Skip to main content

The Blackboard Bungle

Earlier this semester, there was a "glitch" with the Blackboard shell for my writing course. I had spent hours and hours uploading content, organizing the shell, and trying to perfect the course. And then it was gone.

The Blackboard team eventually restored most, but not all, of the content.

It was a tough reminder that online systems are, like all computing systems, imperfect. Systems crash. Databases get corrupted. Things go wrong and you need a contingency plan.

The Blackboard bungle left my students frustrated and has cost me more than few hours. While I had copies of all materials, they were scattered about my hard drive. I didn't want to duplicate files, which I thought would waste space. I sometimes used "links" (aliases) to original files, as a compromise.

On my computer, which is backed up to three external drives and mirrored to another computer, I now have a directory system that aligns with my Blackboard shell. There are folders for each weekly unit, a folder for all assignment prompts, and a folder for additional readings. There are now duplicates, but Word documents are only a few hundred kilobytes. If I use a file for a course (not a specific section of the course), there will be a copy in the course directory tree.

In an emergency, I can now upload the items to recreate a course shell.

I've also exported the shell for the course that choked, which I will do again towards the end of the semester. Yes, the exports are huge compressed files with complete directory contents, but it is easier to re-import a shell than to upload the files.

My students rely on Blackboard in a way I can't imagine doing. They trust it to have their grades, assignment files, and other materials. When things went sideways, I was stunned that some students don't keep copies of their work. The good news (for them) is that I do download all student files to my system — and I make backup copies.

Teaching with technology means remembering that tech fails.


Popular posts from this blog

Slowly Rebooting in 286 Mode

The lumbar radiculopathy, which sounds too much like "ridiculously" for me, hasn't faded completely. My left leg still cramps, tingles, and hurts with sharp pains. My mind remains cloudy, too, even as I stop taking painkillers for the back pain and a recent surgery.

Efforts to reboot and get back on track intellectually, physically, and emotionally are off to a slow, grinding start. It reminds me of an old 80286 PC, the infamously confused Intel CPU that wasn't sure what it was meant to be. And this was before the "SX" fiascos, which wedded 32-bit CPU cores with 16-bit connections. The 80286 was supposed to be able to multitask, but design flaws resulted in a first-generation that was useless to operating system vendors.

My back, my knees, my ankles are each making noises like those old computers.

If I haven't already lost you as a reader, the basic problem is that my mind cannot focus on one task for long without exhaustion and multitasking seems…

MarsEdit and Blogging

MarsEdit (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Mailing posts to blogs, a practice I adopted in 2005, allows a blogger like me to store copies of draft posts within email. If Blogger, WordPress, or the blogging platform of the moment crashes or for some other reason eats my posts, at least I have the original drafts of most entries. I find having such a nicely organized archive convenient — much easier than remembering to archive posts from Blogger or WordPress to my computer.

With this post, I am testing MarsEdit from Red Sweater Software based on recent reviews, including an overview on 9to5Mac.

Composing posts an email offers a fast way to prepare draft blogs, but the email does not always work well if you want to include basic formatting, images, and links to online resources. Submitting to Blogger via Apple Mail often produced complex HTML with unnecessary font and paragraph formatting styles. Problems with rich text led me to convert blog entries to plaintext in Apple Mail and then format th…

Screenwriting Applications

Screenplay sample, showing dialogue and action descriptions. "O.S."=off screen. Written in Final Draft. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) A lot of students and aspiring writers ask me if you "must" use Final Draft or Screenwriter to write a screenplay. No. Absolutely not, unless you are working on a production. In which case, they own or your earn enough for Final Draft or Screenwriter and whatever budget/scheduling apps the production team uses.

I have to say, after trying WriterDuet I would use it in a heartbeat for a small production company and definitely for any non-profit, educational projects. No question. The only reason not to use it is that you must have the exclusive rights to a script... and I don't have those in my work.

WriterDuet is probably best free or low-cost option I have tested. It is very interesting. Blows away Celtx. The Pro version with off-line editing is cheaper than Final Draft or Screenwriter.

The Pro edition is a standalone, offline versio…