Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Why rollover is not just pushing a button
Now this will be my last post to the Blog as today is my last day as a Learning Technologist at Sheffield University, but before I go I will just write a little more about the annual rollover of courses in MOLE 2 (our Blackboard Learn 9.1 virtual learning environment).

Background... new system, writing from scratch (except not)...

Now you would think that having done the rollover many times in the old WebCT system that we would find it easier to develop the new process in the new one... think again...  what we have found is that the way the two systems are designed is rather different so many assumptions about what we would be able to do and how we might have done it are having to be rethought. There are positives to this of course as Blackboard Learn is able to do things that WebCT never could and is improving all the time.

Not all courses are created automatically...

The majority of courses in MOLE 2 are standard module courses and will be created using a script (which gets more complicated every day according to our friends in technical services).

There are over one hundred other courses which must be collated and copied by hand. We are consulting Instructors about these as they need to tell us whether they want a new version for the coming year.

And of course there are the community spaces (Organisations) which need all the graduates removing.

Create the courses with all the right bits in...

One of the things we are discovering about Blackboard Learn is that copying a course is not as simple as it was in WebCT. There you had two options - a course with everything in it, or a course with just materials and empty tools in it. Blackboard Learn allows you to choose what to copy but doesn't make it very clear exactly how to define those choices, hence a little confusion and trial and error testing here.

Running, checking, (fixing), enrolling, releasing courses...

Once the script has been finished and tested thoroughly we then have to run it, department by department. We check that the content has been copied, by hand at first and once we're happy things are progressing well we just check course sizes, old and new. Then we also check that links between courses have been created and course titles are correct.

If anything has not copied correctly we investigate and hopefully fix it, at worst we have to recreate the course by hand.

We then enrol staff on to the courses (the same staff as the previous year) and provide instructions so they can be updated for the coming year.

Make sure that the right people see it at the right time

We must also organise things so that staff and students see the right courses at the right times. So students need access to this year's courses until after resits and sometimes later. Staff need access to this year's courses to support students and next year's courses to prepare. They also need a way of managing their course list so as not to update the wrong courses. This should be provided by a new functionality which will divide courses in the course list into Terms. Students are automatically (in most cases) added to next year's courses in early September.

Communicating with people about what is going to happen and what they will need to do

As always we need to provide staff and students with information about when and how the rollover will be performed and what they will have to update and check in their courses afterwards. These are things like:

  • checking any adaptive release items
  • hiding any materials that the students shouldn't see when they first access the course
  • changing any assignment hand in dates
  • possibly clearing discussion messages from forums
  • recreating Turnitin assignments
This list has yet to be finalised and a definitive list of checks will be sent out when the new courses are released to staff.

New functionality: Terms, Course Catalogue and Guest access for staff

Another part of the rollover is creating courses in such a way that new functionality will be available. All new courses need to be added to Terms (and previous courses as well) so that we can introduce a new look course list. Also we have been looking into providing Guest access to staff so they can view each others courses without having to have them in their course list. We hope to do this via the Course catalogue and will   provide more info on this after rollover.

Tidying up...

The final aspect of rollover is tidying up the old courses or Archiving them. It has yet to be decided how this will be done and some departments are requesting that their students have access to all the courses they have done for the duration of their studies so this may be complicated. However we will be looking into how to manage course visibility of old courses in the near future.


It's not just pressing a button... it's pressing lots... preferably in the right order ;-)


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