Blackboard will be unavailable for a maximum of 5 days from 7am on Monday 6th July.
Ulster's production Blackboard environment is Blackboard 9.1 Service Pack 12. Due to migration of the VLE infrastructure to the Coleraine Data Centre in June 2014, it was not possible to also update to Service Pack 14.
The update process to the latest version of Blackboard Learn 9.1 is not a direct update from our current version of Blackboard. It is a three step process from SP12 to SP14 to April 2014 and then onwards to October 2014, which requires a slightly longer downtime period than a typical annual update.
The user interface and toolset will remain similar to the existing version of Blackboard after this update. The update does include enhancements and new functionality and addresses known issues with the Grade Centre and Adaptive Release.
Whilst much of the update addresses known issues, there are a number of new features and enhancements which will become available. Please note, not all these features will be enabled and will require suitable governance processes before being switched on.
As the updates are cumulative, it is worth exploring the interim feature updates within our planned update path.
The latest release also allows incorporates functionality to allow Ulster to explore the Blackboard Grader App to allow assignments to be marked on mobile devices, including functionality for Audio and Video feedback.
Why is the update planned for 6th July?
Due to the scale of usage of the VLE, and associated technologies, there is no good time for downtime. Our strategy for selecting a suitable date was:
- Select a period between semesters, to avoid disruption to core teaching and learning activity.
- Select a period after exam boards.
- Analyse historical patterns of usage and identify periods when usage is in the lowest quartile.
- Identify two periods of potential downtime.
- Consult with key stakeholders within the academic community to identify which period is most suitable.
- Consult with colleagues in the Unix Services Team within ISD Infrastructure to support the update and agree the timeline
We recognise that the selection criteria is not ideal as it causes disruption to teaching and learning activity which is delivered outside conventional timescales. Examples includes work based courses, short courses, partnership activity and some distance learning provision. The downtime will also inconvenience those modules with early start dates outside semester. The timescale has been selected to minimise disruption and we apologise for the inevitable inconvenience this will cause to those programmes which are active during this time.
Why will the system be unavailable for 5 days?
The Office for Digital Learning and Unix Services Team have agreed a 6 week work plan to prepare and test the update process. A full update process will be conducted in a development environment before the update is applied to the live Blackboard environment. This minimises some of the potential downtime but still necessitates suitable business continuity and disaster recovery plans to be in place.
The work plan for the 5 days of downtime involves.
- Shutdown production environment.
- Perform full backup of production database, filesystem and application architecture, to allow a full system restore point to SP12 in a disaster situation.
- Perform update of production environment from SP12 to SP14.
- Conduct functional testing of SP14.
- Functional testing sign off
- Perform update of production environment from SP14 to April 2014 release.
- Conduct functional testing of April 2014 release.
- Functional testing sign off
- Perform update of production environment from April 2014 to October 2014 release.
- Customise the production environment in terms of load balancing, user interface, third party integrations and building blocks.
- Implement best practice optimisations to the environment.
- Bring the system live to known IP addresses.
- Conduct functional testing of October 2014 release.
- Functional testing sign off.
- Open destination version to public traffic.
- Monitor and review traffic and logs.