In August we will be upgrading Blackboard to the Q4 2018 release. This upgrade brings mostly administrative, security, and bug fixes to the system. Only two features of note will change or be introduced, the integration of cloud storage has been added and the Bb Instructor app will permit annotation of assignments in the inline grading workflow. Users will be able to select documents from cloud storage, Google docs and OneDrive, from the file selector to add files to content items and assignments. Both students and faculty will have this option available in the new version. With this upgrade, the ability to annotate documents submitted for assignments will be available in the in-line grading workflow in Bb Instructor. In the earlier version, instructors could assign a grade but not annotate.
Just as our move to SSO was not smooth sailing, our Blackboard upgrade in August is proving to be challenging as well. In the past, we have been able to skip versions of Blackboard during the upgrade cycle. Given that there is not a lot of change in the product (the company is focusing much of its development effort on their SaaS, Software as a Service, product to add features to equal those available with the hosted version), we were planning on skipping the Q4 2018 version and moving to the Q2 2019 version. As we planned for testing Blackboard informed us that in order to move to Q2 2019 we had to upgrade to Q4 2018 as a step in the process.
If the added step only added a small amount of time, we might have considered that path. Unfortunately, every Blackboard upgrade in our hosted environment takes a minimum of 12 hours. To do two back to back upgrades would mean a minimum of 24 hours downtime. Add to that the requirement that the servers on which our system is hosted need to have an operating system upgrade that will add 4 hours to the process and we have much more downtime than anticipated during a brief window between terms. We can’t do this to our community. Too many instructors need the period between terms to update content in their courses or to upload and organize materials for new courses. Taking the system down for 28 hours during this critical time was not an option. Instead, we will upgrade to the 4Q 2018 version in August and wait until winter break to upgrade to the 2Q 2019 version.
As we move forward to select a new LMS, selecting a SaaS product which will not require downtime for upgrades will be critical.