This post is being written in response to the unreliability of Blackboard 8.0—outages, slowness and bugs, oh my! Are we beta testing? Some didn’t realize how dependent we’ve become upon Blackboard until it went down for three consecutive days in mid March 2009.
As I hear rumors that Blackboard is likely to remain unreliable with periodic outages, I’ve quietly been setting up workarounds so the show can go on. Below are some of my tricks; apologies for undoubtedly provoking the ire of some of my friends in corporate IT. And Kevin Wolff in BCTC, everyone says you are a miracle worker. Seriously. Thanks from all of us in the faculty.
Question 1: True or false? Baruch offers a service so you can post items on the web, even when Blackboard is down.
Faculty can sign up for their own blog with Baruch’s Bernard L. Schwartz Communications Institute (the sponsors of this blog). The blogs are easily formatted to have the look and feel of a web page (example). Post away! (Another option is the eReserve.)
Question 2: True or false? When Blackboard is down and you want to post a giant file, you can send emails with large attachments (say, up to 1 gigabyte) for free?
Question 3: True or false? You can (easily) send an email to the entire class from your baruch.cuny.edu email account even when Blackboard is down.
The easiest way I know is via Gmail, though other email packages allow you to set up broadcast groups as well.
Step 1. Create a new Gmail email account (or use the one you already own).
Step 2. Download the class email list from the Baruch eRoster (select the “download roster” option and save as XLS file).
Step 3. Go to Gmail > Contacts > Export to download your contacts as a “Google CSV” file. This gives a nicely formatted Excel spreadsheet into which you copy-paste the names/emails you downloaded in step 2. Save as CSV format.
Step 4. Go to Gmail > Contacts > Import, and select the CSV file you updated in step 3. Be sure to check the box “Also add these imported contacts to new group.”
Now send an email to the group. As a bonus, Gmail allows attachments up to 20 MB in size. But wait, there’s more! Go to Gmail > Settings > Accounts > “Send Mail As”, and enter your baruch.cuny.edu email address. Even though you are emailing from gmail.com, students will see baruch.cuny.edu, and replies will go there too.
P.S. A week after I wrote the above, Dennis Slavin forwarded a note from Arthur Downing: “The BCTC has launched a new Blackboard status page that posts the current availability of the system along with the status messages received from CUNY: http://www.baruch.cuny.edu/blackboard “. There’s some good stuff here too.