Monday, April 17, 2006

IE6, Bb and Tests

Posted on Monday, April 17, 2006 - 8:08 am:

Another follow-up on this issue. Another college on the ASU list reported at the weekend that a quiz with 25 short answer questions crashed IE if it had this update. This is because there are 25 WYSIWYG editors if the questions are presented all at once, and IE can't cope.

If you run into this problem I would suggest altering the quiz to a one at a time format.


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

Handout (.pdf) on IE6 issues with Bb

Posted on Friday, April 14, 2006 - 10:26 am:

Towson State has created a very nice two page handout on this issue with regard to Blackboard. The document is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License (, so can be shared.


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

Microsoft update to IE6 and impact on Blackboard

Microsoft released an update to IE6 on Tuesday, Feb 28

  • This update will change the way IE handles some active content.
  • You can read info from MS at which describes some issues MS is working on.
  • The "mandatory" download went out on April 11.

The following is from Craig Chanoff, Vice President, Support Blackboard Inc.:

Blackboard just sent the following notice regarding this IE Update - the most wide-ranging impact appears to be on the WYSIWYG editor:

On April 11, Microsoft is releasing a critical update in response to patent litigation between Microsoft and Eolas ( The update also includes critical security fixes for Internet Explorer. Most users will receive this update automatically via Windows Update. After the update, users will be required to activate applets, ActiveX controls and other embedded objects and plug-ins before they can interact with them. Activation requires hitting the space bar, pressing the enter key, or using the mouse to click on the item. Users running the Firefox or Safari web browsers will not be affected by this update.

General issues affecting all products

Embedded content (including video, audio, Flash) cannot be controlled until activated. Each item is framed with a window that prompts the user to "Press SPACEBAR or ENTER to activate and use this control." After users follow the instructions or click using their mouse; users can use the controls to start, stop or replay embedded content.

An item that contains an equation, or was created from the Equation Editor, will launch a text window that prompts the user to "Press SPACEBAR or ENTER to activate and use this control." The equation will still render on the page.

In general, our testing has uncovered increased instability with the IE browser after this update has been applied. We are escalating this issue with Microsoft.

Blackboard Academic Suite™ & Blackboard Community System™ (Versions 6 and 7, including Application Packs)

- Each Visual Text Box Editor (commonly known as "WYSIWIG editor") will require activation prior to entering text.
- The Virtual Classroom and Lightweight Chat applets will require activation after a student or instructor joins a chat.
- The Blackboard Content Player (SCORM) feature fails to function after installation of the Microsoft update.

Friday, April 07, 2006

MinutesDDLC Meeting — March 31, 2006

DDLC Meeting — March 31, 2006 PVCC 10:00 a.m.


1. Welcome and Introductions.

The meeting started at 10:11 a.m., John Downey presiding.


John Downey, Laurie Hillstock, Kristen Kelly, Charles Boling, Bob Vawter, susan Kennedy, Kristy Walker, Mike Turner, Linda Capone Claussen, Steve Sachs, Scott Langhorst, Sue Ann Curran, Ralph Lucia, Rebecca Blankenship, Bill Hightower, Sheila Hobbs, Jamie Shetrone, Susan Beasley, Rio McBride, Inez Farrell, Mary Clare DiGiacomo, Ruth Smith, and Rebecca Kittleberger.

2. Update on ASAC actions concerning DDLC Reorganization.
Scott Langhorst read both of the ASAC resolutions to DDLC members which outlined the renaming of the ASAC DDLC to ASAC Educational Technology Committee and which clarified the role of the VCCS DDLC relative to the ASAC Educational Technology Committee.
Some DDLC members expressed concern about the proposed membership of the DDLC as worded. The wording left the appointment of DDLC members up to each College president, which is the current appointment structure a well. However, John and Scott pointed out that the CFAC representative to ASAC requested that faculty members also be appointed to the DDLC and noted that Vice Presidents were supportive of that request. Some members were concerned that some presidents might appoint a faculty member to the committee instead of an instructional technology person, who might have a broader knowledge of influencing academic technology issues. DDLC members discussed various options, including expanding the committee to include faculty representatives rather than replacing slots currently occupied by instructional technology personnel. John Downey indicated that he and Steve Sachs (the governance commission chair) would discuss DDLC committee membership with Dr. Sullivan.
Scott Langhorst read and explained the ASAC discussion item on reviewing the “VDEN Academic Standards” as it relates to proctored activities. Scott and Steve Sachs provided a history of the document and indicated that it was approved through the ASAC and ACOP back when distance learning consisted primarily of asynchronous compressed video courses. Scott mentioned that ASAC viewed the issues regarding proctoring to be broader than distance learning alone and requested a joint committee meeting at the next ASAC between the educational concerns and Educational Technology Committees. In the meantime, Scott emphasized that vice presidents were asked to survey faculty to determine the extent that proctored activities are currently happening at each college. He recommended that DDLC members should work with their VPs to ensure faculty are surveyed.
Steve Sachs talked about House Bill HR609 that just passed as part of the federal higher education reauthorization act. The bill requires colleges to verify the identity of each individual registered to take distance learning courses.

3. Update on Enterprise Initiatives.
Sue Ann Curran described current VCCS IT enterprise initiatives. Ralph Lucia then handed out a document updating the committee on ITS’ current and planned tasks that relate to Blackboard. He requested input from the committee on how to prioritize the list of tasks. Ralph Lucia also stated that ITS was still working on the Blackboard 6.3 test environment. Once that testing environment is ready, the Blackboard 6.3 upgrade can be tested to identify any issues that the upgrade may cause in production. In the meantime, Ralph wanted DDLC to provide feedback regarding the priorities of bringing the various building blocks identified at the last DDLC into production.
Ralph explained the two types of Building Blocks: Freeware & Open Source. Freeware comes “as is” at no cost. Since the source code is typically not provided with freeware, those building blocks cannot be altered if they cause any issues in production. Open Source software typically comes with the source code and thus can often be programmed differently if issues arise. Ralph also mentioned that although all of the building blocks requested at the last DDLC meeting come without a cost, ITS staff time devoted to testing and implementing such software should not be overlooked.
John Downey recommended, and the committee agreed, to start with the MERLOT Building Block as a test, since that was the only Open Source software provided by Blackboard that includes support. Once that building block is implemented and tested in the test database, then it could be launched in the production environment. Once that action is taken and the impact on end users is assessed, other building blocks could be tested using the same methodology. John suggested that the DDLC organize itself at the next meeting to develop a procedure for prioritizing additional Building Blocks for ITS. The document provided by Ralph is appended to these minutes.

Break for lunch.

Note: John Downey had to return to BRCC for faculty interviews. He asked Mary Clare DiGiacomo to fill in as chair for the afternoon.

4. Update/discussion on Course Coding for Distance Learning.
Rebecca Kittleberger handed out the “Course Coding in PeopleSoft” 3/30/06 draft and reported that the A&R Peoplesoft workgroup recommended that the document be approved by DDLC and subsequently by ASAC. Some DDLC members suggested that no one in the A&R workgroup has sufficient expertise in distance learning to understand the coding issues involved. DDLC made several suggestions for Rebecca to take back to the A&R workgroup. The major suggestions made by the DDLC included:
-Replace the term “Blended Courses” with “Hybrid/Blended Courses” so that the colleges that have used the term “Hybrid Courses” in publications can still use it.
-The committee suggested developing a category for real-time (synchronous) distance courses, such as those taught using Centra. The term “Virtual-RT” (real time) was suggested.
-DDLC Members discussed whether the term “Compressed Video” be changed to “Interactive Television”?
-If the LMS Panel is going to be used in the future for identifying courses, then should we be telling colleges that they do not have to use it now?

DDLC members discussed the possibility of a joint meeting between DDLC representatives and the A&R Peoplesoft workgroup in order to finalize the document for presentation at ASAC.

5. Blackboard Template Courses: Copy policy recommendation.
Steve Sachs recommended that the VCCS establish a policy in regards to coping courses designed as templates that do not follow the normal naming convention because they are templates and not courses offered in a given semester. Ralph Lucia explained that if a college gives VCCS ITS a course template, and indicates to them the number of courses that the college wants created based on the template, ITS can accommodate that request.

6. Update on the status of the VCCS DL Survey Committee.
Robert Vawter handed out and discussed the March 10, 2006, minutes of the DL Survey meeting.

7. “Refine toolsets in the shared course-management system.”
Robert Vawter asked the committee members to provide responses to Goal #18C, “Refine toolsets in the shared course-management system,” from the 2005-06 Chancellor’s Goals.
He indicated that members would be surveyed on this question after the New Horizons Conference. DDLC members asked for clarification regarding the meaning of “refine toolsets.” The committee was told that upgrading to Blackboard version 6.3 is one example and adding the MERLOT Building Block would be another. Bob also provided members with a list of tools that the VCCS MERLOT Team had identified in the MERLOT collection. The list is available at by clicking on “DL Tools,” which is located under the heading of “Dateline 2009 & MERLOT.”

8. Software titles purchased by the colleges to be run on their computers.
Robert Vawter told the committee that there are many software titles being purchased by multiple colleges without the benefit of pooling their purchases. The committee was told that AS&R is looking into the possibility of putting together a “software menu” of titles owned or being considered by several of our colleges. This menu would contain negotiated software prices that any college could purchase at substantial saving. This does not mean that the software would be enterprise versions but rather that contracts could be negotiated by the system for colleges to opt in or out of. The committee was asked if their colleges would be interested in this possibility, and many stated that they thought it was a good idea.

9. From the floor.
A committee member asked if there was a formal peer review form for distance learning courses. The committee was shown the “Quality Assurance for Asynchronous Distance Learning in the VCCS” plan that was drafted in 2000. This plan is located on the ITDE web site ( under the “For College” menu. Some members of the committee also asked if faculty should be required to receive training on how to teach a distance learning course. Some colleges have an On-line Academy for Distance Learning instructors and PVCC has an online certification program for its DL faculty.

10. Next meeting.
The next DDLC meeting is scheduled for Friday, June 2, 2006. The meeting location will be announced as the date approaches. Mary Clare reminded the group that elections for chairperson would occur at that meeting.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Blackboard & Merlot

From: Ralph Lucia []
Sent: Mon 4/3/2006 4:23 PM
To: John DowneyCc: Neil Matkin; Monty Sullivan;
Subject: Blackboard & Merlot


At the DDLC meeting on Friday, it was my understanding that the group recommended that the Merlot Building Block should be given a high priority. Many Building Blocks (both free and third party commercial varieties) have been suggested for implementation, but a procedure has not yet been established for the DDLC to recommend Blackboard Building Blocks for the VCCS shared Blackboard system. Again, it is my understanding that the deployment of the Merlot Building Block will serve as a starting point, and the DDLC will work to establish criteria and procedures for recommending other Building Blocks for system-wide deployment in the future. I am happy to report that the Merlot Building Block has now been deployed in the training instance of Blackboard. Blackboard Administrators are able to provide access to this instance for those who require it.

ITS requests that colleges assist in the testing of this Building Block. Upon completion of testing, ITS will deploy it as soon as feasible. We do, however, reserve the right to temporarily disable any Building Block as a troubleshooting measure should we experience problems in our production system. As I mentioned in the meeting, our sources at Blackboard inform us that Building Blocks are known to occasionally cause problems with Blackboard.

ITS staff requests that the DDLC also examine the features that will be available with the implementation of Version 6.3 and provide recommendations regarding which (if any) optional features should be made available immediately at the upgrade. Please see the attached for a list of 6.3 features. The training system mentioned above has been upgraded to Version 6.3 for colleges to preview these new features.


Student AND Faculty Blackboard Email Problems

Posted by Carol Childress, VCCS Client Services, on Monday, April 03, 2006 - 11:57 am:

The following service interruption notice has just been posted:

Missing Emails sent from Blackboard System

Due to problems last week with our move of Blackboard onto a new load balancing system, the Blackboard send mail function encountered problems trying to send emails from within the Blackboard system to email systems supporting students and faculty. Some emails may have been lost. Impact: Faculty and students who sent emails via Blackboard from last Thursday (Mar. 30) through 10:00 AM this morning (Apr. 3) should assume they did not arrive, and should resend the items.

Estimated Resolution Time:

Contact Information:
VCCS Client Services