How Blackboard works

Background Information

As of this writing, approximately 82% of the provisioned Blackboard course shells are activated by faculty to take 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.

The Snapshot

A procedure known as the "snapshot" automatically creates Blackboard course shells and automatically updates course enrollments/withdrawals for any course offered by the university. The snapshot keeps Blackboard current with official university records. Any enrollment activity (adds/drops) executed by a student using the course search/registration system are processed in 'real-time'. Within moments of adding a course, a student can expect to see that course listed in Blackboard; the reverse also holds true for drops--the course will be removed almost instantly. Administrative adds/drops (i.e. those executed by someone other than the student her/himself), instructor assignments, and new course requests are not instantly updated in Blackboard, but are updated through the 4 times a day snapshot process which obtains information from SAP/SLCM (the universities official information system), formats it appropriately and loads it into Blackboard.

Identifying Courses

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 2015 with a section number of 22212345 would have a Blackboard course ID of CPS100-16300-22212345.

SAP recognizes three semesters: Fall 300, Spring 500 and Summer 700. The first two digits of the semester number (16 in the example above) represent the academic year of 2016-2017. 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 cannot be modified, however, the course title (or course name and that which appears on the My CMU Courses module) can be changed by the course instructor. The My CMU Courses module automatically organizes and groups courses by semester, allowing both instructors and students alike the ability to collapse from view any completed semesters

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 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 once a 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.

Blackboard Support

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 Learning Management Instructional Support Team. After an issue is referred on to them, a member of the team will follow up within one business day to provide a resolution or gather more information.​​

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