Bb World ’06.004: Listening Session: Blackboard Client Support

This conference is my first Blackboard conference, and the first anyone from Richmond has attended in four years. One of my big goals in attending the conference was to get a better line on where Blackboard was overall, and where they’re going. As a result I have planned on attending several of Blackboard’s “Listening Sessions.”

First up was the Listening Session on Blackboard Client Support. I should say that I’ve been impressed with our support from Blackboard, especially with Randy Min, who was our TSA for a while this past year. My purpose in attending this session was more to get a level of how everyone else felt about client support and what issues they had that could become issues for me.

Craig Chanoff, Blackboard’s VP for Client Support, presided. He started out with a brief presentation looking at the problems from a year ago and reporting on where they are now. While they still get plenty of technical issue calls, they’re also starting to get calls about things like capacity planning and faculty training. Chanoff sees this as a sign that things overall are better. He also pointed to their implementation of Google Search on Blackboard’s support site, and mentioned that soon the search tool will scan all of the different list archives, not just ASU’s primary Blackboard list.

Quality Assurance processes are better now than before. Version 7 went through six months of beta testing at schools before it was released. Chanoff did say that he was disappointed not to have made progress with browser compatibility. He offered that WebCT has some nice features for browser support, so perhaps we’ll see something in time.

Craig also talked about Blackboard’s new Enhancement Requests process. They received 500 requests in 2005. Of those, 25% were gradebook related, 30% pertained to the GUI, and 45% were technical (relating to e-mail, APIs and so on). 75% of the requests were accepted or flagged for future development efforts. Not too bad.

As for the Listening part of the session. Here are some of the items that came up:

  • Blackboard’s Internal Knowledge – Blackboard seems to know things that we don’t, and we can only get the information if we ask the right question of the right TSA. Craig said that they currently have 2 knowledge bases in the client support area, one of which is a wiki. Blackboard may make the wiki available to clients, flagging some items so that only the Bb staff can see, but opening up lots of other items to the rest of us.
  • Pushing fixes to clients. Oftentimes we have to hit a problem, diagnose, and call in to technical support only to find that it’s a known issue that’s come out since the last release. Craig said that as of version 7 a list of known issues is available on their support site. He added that as of today, clients can not only subscribe to news alerts (RSS feeds) from Behind the Blackboard, but they can subscribe to RSS feeds for case communication.
  • Craig pushed the Blackboard WebEx site as a place for clients to learn more. They’re working to put more events out there for us, so keep visitng the Blackboard WebEx site.
  • Blackboard uses Peoplesoft’s CRM and HR products for client support. Just so we know.
  • John Fontaine spoke about how development is working to improve the quality of what we get. He pointed to the changes they’ve made with the Gradebook, since high-stakes assessments essentially fail in 6.2 (our current version!). In 6.3 it’s better, but it’s fixed for the most part in 7.0. They’re currently investigating running multiple JVMs on the system to accommodate the huge amount of resources necessary for assessments. They’re also looking at making multiple attempts at assessments possible. As a workaround for clients having problems with assessments, John suggested going to a question-by-question format for the test or quiz, since all-at-once requires so much more memory.
  • Another client asked about being able to grade a single question for all students at once. Fontaine is interested in this, but it didn’t seem like anyone was working on it now.

A good session overall. Clients aren’t frustrated, Blackboard is making progress, and I think Richmond is in a good place with our systems, UR Operations & DBA support and our tech support from Blackboard.

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