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January 01
Bb Maintenance and Testing Complete
The Blackboard maintenance and testing at UK is complete. If you encounter any difficulties, please contact the Help Desk at 218-HELP so that the Blackboard technicians can address any issues.
December 09
Bb maintenance set for overnight Dec. 30

Blackboard at the University of Kentucky will be unavailable from 8pm on Dec. 30 until 4am on Dec. 31 for maintenance. Between 8am and noon on Dec. 31, additional testing will be performed to ensure performance (Blackboard will be available during that time). Instructors and students who experience any problems after the upgrade should call 218-HELP and issues will be reported directly to our Blackboard technicians.

December 01
Open and Captured Content: The Twenty-first Century Classroom Experience

Wednesday, December 8, 2010
W.T. Young Auditorium
1:00pm-3:00pm

During this session, national leaders in open content and lecture capture will discuss innovative new technologies that hold the potential to revolutionize teaching and learning.

Overview:
The University of Kentucky is exploring learning environments to complement the traditional classroom.  One of the alternatives is defined as open content.  UK and other universities are also adopting course capture systems which capture lectures for reuse and allow students to replay lectures to enhance their understanding. While course capture might not fundamentally alter a faculty member’s underlying pedagogy, its adoption can promote student learning and allow faculty greater flexibility both in the classroom and throughout the semester.

Studies of new trends in higher education, such as The Horizon Report, suggest that open content will become more main stream in higher education in the near future. According to The Horizon Report, open content is a growing movement that focuses on sharing and reusability and thrives on the availability of a wide range of educational content. "Offering a potential alternative to traditionally published materials such as textbooks that is highly customizable and cost-effective," the report states, "the open content movement depends on a community of contributors and users who are willing to create and release high-quality educational content in a variety of media at little to no cost."The Horizon Report is available at http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/CSD5810.pdf.

Speakers:
Cable Green is the Director of eLearning & Open Education for the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC). He provides leadership for the college system on strategic technology planning, opening and sharing digital content, growing and improving online and hybrid learning, and implementing enterprise learning technologies and support services. Cable joined the SBCTC in 2007. Prior to this, he served as the Director of Technology for the Ohio Learning Network and Director of Educational Technology for the Ohio State University College of Pharmacy. Returning to the Northwest, he earned his BS in international affairs from Lewis and Clark College. He holds an MPC from Westminster College, a MA in communication from Ohio State University, and a PhD in educational technology from Ohio State. Cable is particularly interested in how digital networked technologies and open educational resources are changing higher education. He has a targeted interest in how educational technologies and connectivist pedagogies can be successfully combined to help learners create, manage, and contribute their work through open knowledge initiatives.

Chris Huff represents leading course capture technology company, Echo 360, and has more than 23 years of successful sales and business development leadership experience in public and venture-backed technology companies. Chris will introduce successful use cases of Echo 360 course capture systems. UK will be installing 50 course capture systems to provide faculty and students another method of improving the classroom experience in 2011. Chris is the Senior Vice President of Worldwide sales at Echo 360.  Huff received a bachelor’s degree in history from Dartmouth College.

Tim MacEldowney is the Mid-South Regional Sales Manager for Echo360. He has over 5 years experience in working with University Faculty and Staff in Kentucky, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia in the planning and deployment of lecture/learning capture solutions.  Tim will provide insight into what other universities are doing at this with course capture in the teaching learning experience. Prior to Echo360, Tim spent 4 years with WebCT, a leading provider of course management solutions.

Email questions regarding “Open and Captured Content” to ashleytabb@uky.edu.

August 22
Back to School 2010
2010 Summer Performance Numbers
User Authentications 473,230
Unique Users 19,807
Unplanned Bb outage 0 min
Unplanned related outages
(network, etc)
150 min
User Satisfaction
(Hits processed under 800ms)
99.9%

It is back to school time and Blackboard is ready for the upcoming semester. I wanted to point out a few things we’ve done over the summer to get the system ready for the fall semester.

First, we’ve moved to the latest version called Blackboard Learn 9.1. This version brought several improvements to the back end systems. Bb9.1 supports the latest version of 64 bit java, meaning we can serve more faculty and students per server, and the servers will be able to process the requests faster.

The move to Bb9.1 also brought a few changes to user experience, many of the things both faculty and students do inside the course are more intuitive, and faculty can quickly embed video and images from YouTube and flickr.

The new Blackboard Mobile Learn application is available for users of iPad, iPod, and iPhone while connected to wi-fi as well as Sprint customers with a Blackberry or Google Android based smart phones. Students can download the app for free from the market on your mobile device.

Second, we’ve beefed up the monitoring infrastructure to ensure to enable us to keep a better eye on performance and availability. We’ve upgraded to the latest version of Coradiant TrueSight, we now have access to additional types of monitoring including global performance compliance, so we can track sessions better from around the world.

The next part of our monitoring infrastructure that we’ve updated is the Microsoft Operations Manager infrastructure. We’ve updated to the latest version which adds additional monitoring types for web and database, as well as improved reporting and alerting. We’ve also added an off campus monitor that allows us to check performance and availability from off campus.

Third we’ve added additional resources to the database and storage system to allow for additional materials to be stored inside the blackboard system. These new resources will help to ensure the system will be ready to handle the additional needs of the upcoming semester.

December 24
Latest service pack for Blackboard

On January 3rd we’ll be installing the latest service pack and hot fixes from Blackboard. There are several things that will be addressed in this release and while many of them will be seen by TASC and UKIT, several of the fixes will address issues seen by faculty and students using the system.

A few of things that will make life a little easier for everybody:

  • The My Courses module will work correctly for faculty with more than 25 courses
  • Issues with faculty attempting to search for all students under the course roster
  • the essay/short answer box will no longer block out part of the question
  • The list of certified browsers will include IE8, FireFox 3.5 and Safari 4
  • Various performance issues will be corrected

These are just a few of the many fixes included in this release.

We plan on installing these fixes Sunday, January 3rd beginning at 8:00 AM and completing before 6:00 PM.

If anybody has any questions about this upgrade please contact the IT Customer Service Center at 859-257-1300.

September 22
Some More Performance Numbers

This will probably be the last Host Latency graph I post for this semester unless there is something specific I want to show off. For the most part the performance has been fairly consistent with an average of under 300ms per page. This past week with nearly 6.9 million page views, we saw an average performance time of 218ms.

week20090913

I will continue to generate these graphs, so if anybody is curious, let me know and I’ll send you a copy of the weekly graph.

September 09
Another Week Another Graph
Traffic was fairly high the first couple days of last week, but trailed off as we led into the holiday weekend. The average host processing time was around 300 milliseconds; this number is a little higher than last week due in part to some errant process on one of the app servers. We are continuing to adjust the process to prevent this, and also working on better ways to monitor and correct performance problems quickly.
 
September 04
Virtualization and Blackboard
If you’ve been following the IT trends lately you’ve heard about virtualization, but unless you deal directly with hardware and applications you may not really care what it means, or even how it affects you as a consumer of technology.

The answer to that should be fairly simple. In reality it shouldn’t affect you at all, which is a good thing. As hardware performance increases we look at better ways to utilize the increased power. Most consumer applications, like Blackboard in education, can only make use of a certain level of system resources before they stop becoming efficient. On newer servers this leaves what turns out to be a great deal of extra power sitting idle.

To deal with many software vendors have been working on ways to put multiple workloads on the same piece of hardware allowing the hardware to be fully utilized while giving application all the power it needs to still perform well for the consumer. Until recently however this hasn’t always been a good fit in the Enterprise.

At the UKIT we’ve been working with VMWare for our Enterprise Server virtualization environment. Over the last two years we’ve place over 190 virtual machines on 8 physical servers, many development and testing machines have been virtualized, which has saved money, not in just hardware costs, but also in power and cooling costs. By better utilizing hardware in the datacenter, we’ve been able to more rapidly test and deploy new and existing applications.

The next step in this process is high use production applications. In the past there have been concerns that this technology would lead to poor performance when dealing applications with a high number of requests, however new advancements have been made in both hardware and software to make this much more possible.

This semester we’ve incorporate two virtual servers into Blackboard application pool, with very positive results. Virtual application servers give us more than just the ability to better use the hardware, we are able to better prepare for increased usage of Blackboard by incorporating additional virtual machines rapidly into the pool, we are even working on ways to have the system automatically allocate application servers based on real-time performance information.

In the future we plan to completely more our Blackboard app as well as many other UKIT projects to a completely virtual infrastructure. This move will put us in a much better position and allow us to focus more on providing the university community with a better application experience.
August 31
First Week 2009

Just like the first day, the first week has officially come and gone, and performance numbers for Blackboard were in good shape. Just like the first day of classes, overall performance was better than the same period last year, even with considerably more traffic.

Here is the latest performance graph showing Sunday to Saturday of the first week.

Performance Graph

As you can see traffic increased significantly over last year, while the average response time went down. This improvement in performance can be linked to several factors; most notably upgrade code from Blackboard that is based on newer better optimized technology.

Last year’s info: First Week 2008

We are very pleased with these improvements in performance, and will continue to work closely with Blackboard and other software companies to improve the faculty/student experience.

August 27
First Day
The First day of school has come and gone, and we noticed it in Blackboard, however based on the numbers faculty and students weren’t affected by the increased load. We did several things over the summer to make sure Blackboard would be able to handle an increased number of online enabled courses. Based on early numbers it looks like this work paid off.
 
Performance Graph
 
A few numbers to know about the first day of school:
2008
2009
Change
Blackboard Students
18,000
20,500
+14%
Blackboard Enrollments
45,000
53,000
+18%
Page Requests 700,000 1,200,000 +70%
Average Page Time 350 ms 200 ms -42%
 
This is just the first day, and different types of requests perform differently, so we'll keep monitoring the performance to make sure. But so far things are going well with Blackboard.
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