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February 13, 2010

24/7 Bb Support Update: January Stats & Known Issues

Last month, UMBC began its first full semester with Presidium Learning as the provider of our new 24/7 Blackboard support service. As a result, 169 students and 83 faculty sought direct, start-of-semester help (266 total). In addition, the related Bb self-support portal recorded 755 visits, 167 knowledge base article accesses and a total of 1,766 page views. This does not include 195 Blackboard "Request Tracker" (RT) tickets resolved by DoIT staff directly. A more detailed summary of January's 24/7 Bb support is available here, and future monthly reports will be announced in this DoIT News blog each month during this one-year pilot that was announced last fall.

While it's too soon to say what our 24/7 Bb support usage reports mean, or if and how Blackboard support may improve given staffing challenges reported last fall, a few specific issues emerged last month that need to be clarified or improved:

1. UMBC course creation and auto enrollment issues cannot be solved by 24/7 Bb Support.

As part of this pilot, UMBC elected not to give Presidium access to the Student Administration (SA) system, which is needed to troubleshoot course and enrollment mismatches between SA and Blackboard. A DoIT workgroup is meeting regularly to address the course and enrollment mismatch issues that emerged again this semester, with a focus on how to improve our current process before a planned upgrade to Blackboard version 9 in Fall 2010. While DoIT initially announced that Presidium would have to refer such "UMBC-specific uses of Blackboard back to the DoIT Help Desk," including course enrollment issues, some students and faculty sought support for these issues from Presidium, which could not solve them.

For now, DoIT asks students and faculty to submit an RT ticket via myUMBC help or directly at http://rt.umbc.edu for any course creation or enrollment mismatches between SA and Blackboard. Please include the specific course name, and userIDs of students or instructors who are officially enrolled in or eligible to teach the course according to the SA system. We will also continue to ask Presidium to escalate these requests to DoIT on behalf of UMBC students and faculty who end up contacting Presidium first.

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Tips for getting & improving UMBC Bb help (4:02 min)

2. Presidium should facilitate a "warm transfer" of issues they cannot solve or that are out of scope (e.g. UMBC Bb course creation and enrollment).

By mutual agreement, this means the Presidium Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) should explain to the UMBC student, faculty or staff member that they will need to transfer his or her call to the DoIT Help Desk during our business hours, or create an escalated ticket in DoIT's RT system after hours. Unfortunately, this was not done consistently in the first two weeks of January, resulting in some students and faculty contacting 24/7 support only to be told they should hang up and call the DoIT Help Desk directly. This is understandably frustrating and not acceptable. DoIT worked with Presidium's account manager, and the UMBC-specific knowledgebase that guides Presidium CSRs now reflects this "warm transfer" procedure.

3. UMBC's course copy process is actually Blackboard's export/import function.

When UMBC first started using Blackboard in 2000, DoIT made a deliberate choice to disable a delivered function called course copy, which literally allows a faculty member to make a new, exact copy of an old course. The problem is that it also requires faculty to create a unique and permanent courseID that follows a consistent naming convention we knew we'd need for any kind of auto-enrollment process to work. Instead, like a number of other institutions, we disabled course copy, and opted to create empty course shells each semester (with the unique and consistent courseID embedded in the new shell for auto-enrollment to work). As we never imagined giving true "course copy" functionality to faculty in the future--and had no third party support entity like Presidium now--we continued to use the phrase "copying an old course to a new one" for what is actually the export/import function in Blackboard now. This simply became a matter where IT and the faculty we've supported for the last 10 years came to understand and thus redefine what "course copy" meant in using Blackboard at UMBC.

Unfortunately, our understanding differed from Presidium's, which has clients who do allow faculty to use the "course copy" function, resulting in Presidium advising UMBC faculty to do something they can't. When we became aware that Presidium's "course copy" advice to UMBC faculty conflicted with our long-standing recommended export/import practice, we decided it would be easier to train Presidium CSRs than change a term and task UMBC faculty had been using for several years--especially right before the semester started. Unfortunately, some Presidium CSRs reverted to their common practice and terminology, which led to unsatisfactory support for some faculty. Again, we altered the UMBC-specific knowledge base that Presidium CSRs use in supporting our faculty, but it has come at the expense of some faculty understandably being upset with the advice they received from our 24/7 Bb support.

Going forward, as part of our plans to upgrade to version 9 in Fall 2010, DoIT is exploring a change in our current processes to make course creation and enrollment less problematic for UMBC students and instructors, as well as DoIT and Presidium.

Finally, I want to thank UMBC students and faculty for their patience as Presidium learns how we operate and vice versa. Eventually, this pilot may show us that 24/7 support is not needed or desirable, and that we should try to staff up if and when budget issues ease, to meet the support needs of ever growing Blackboard usage. However, like January's summary report, I have noticed a similar pattern in November and December that students used the 24/7 support twice as much as faculty. At a minimum, I'm hopeful this may mean we can reduce the default tech support role many faculty find themselves in their current Blackboard courses. In turn, this may free up DoIT staff to support more advanced pedagogical needs of faculty, if Presidium is handling basic Blackboard support needs.

For now, I'd like to issue an open call to any UMBC faculty member to contact me or Karin Readel (readel@umbc.edu), Director of Instructional Technology, if Presidium is not "learning UMBC" or supporting faculty the way they should. In addition, if you open a ticket on the Bb support portal, please provide feedback when the ticket is resolved, if your support experience could have been improved. We can't help Presidium improve if we don't have specific details of how and when they've stumbled (e.g., date/time of the incident, name of course, name of CSR). To date, DoIT has received 12 such reports from faculty since we started using Presidium in November. Presidium has also expressed appreciation for feedback on what they can do better, and I have appreciated them providing access to the monthly reports I'm sharing in this and future updates about our 24/7 Bb support.

Together, I still believe we can partner with Presidium to provide quality 24/7 Blackboard support to UMBC students and faculty. If you have questions, concerns or would like to discuss this further, please post a comment to this entry or contact me directly.

Sincerely,

John Fritz
Asst. VP, Instructional Technology & New Media
UMBC Division of Information Technology
410.455.6596 or fritz@umbc.edu

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