NMSU to Move to Blackboard CE8

ACANS News & Information Center

NMSU to Move to Blackboard CE8

New Mexico State University will transition to Blackboard CE 8 in Fall 2009.That transition is the result of the 2005 merger of Blackboard Inc. and WebCT. As a consequent of the merger, Blackboard Inc. announced it would discontinue its support of WebCT CE 4.1 after October 2009.

The merger of the two leading eLearning providers incorporates the best features of both companies. “Blackboard CE8,” states Norma Grijalva, Director of ICT Telecommunication and Networking Services, “is basically the newest version of WebCT.” And though Grijalva says there is a learning curve, she states that Learning Management System (LMS) users will be able to transfer their knowledge of WebCT to Blackboard.

ICT Training Services Preparing Training Agenda for Blackboard CE8

“This involves a lot of work from a lot of people,” says Grijalva. ICT Training Services personnel have been training on Blackboard CE 8 since the system was adopted in August 2008.

“Trainers are busy learning the new version in an effort to prepare just-in-time and new training workshops for faculty, academic staff and graduate assistants starting in January,” said Dr. Sharon Lalla, Manager of Training Services. A small group of users spanning the NMSU community are currently testing Blackboard CE 8 and providing feedback. Access has been given to support personnel at the community colleges, distance education, library and to various members of Faculty Advisory Committee on Technology (FACT). “In addition,” says Lalla, “support personnel from the community colleges who are charged with supporting WebCT at their sites will meet with us in November to share and plan training activities that will hopefully meet the needs of all campuses.” Training Services also is preparing faculty and student web resources to assist them as they learn the version updates. Training Services Instructional Technology Specialists Adam Cavotta and Sipai Klein are leading this effort.

Lalla explains that migration of existing courses will be the first step. To assist in this process, a number of migration workshops will be available over a six month period and will include Open Lab Fridays. According to Robbie Grant, Training Services Instructional Technology Specialist, “The migration workshop will take faculty through the steps to convert or restructure their courses to take advantage of the new features of Blackboard CE 8.”

Blackboard CE8 Uses a Rational Database

From the technical side, Blackboard CE 8 is a completely different database structure than WebCT. Blackboard CE 8 uses an Oracle relational database whereas WebCT uses a flat file system. The differences include the organization of data, the ability to store large amounts of data and better data management tools.

The new Blackboard system also will be a new configuration. A single Blackboard application server can handle 500 concurrent users. Based on current numbers, Grijalva says, “We are already at a minimum of six applications servers; however, with physical redundancy, it goes up to 12 servers. In reality,” explains Grijalva, “we are using half the capacity of a server. We do this to ensure disaster recovery and business continuity.” Both the Blackboard application server tier and the Oracle database tier are scalable, which means that database and application servers can be added as user numbers dictate.

In an effort to make sure that no one application server is overtaxed, Grijalva states that a load balancer will evenly distribute user request among application servers. To help mitigate the effects of a disaster in the Computer Center, Blackboard system servers will be physically housed in two different locations.

Additionally, explains Grijalva, the Oracle relational database will provide a measure of reliability not inherent to WebCT. It has a roll back feature that allows for the recovery of data in the event that something was to happen. This adds a bit of insurance as NMSU personnel continue to work on the transition to Blackboard CE 8.

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