Fixing Blackboard’s Retention Center

(Keep in mind that Blackboard expects a fix for this in Learn 9.1 SP15)

Well, it’s upgrade week for us and our Blackboard Learn system. We went from 9.1 SP7 to SP11 yesterday with relatively few hiccups. One of the tools our Instructional Design team plans to take advantage of is the new Retention Center. This building block replaces the Early Warning System and gives instructors a graphical overview of student engagement. We tried working with it on our development server, but ran into a known issue whereby Retention Center becomes corrupt if you update it from Software Updates (again, fix not planned until SP15).

When we applied SP11 on our production server, Retention Center fared no better. Retention Center version 1.0 was installed by default. Despite showing as available in the Sys Admin panel, it was nowhere to be found inside course tools or the global menu. Installing the latest update only led to the “Corrupt” indicator appearing next to Retention Center and the Early Warning System still showed up inside courses. Pulling up the (MS)SQL, I noted the following tables were in the wrong schema:

ews_course_users
ews_gradebook_main
ews_note
ews_notif_attachment
ews_notif_recipient
ews_notification

If you are experiencing this same problem, you might see these tables prefixed with either “BBLEARN” or “BB_BB60.” The fix that worked for me was pretty simple:

  1. Update Retention Center
  2. Transfer the tables to the correct schema (in my case “dbo”)
  3. Uninstall Retention Center
  4. Reinstall Retention Center

The MSSQL syntax to transfer the schema was simply ‘ALTER SCHEMA dbo TRANSFER bblearn.table_name‘ for each table. Since I am both a PowerShell and Invoke-Sqlcmd fan, I used PowerShell to make things a little quicker:


$bbTables = @('ews_course_users',
'ews_gradebook_main',
'ews_note',
'ews_notif_attachment',
'ews_notif_recipient',
'ews_notification')
ForEach ($t in $bbTables){Invoke-Sqlcmd -server server01\bbinstance -database BBLEARN -query "ALTER SCHEMA dbo TRANSFER bblearn.$t"}

This did the trick for us, though I am not a Bb engineer or a DBA, so proceed with caution if you intend to do likewise.

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Helpful Feedback from a CEO

Some of you may shudder when the name “Blackboard” is uttered. Considering that around half of my support work is a result of Blackboard, I can feel the angst too. However, today I found reason to empathize with the corporation and its development process. Blackboard extends the offer for anyone to contact their CEO, Michael Chasen, through a simple web form. I felt compelled to pass along a critique from a faculty member that struck at the heart of some of the problems we face with the platform.

Just a week before, I had emailed Nokia customer support and received a scripted response from a support tech. I expected the same from what I assumed to be a generic mailbox at Blackboard. However, only a few days after sending in the email, I actually received a personally-crafted response. It was clear by the wording used that the author, whether Chasen himself or not, was responding specifically to the comments and questions I raised.

I found it rather amazing to get such a detailed response from the CEO of a major company when I barely got anything out of a Nokia support tech. The other amazing part about the response I read is that it did not try to sugar coat any of the problems addressed. The author, who I will assume was Chasen, agreed that these problems were common. He also gave me a brief overview of the development process and how they bring instructors and students in to receive feedback. Then, he CC’d and directed me to a VP that could assist with further questions. It was, in a word… nice.

OK, OK. So, the response did not fix anything, but I was glad to hear that I had not pointed out anything he was not already aware of and addressing. I find that when working in support, sometimes people just want to be heard and know that someone is on the same page with them. And the greatest way to build empathy for one another (support personnel, CEOs, or customers) is to listen carefully and explain plainly. That is exactly the kind of response I received from Michael Chasen.