updates are passed from directory services to Blackboard twice daily, with the update process finishing at about 3:00 AM and 3:00 PM. Currently, password changes are only being passed to Blackboard according to this update schedule, but by go-live on Aug. 15, password updates will be real-time.

Additionally, if you are wondering why you have role "X" or don’t have role "Y", early next week we will provide detailed documentation as to the processes and algorithms for assigning primary and secondary roles.

David, Sue Ann, and Matt

VCCS Technology Projects Update

August 2, 2005


There are many critical projects that ITS staff members are working on at this time. The intent of this e-mail is to provide the colleges with updates on two of the projects that are nearing implementation.

Blackboard 6 Update

The upgrade of our Blackboard system is proceeding well and everything is on target for the August 15 upgrade to the version 6. With this new version, faculty and staff will have additional functionality, more flexibility and a greater capacity to enhance learning within the VCCS.

Preparations for this upgrade have been underway for the past year. ITS staff has been working with college Blackboard administrators, academic representatives and Blackboard consultants to optimize the configuration of the upgraded Blackboard environment so as to best serve our students, and to ensure a smooth transition.

There are three components to the upgraded Blackboard (version 6.2):

  1. The Learning System: This is the core course management system that students and faculty are familiar with, but it comes with new capabilities and new features that make it easier to use and a more flexible tool.
  2. The Community System: This is the entry way into Blackboard. With the addition of the Community System colleges now have the capability of branding the Blackboard environment with its own logo and color scheme. Additionally, colleges will now have the capability of personalizing the system display and targeting information to specific groups of users.
  3. The Content System: This is a tool to ease simultaneous content use across multiple courses and enable easy file storage and integration into courses. It also provides for document collaboration, and sharing. Additionally, faculty will have dedicated space where they can store documents and other digital files. Content System planning is currently in process. A six-week pilot is scheduled to start this September. Colleges participating in the pilot are GCC, JSRCC, PVCC, NVCC, NRCC, RCC, SVCC, and VWCC. Deployment to all VCCS faculty is scheduled for mid November 2005 for full use in production spring 2006.
    To recap some key dates and what has happened thus far:

To recap some key dates and what has happened thus far:
February, March, & May – Blackboard System Administrator training was provided to every college’s Blackboard System Administrator and back-up
April – Blackboard professional training was provided to faculty at the New Horizons Conference
May – All course content was migrated from Blackboard 5 to the Blackboard 6 environment
June 1 – VCCS faculty were given access so that they could begin working with the new system and developing course content
June – Strategy sessions were conducted with college representatives to prepare for the deployment of the Community System
June – The Community System was demonstrated to colleges remotely
June - July – Workshops were conducted to help colleges prepare their branded sites within the Community System
July – Content System strategy session held with representatives from colleges and the System Office to plan the pilot and initial implementation
August 1 - Final requests for Community System setup due
Here are some critical dates yet to come.
- August 5 - Student accounts loaded into Blackboard 6
(accounts will be unavailable for use until the 15th)
- August 15 - Blackboard 6 available to students
- September 19 – Content System Pilot begins
Following the deployment of the upgraded Blackboard environment ITS will work with Blackboard Administrators and other college representatives to coordinate the deployment of additional features that are now available within the new version of Blackboard. An incremental implementation of the new features is being planned to ease the transition and to allow each college time to provide training and instruction prior to the release of each new feature.

Thanks to everyone at the colleges who has worked with us during the training, strategy, and implementation. College staff and administration have generously given of their time this summer to make this upgrade a success. This has truly been a team effort between the colleges and ITS staff.

VCCS Student Email - Mirapoint

The Student Email sub-committee of the VCCS Technology Council concluded their work in late April 2005 and recommended the purchase of Mirapoint as the replacement product. Based on this recommendation and excellent references received from several Universities where the product is currently deployed, the ITS Office entered into negotiations with Mirapoint in early May 2005. Those discussions concluded with VCCS issuing a purchase order to purchase Mirapoint. Mirapoint is a state-of-the-art e-mail solution providing a web based interface where our students will be able to access their email and related email services from any place where there is access to the Internet.

The Mirapoint project is proceeding on schedule with an expected "Go-Live" date of August 12, 2005. A small group of participants from the colleges and the ITS Office have been actively testing the new system since the week of July 11th with good results to this point. A larger group with representatives from each college will continue testing over the next two weeks to isolate and correct several minor problems encountered during the early testing phase. If any issue should be discovered that may affect the timeline we will notify you immediately. Also, work is progressing on completing end user documentation and training materials. Additional information regarding the release of training materials, the deployment schedule, and a “to do list” for the colleges will be available prior to the “Go Live” date. Please contact Karlin Sink ( or 804.423.5631 should you have any questions or require additional information.

Please feel free to contact me with questions or concerns,


H. Neil Matkin
Vice Chancellor, Information Technology Services
Virginia Community College System
101 N. 14th Street
Richmond, VA 23219
804.819.4991 (Office)
804.918.4769 (Facsimile)

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Cartridge Import Errors

Posted on Thursday, August 04, 2005 - 10:30 am:

We have had a number of faculty contact us about cartridge import errors, particularly with assessments. The usual error is along the lines of:
" The content item entitled "Multiple Choice Quiz" contained a link to an assessment. This link has been removed. Add the assessment to a content area and select Create an Announcement to create a new announcement with a link to the assessment."

The bottom line on these errors is that the import process for a cartridge does not delete the assessments, but it deletes the links to the assessments. This is standard behavior for a lot of cartridges in Blackboard 6. Faculty will need to use the Add Test option in the content spaces to add the links back.

David Carter-Tod ITS - Client Services Virginia Community College System