Blackboard update

The Blackboard service disruption on May 24 had a major impact on many staff and students at the university. This post outlines some of the ongoing activity in response to that incident.

Blackboard has a range of ways to continuously monitor our system. Since the incident, they have been providing us with twice-daily performance updates. These have shown that our Blackboard system has been performing extremely well, with very high responsiveness and no notable issues. This matches with our ongoing monitoring, and indicates that the additional capacity we added to our Blackboard system before the assessment period began has been effective. An investigation by Blackboard has identified the root cause of the incident as a flaw in the underlying database, which has been reported to the database supplier, Oracle. Blackboard and the Digital Education Office have put measures in place to ensure that the issue cannot recur, and Blackboard’s monitoring reports have shown that these have been successful.

All scheduled exams since last Monday morning have run successfully. The DEO is collating data on exam activity daily to check that exams are being completed and is working closely with IT Services and the Exams Office to provide timely and consistent support to students.

Once again, please accept our apologies for the distress that this incident caused.

Scheduled Maintenance – Blackboard Collaborate Ultra 10th June

Blackboard Collaborate has advised us that there will be scheduled maintenance taking place on Thursday, June 10th, between midnight and 4 am. During this time, users will experience intermittent availability. The purpose of the maintenance is to bring improvements to mobile use of Collaborate.

During the maintenance, you can check Blackboard’s service status page.

We apologise for any inconvenience caused. If you have any questions, please email digital-education@bristol.ac.uk.

Please check the IT service status page to see how the University’s systems and services are working and for planned maintenance information.

Recommended settings and backup plans for Blackboard test exams

In the light of the technical issues experienced on Monday, we would recommend that Blackboard tests in the 2021 Summer Exam period do not use ‘force completion’ and have ‘auto-submit’ turned off. Schools should also carefully consider whether the use of restricted time windows in which students are allowed to start an exam is necessary and should contact the Digital Education Office for further advice if they are planning to use these.  

Following this advice this will help ensure that students have time to complete an exam in the event of a technical failure.  

This is in addition to our existing advice that all assessments should have a backup plan for use in the event of a technical problem (for example, wait for the issue to resolve and proceed with the exam, reschedule the assessment, use an alternative format such as a downloadable copy of the exam). Students should always be advised in advance what the backup plan for their assessment will be. 

Blackboard notifications turned off

As a precautionary measure, while Blackboard are investigating the root cause of the incident yesterday morning, we have turned off notifications in Blackboard. These are alerts that normally appear on the Notifications Dashboard tab on the Blackboard Home page, or in optional modules in individual courses, reminding you about items (such as assignments, tests or marks) that are newly available.

Please accept our apologies for any inconvenience this causes.

Issue bulk downloading assignments affecting some staff (including for file upload exams)

A small number of staff have reported an issue downloading Blackboard assignments using the bulk-download tool in Course Tools > Download Assignments.  Having selected the relevant assignment and students, when clicking ‘Submit’ the expected zip file download does not appear. Blackboard have been informed and are investigating as a matter of urgency. 

What to do if you experience this

Clearing Blackboard cookies has been shown to resolve this issue.  Please follow the instructions below to clear cookies, then try downloading again. If you continue to experience problems, please contact digital-education@bristol.ac.uk.

Chrome 

  1. On your computer, open Chrome. 
  2. At the top right, click the three dots and then Settings. 
  3. Under ‘Privacy and security’, click Cookies and other site data. 
  4. Click See all cookies and site data. 
  5. At the top right, search for ole. 
  6. To the right of ‘www.ole.bris.ac.uk’, click the bin icon. 
  7. Close all instances of Chrome and Edge. 
  8. Reopen Chrome, log in to Blackboard and try the download again. 

 Edge 

  1. On your computer, open Edge. 
  2. At the top right, click the three dots and then Settings. 
  3. Under ‘Cookies and Site Permissions’, click  Manage and delete cookies and site data. 
  4. Click  See all cookies and site data. 
  5. At the top right, search for ole. 
  6. Click the down-arrow next to ‘bris.ac.uk’. 
  7. To the right of ‘www.ole.bris.ac.uk’, click the bin icon. 
  8. Close all instances of Edge and Chrome. 
  9. Reopen Edge, log in to Blackboard and try the download again. 

Apologies for any disruption caused. We will provide updates on this blog as soon as we have them.

Hiding marks and feedback until ready for release

As the assessment period starts, schools should please ensure that Blackboard Grade Centre columns are hidden from students until marks and feedback are ready to be released. You can check a column is hidden from students by looking for the circle with a red line through it in the column header.
A column header with the 'hidden from students' icon
If it is not hidden, and you need to hide it, click the down arrow next to the column header and select Hide from students (on/off).
The menu to hide columns from students
For Turnitin users, please be aware that a persistent bug means you must make the submission point unavailable after making any changes to the settings. For more details, please see our previous blog post on Turnitin submission point availability issues.
If you have any questions, please email digital-education@bristol.ac.uk.

Roles and processes for any issues arising during summer assessment

Should any significant issue arise with an assessment system during the summer assessment period, the following steps will be followed:

  1. Issue reported: DEO identifies Incident Lead (usually service lead) and collates initial data to assess if this is a major incident. DEO informs colleagues, eg DEO Helpdesk and other DEO staff (via internal Teams group) plus IT Services TLC team (via Teams).
  2. Initial investigation: DEO Incident Lead reviews available data and consults with internal/external Technical Service Manager to complete initial assessment of problem and its impact (rapid triage).
  3. Major incident confirmed: 
    1. Incident Lead informs Head of Digital Education (via Teams) and Exams Office (via Teams) and confirms major incident with IT Services to enable their Major Incident process.
    2. DEO posts to DEO blog using ‘service announcement’ category which then emails info to subscribers and updates feeds (eg Blackboard home page). This information is also used by IT Services to update their status page.
    3. Head of Digital Education updates senior team in Education and Student Experience.
  4. Major incident management: IT Services oversees communication to staff and students as part of its Major Incident process. The DEO and IT Services continue to update blog and status page until issue is resolved.

The DEO recommends that relevant school and faculty staff subscribe to the DEO blog and consult the IT Services status page. In the event of a major incident, the DEO blog will have live and detailed updates, while the IT Services status page will contain more high-level information. Both the blog and status page are available to students.

If a technical issue affecting a live assessment is reported directly to schools or faculties, they should check the DEO blog for updates first, as the issue may have already been reported to the DEO. If nothing has been posted on the blog, they should contact the DEO.