As of this writing, approximately 70% of the University's campus faculty utilize Blackboard in some way for their courses and are successfully taking advantage of the system's capabilities. All faculty teaching online use Blackboard and many other off-campus instructors are implementing it to supplement other face-to-face courses. Even with such widespread use, much of what goes on "behind-the-scenes" remains a mystery to users and the remaining nonusers alike. Today's Blackboard system is a robust environment offering a unique and beneficial opportunity to extend the boundaries of the traditional classroom.
What is visible to a given user upon login is dependent entirely upon a daily process known as the "snapshot." The snapshot is the process that keeps Blackboard current. Four times each day (2AM, 8AM, 2PM, 8PM) the snapshot obtains information from SAP, formats it appropriately and loads it into Blackboard. In this way, Blackboard's records are kept within six hours of the Registrar's activities including student adds, drops and instructor course assignments.
Being familiar with the way in which Blackboard identifies courses can go a long way to help instructors manage the "My Courses" list. Courses are identified in Blackboard by a unique "course ID." A course ID consists of the course designator, a hyphen, five digit semester number, a second hyphen and finally the section or eight digit event package number (EPN). For example, a Computers in Society course (CPS 100) scheduled for offering in the fall of 2010 with a section number of 22123456 would have a Blackboard course ID of CPS100-11300-22123456.
SAP recognizes three semesters, Spring 500, Summer 700 and Fall 300. The first two digits of the semester number (11 in the example above) represent academic year (2011). The last three digits represent the semester, 300 or Fall in this case. Fall is the first semester of each new academic year.
Course ID information can be seen by any user under his or her "Courses" tab (next to the "My Bb Home" tab) on the Blackboard homepage. Through some simple modifications the course ID can also be made visible on the "My Courses" list. Knowing when courses will be offered in the future and identifying those that were offered in the past allows a user to hide courses that are not needed.
The Course Lifecycle
At this point, it should be clear that courses are created and users, both faculty and students, are enrolled in (associated with) these courses based on the data loaded into Blackboard by the snapshot and that this data is obtained daily from SAP. Course shells and the information they contain do NOT remain on the Blackboard system indefinitely. To maintain a balance between system performance and providing access to older courses, a purge process is completed on the system twice each year.
Specific information about the purge as well as detailed information explaining how to export your course can be found in the purge policy document. Exporting a course at the conclusion of the semester is always a good idea, even if the one-year life cycle is not an issue. To export your course, enter the control panel and click "export course" from the course options menu.
No piece on the workings of Blackboard at CMU would be complete without a few words on support. The primary point of contact for assistance is the CMU Help Desk (989.774.3662 or toll-free 800-950-1144 x. 3662). The Help Desk effectively resolves hundreds of Blackboard-related calls each month. If they are unable to solve a problem or answer a question, it is automatically passed on to the Blackboard Resource Group. The Blackboard Resource Group is composed of staff members from FaCIT, ProfEd and Information Technology. After an issue is referred on to them, a member of the group will follow up within one business day to provide a resolution or gather more information.