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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.

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