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Blackboard 9 upgrade complete

July 9, 2010

We have now successfully completed our upgrade to Blackboard 9.1 Service Pack 1 – one week ahead of schedule.

Admittedly, our advertised period of downtime did make provision for lots of things to go wrong, based on the fairly reasonable assumption that, where software is concerned (and especially where Blackboard is concerned) if something can go wrong, it will.

In the event, the upgrade of Blackboard itself (and Red Hat Linux, and Oracle, and various third party building blocks) went remarkably smoothly. Many thanks to the small team of server and database staff who worked to make this possible.

In fact we would have been back in business 2 or 3 days ago, had it not been for some very odd behaviour where users

  • logged in apparently OK, but could see no courses (because in fact Blackboard had “silently” logged them out)
  • logged in OK – could see all their courses – but were then summarily logged out when they visited certain tabs

We’ve found the cause and applied a central solution for the second of these (although we will be continuing to talk to Blackboard about whether the underlying cause is a bug or a deliberate change on their part – and if the latter, we’ll ask them to reconsider! Do contact me if you want to know the details, or the outcome).

The first problem, of not being properly logged in so not being able to see any courses, was of course potentially very serious, and we could not at first discern a pattern – behaviour was different for users according to their operating system, browser, possibly their computer settings, possibly their ISP. Initially we thought it was connected to the fact that we had redirected http://online.tvu.ac.uk during the upgrade (so that users wouldn’t inadvertently log in and do work while we were working on the system, and so they weren’t just presented with a “page unavailable” message). When we restored that URL there may have been a caching issue for some people, but actually the key thing seemed to be a cookie which for some reason the new version of Blackboard didn’t like. Deleting that cookie seems to clear the problem in nearly every case. Indeed for some Internet Explorer users, simply logging out then back in again did the job.

Advice and instructions for dealing with these problems is now prominently posted on the TVU Online login page, and the TVU Online Help site.

We’ve also got “What’s New in Blackboard 9.1” guides for students and staff, while staff can get information on changes and new features on the “Blackboard 9 upgrade” tab at http://opendoor.tvu.ac.uk

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