Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Blackboard Storage Capacity Upgrade Notification

From: Neil Matkin
Sent: Wednesday, December 21, 2005 4:51 PM
To: dlist_VCCS_presidents; dlist_vice_presidents_academic; dlist_vccs_technology_council
Cc: dlist_vccs_presidents_secretaries; DList_System_Office_Cabinet
Subject: Blackboard Storage Capacity Upgrade Notification


Please forgive yet another message related to things Blackboard but I unintentionally left out some critical information in my last communication. As you know, our Blackboard system is the second largest system we use in the VCCS today but you may not realize that it is the most used around the clock. Students and faculty are on the Blackboard system all over the state literally 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We've made substantial upgrades in the last year in the hardware (primarily processing power) that runs Blackboard as well as upgrading to Blackboard version 6. Shortly after the new year begins you will receive a great deal of information on upgrades to the Network Virginia connections to all campuses which we believe will have substantial positive impact on all of our systems, including Blackboard.

What could we have possibly left out? The answer is storage capacity. As Blackboard utilization has grown exponentially over the last six months, it has become necessary to upgrade storage for the system. We have been patiently waiting for all of the pieces to arrive and the good news is that they are here. The bad news? Blackboard has to be turned off for 24-36 hours to upgrade the storage. From a utilization standpoint -- picking the time when we would interrupt the fewest users -- the absolute best time to do this happens to be on Tuesday, December 27th, shortly after St. Nick arrives back at the Pole (or at Lord Fairfax, whichever comes first).

What are the benefits? They are many:

1) Dramatic increase in available storage space for Blackboard courses,
2) Improvement in the performance and reliability of the Blackboard system,
3) Decrease the amount of time it takes to back up the Blackboard system, and
4) Decrease the amount of time to restore Blackboard in case of a system failure.

After the space is added, the Blackboard system will have over two terabytes of space allocated. That's tech speak for "considerably more than a whole lot". There are super computers without that much storage! We are excited about this as it will allow for more growth in our recently deployed Blackboard Content System. Also, some of this new space will be earmarked for the ability to provide individual, course-level archives for all courses on the system.

The work will begin Monday, December 26 at 8:00 PM and will continue through at least Tuesday, December 27 at 8:00 PM. The number one group impacted during that period in NVCC's ELI courses and we have already worked with our partners there to accommodate the schedule. Our goal is to have the Blackboard system back online within 24 hours of taking it down, 36 hours worst case. I apologize for the inconvenience this presents to students and faculty using Blackboard over the holiday break. I am confident that the long term benefits of this upgrade will reward their patience. I have asked staff to echo this message to all Blackboard accounts effective immediately and information will be provided online to anyone attempting to get into Blackboard during the time when it is being upgraded.

Thanks for your support and for working together to make VCCS systems absolutely world class. Students first, no excuses!

Best for the holidays,


H. Neil Matkin
Vice Chancellor, Information Technology Services
Virginia Community College System


Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Blackboard Degradation in Performance


As announced previously, our Blackboard environment continues to experience a degradation in performance that is directly related to the size of some tables in the database that contains statistical information. We have received considerable feedback about the importance of this data to faculty and college administration, and have therefore postponed the trimming of these tables. Although we would have preferred to wait until after to the holiday break to reduce the data in these tables, the Blackboard system is now experiencing degradation once again and it is my opinion that any further postponement represents an unacceptable risk, especially for the Eli classes at Northern Virginia Community College (since they will be using Blackboard during the break).

Later today, the Blackboard staff will coordinate with the database administrators to begin trimming these tables by removing all data in them prior to September 1, 2005. This action will reduce the size of the problem tables by about 32 million lines. This should be enough to get us safely through the break after which time we will initiate conversations with Blackboard to seek a permanent fix to this issue or develop a work around so valuable data is available as needed. It is important to note, that none of this data will be lost, but archived in another location. After the break, we will work on how to make the archived tables accessible to the colleges and trim the production tables back further as necessary ongoing performance and stability (keeping only the most recent 4 weeks).

It is extremely unfortunate that in the short term we are forced to choose between system stability and easy access to statistical information and, as I stated, we will take up this issue with Blackboard after the holidays. Long-term, we will provide some additional options to provide for both. In the meantime, I sincerely appreciate your patience and cooperation.

Best regards and happy holidays to all,

H. Neil Matkin
Vice Chancellor, Information Technology Services
Virginia Community College System

Monday, December 19, 2005

Blackboard 5 Availability

Posted on Monday, December 19, 2005 - 12:58 pm:


Just a quick note to remind everyone that BlackBoard version 5.5 (the old version) must be taken out of service at the end of this calendar year. We have been on the new system for about six months and BlackBoard very generously extended our 5.5 license (without additional cost) to allow faculty time to transition courses and resources to the new version. I realize several notes have gone out and I believe our community to be well informed on this but wanted to send one last note as a reminder.

I am excited for the new year, for renewed partnerships with everyone to move our shared agenda in the new year, and for continued and growing successes.

Happy holidays and New Year to all,


H. Neil Matkin
Vice Chancellor, Information Technology Services
Virginia Community College System
101 N. 14th Street Richmond, VA 23219

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Blackboard Stats as of 12/14/05

Total number of students loaded into Bb 5312.

77 courses
11 Distance Learning
46 Distributive
61 courses
15 Distance Learning
46 Distributive

112 courses
31 Distance Learning
17 Hybrid
64 Distributive

70 courses
7 Distance Learning
63 Distributive

8 courses
8 Distributive

Saturday, December 03, 2005

VCCS MERLOT Team & Hurricane Katrina

From: Bob Vawter []
Sent: Sat 12/3/2005 10:46 AM

The VCCS MERLOT team is playing a major role in directly helping students affected by Hurricane Katrina. The article below is from the December 2005, MERLOT Newsletter. The complete newsletter is attached.

Without a Home, How do we educate? MERLOT, Katrina and the Delgado Community College
Delgado Community College, an institution of the Louisiana Board of Regents with campuses in New Orleans and Covington, Louisiana, was one of the colleges that was impacted by Hurricane Katrina. The academic year had only just begun when the storm hit, closing the college and leaving faculty and students displaced and scrambling for shelter in other parts of the region. In an effort to salvage the instructional year for its academic community, Delgado administrators started looking for solutions. One such answer began with a phone call from Cindy Siegrist, Delgado CC Office from the Office of Faculty Development to Michael Waguespack, a former Delgado faculty member, now teaching at Northern Virginia Community College of the Virginia Community College System. Siegrist and Waguespack brainstormed about how Delgado could quickly bring more courses online to resume instruction for its students. The obvious need was to find quality online materials that had been classroom-tested and that were ready to go. Waguespack immediately thought of MERLOT as a solution for Delgado’s course content needs. He contacted NVCC colleague, Laura Franklin, Co-Editor of the World Languages collection of MERLOT, Laura in turn contacted MERLOT administration for help and received immediate support for collaboration with Delgado. A project was born.
The Editorial Boards of MERLOT in various disciplines have mobilized to create annotated Personal Collections within MERLOT, matching content to the syllabi of Delgado instructors. These personal collections contain materials that will help Delgado CC instructors move forward in their instruction without ‘reinventing the wheel.’ Two collections in English as a Second Language have been started and can be seen at:
MERLOT administration received requests from other Delgado faculty and other Editorial Boards have begun answering the call. The early success of this project can be attributed to the productive interaction of two MERLOT partners. Both the VCCS and the Louisiana Board of Regents share a longstanding commitment to the development of the MERLOT collection. The faculty members from these institutions have collaborated as Editors and Peer Reviewers for years. MERLOT has afforded these systems the opportunity to become a community in the most human sense of the word, which in turn makes collaboration that much more meaningful for all the partners of MERLOT.
It was also due to MERLOT’s maturity as a collection that it was possible to build such a solution in short order. The collections started in this Delgado project, due to their public availability, will be of equal value to users of MERLOT throughout the Gulf region and those in the rest of the world. Faculty members who create collections will enrich their own courses and make MERLOT a richer resource for everyone. Through this collaborative effort, MERLOT members and others have discovered a valuable resource in our Personal Collections which enable instructors to have immediate access to learning materials used by others. For more information contact

Information about MERLOT course content that is available to all VCCS faculty to use in their courses is located at
  • Bruce Brown from NRCC serves on MERLOT's Business Editorial Board
  • Deborah Clarkson from VHCC serves on MERLOT's Health Sciences Editorial Board
  • Laura Franklin from NVCC serves as Co-Editor of MERLOT's World Languages Editorial Board
  • Margarita Hodge from NVCC serves on MERLOT's World Languages Editorial Board
    Corinne Hoisington from CVCC serves on MERLOT's Information Technology Editorial Board
  • Idana Hamilton from SwVCC serves on MERLOT's Teaching & Technology Editorial Board
  • William Paquette from TCC serves as Co-Editor of MERLOT's History Editorial Board
  • Rassa Rassai from NVCC serves on MERLOT's Engineering Editorial Board
  • Reva Savkar from NVCC serves on MERLOT's Chemistry Editorial Board
  • Patricia Taylor from TNCC serves on MERLOT's Mathematics Editorial Board
  • Marty Zahn from TNCC serves on MERLOT's Biology Editorial Board
  • Bob Vawter from the System Office is the MERLOT Project Director for the VCCS

    The VCCS MERLOT Team is looking for additional VCCS faculty and librarians to be a part of MERLOT. Anyone interested should contact Bob Vawter.

Robert Vawter
Director, E-learning Delivery System Administrator
Virginia Community College System
804.819.4692 Fax: 804.819.4770