Wednesday, November 30, 2011

9.1SP5 vs 9.1SP7 Assessment Submission Details

Note: the following changes may have occurred in 9.1SP6 but we skipped that version.

In 9.1SP5, you got very little information about when a test was started/submitted.

Here is the Grade Details screen for a student.  We can see the Date Submitted (or Saved).  But we have no indication of how long they took on the assessment (Elapsed Time).  This has been an issue when a student has a problem on a timed test, and the instructor wants to know how much "extra time" to give a re-take.

If you go into the attempt, you have very little Test Information.

Now, in 9.1 SP7, we have the start (Date Created) and submission time on the Grade Details screen.

And, if you go into the attempt, and look at the Test Information, you have Time Elapsed, Started Date and Submitted Date.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Generating sessions

I needed a way to generate 1000+ sessions in the Bb sessions table in development. However, development doesn't garner that many active users. I hit upon using webdav to generate sessions via curl. Here's a simple bash script to do so. Assumption is there's at least one userid you have the password for.

for i in {1..1000};
do echo $i; 
curl 'https://bbserver/bbcswebdav/users/userid' -u userid:pw ; 

Monday, July 11, 2011

Yahoo Pipe for BbWorld tweets

I set up a Yahoo Pipe to aggregate the various phrases for BbWorld (bbworld, bbworld11, devcon11, bbcollab2011). It also filters out entries with the word "blackberry" (as that's the other common #bbworld).

It is a bit poky to get going as it has to ask for data. If there's a more efficient way to aggregate multiple twitter feeds, please do tell!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Things to do in Vegas

In preparation for BbWorld 11, some links that I found for things to do in Las Vegas if you don't gamble.

Any other suggestions?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

MathJax and VTBE Experiments

Our faculty are interested in putting equations into Blackboard. However, the current equation editor is old and flaky (works for some browsers, not for others). I heard from other schools about MathJax ( and started to play with it.

The easiest way to use MathJax is to link directly to the MathJax distributed network service (see Using the MathJax CDN). In that case, there is no need to install MathJax yourself, and you can begin using MathJax right away.

The only thing is you need to have a bit of script tag in each of your pages:

<script type="text/javascript"

I had the inspiration to throw that snippet into the googleAnalyticsSnippet.vm (see

That took care of including the script.

I took some of the TeX examples (see and added them in via the VTBE.

To keep the VTBE from mucking with all the special characters like "{" "}":
* Turn the Text Editor OFF
* Choose "Plain Text"

And then cut-and-paste the TeX examples, e.g., Lorentz Equations

\dot{x} & = \sigma(y-x) \\
\dot{y} & = \rho x - y - xz \\
\dot{z} & = -\beta z + xy

What it looks like in the VTBE:


Here is an example where I put MathJax TeX into a Test question. (Added 06/13/2011)

Here is an example where I put MathJax TeX into a Discussion post. (Added 06/13/2011)

What I typed:



* I initially had trouble with some of the examples not showing (e.g., just seeing raw code), then it occurred to me that the examples that worked started and ended with


so I added those to the non-working TeX examples and presto, they appeared properly.

* MathML examples - were not working for me, maybe conflicting with the VTBE's inherent handling of MathML (part of the built-in equation editor)

* Security concerns - including someone else's javascript in all your Bb JSP pages needs quite a level of trust. You can install MathJax locally on your server, and that's prob. where we'd be experimenting next. (And, it'd be friendlier to the MathJax CDN!)

Friday, May 27, 2011

Group File Exchange; Bb8 -> Bb9 missing link name

Just ran into an issue with trying to restore Group File Exchange files from a Bb8 archive. After the restore the file was there, but filename was not being displayed in the Bb9 Group File Exchange UI. There's no link to "click" on.

In Bb8.0SP5 Hotfix2, Group File Exchange:

In Bb9.1SP5, after restoring the Bb8 archive:

I tracked it down to a difference between how Bb8 and Bb9 added files.

In Bb8 (8.0SP5 Hotfix 2), when you add the file to the Group File Exchange, the name was optional. So link name could be blank.

In Bb9 (9.1SP5), when you add the file to the Group File Exchange, the name is required. So link name can never be blank.

The Bb9 Group File Exchange UI expects a link name, so when it is blank it displays nothing there.

The fix I did was to update the bb_bb60.dbo.files table

update [bb_bb60].[dbo].[files]
set link_name = file_name
where link_name = '' and file_name != '' and file_action='LINK'

Once I did that, I could see the links in the Group File Exchange UI.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Bb Mobile Learn Analytics

Reference: the Mobile Learn Analytics User Guide (which I've suggested be posted somewhere on Behind the Blackboard)

Getting Started

To access Blackboard Mobile™ Learn Analytics, you must have Blackboard Mobile Web Services Building Block version 9*.2.9 (or higher). To upgrade:

1) Go to the System Administrator panel in your Learn instance
2) Under the Building Blocks module, click on the Building Blocks link
3) Click on Installed Tools
4) Click on the Settings button next to Blackboard Mobile Web Services Building Block
5) Click on Server Registration Settings
6) Click where prompted to upgrade to the latest Building Block
7) Once the Blackboard Mobile Web Services Building block appears, change “Unavailable” to “Available” in the drop-down menu under the “Availability” column

Accessing the Analytics tab

To access the Blackboard Mobile Learn Analytics page:

1. Go to the System Administrator panel in your Learn instance
2. Under the Building Blocks module, click on the Building Blocks link
3. Click on Installed Tools
4. Click on the Settings button next to Blackboard Mobile Web Services Building Block
5. Click on Mobile Analytics


* Total Logins

The Total Logins graph will show the total volume of app usage at your institution.
Specifically, it will show you the total number of visits to the Blackboard Mobile™ Learn app from all app users at your institution, by day, within the specified time frame (Week, Month, Year).

Logins are broken out by device type (color coded): Blackberry, HP webOS, iOS (iPad, iPod touch, iPhone), Android

* Logins by Day of the Week

The Logins by Day of the Week graph will show when the app is most heavily used at your institution, by day of the week. Specifically, it will show you the total number of visits to the Blackboard Mobile™ Learn app from all app users at your institution on each day of the week, cumulative for every day of the specified timeframe.

* Logins by Hour of the Day

The Logins by Hour of the Day graph will show when the app is most heavily used at your institution, by time of day. Specifically, it will show you the total number of visits to the Blackboard Mobile™ Learn app from all app users at your institution over each specified hour of the day, cumulative for every day of the specified timeframe.

* Logins by Platform

The Logins by Platform graph will show which Mobile platforms are most frequently used to access the app at your institution. Specifically, it will show you the total number of visits to the Blackboard Mobile™ Learn app from all app users at your institution, by type of device used to access the app, within the specified timeframe.

* Unique Users by Platform

The Unique Users by Platform graph will show how many individuals are using the app, and which devices are most popular for accessing the app at your institution. Specifically, it will show you the total number of individuals that have downloaded and successfully logged in to the Blackboard Mobile™ Learn app at least once within the specified timeframe, by type of device used to access the app.

Sharing Analytics

Metrics can be shared with other members of your institution using the “Share This Page” button at the top of the page.

Note: there is no authentication required for this shared link. Anyone who has it can view all the same metrics you see.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Experiments with Sakai Tests and Quizzes IMS QTI export and Respondus

Respondus ( is a Windows-based program for creating and managing exams. It is pretty much the Rosetta-stone of quiz publishing to various Course Management Systems (ANGEL, Blackboard, Desire2Learn, etc). It can import IMS QTI 1.1+ and convert it (change "CMS Personality"). We have a campus-wide license for Respondus.

Here is my experiment to move a Sakai 2.7 Test and Quizzes exam, containing a multiple choice (single choice) question, into Respondus 4.0.3, and then publish it to Blackboard 9.1.


1. In Sakai 2.7, export quiz as IMS QTI 1.2, save file (e.g., exportAssessment.xml)

1a. Go to Tests and Quizzes

1b. Select the "export" action next to your assessment.

Note: there is no "export" action for "Published Assessments" (whether active or inactive). You can only export "Pending Assessments". A Published Assessment should only really be a copy of the Pending Assessment, right?

1c. Choose the export format "IMS QTI v1.2" and save the resulting file to your Desktop, e.g., exportAssessment.xml (default name)

2. In Respondus, import the XML.

2a. change CMS personality to "IMS QTI 1.1+"

2b. Start > Open > Browse > Files of Type: "IMS QTI Questions (XML, QTI)" and locate the exportAssessment.xml

2c. Choose a new name for the Respondus document that will be created from the IMS QTI file, e.g., exportAssessment. Respondus natively uses its own proprietary file format (.rsp).

2d. Select the folder that contains all of the image/object files used in this document; I had none so I just picked any folder e.g, My Documents.

2e. Now open the resulting Respondus File (e.g., exportAssessment)

2f. Review the questions/answers/etc for correctness

Note: there is an issue at least with the multiple choice IMS QTI XML that Sakai Tests and Quizzes currently exports (see below).

3. In Respondus, convert to your target CMS Personality

3a. Start > Open or Create > Current Personality "Blackboard 7.x - 9.x"

3b. You will be prompted that a conversion will take place. And can save as a new Respondus file (you can choose to overwrite the existing Respondus file).

Note: not all questions types from the source CMS may be supported by the target CMS; Respondus will warn you of changes it made to questions.

4. In Respondus, adjust any Settings (e.g., Availability, Number of times to take exam, etc) -- these are CMS Personality specific so it's important to change the CMS Personality first.

5. In Respondus, Preview and Publish to your target CMS (I'll leave out those steps)

6. In your target CMS, review!


* IMS QTI 1.2 Export of a MultipleChoice question does not setvar correct response SCORE -- Respondus v4.0.3 cannot properly import the IMS QTI 1.2 generated by Sakai Tests and Quizzes; it does not detect the correct response in a multiple choice question unless setvar SCORE is set to a non-zero value.

Closing Thoughts:

We need to test the export/importability of each Sakai Test and Quizzes question type (the reverse analysis of

It is good to read that Sakai CLE 2.8 added the ability to import questions from Respondus (SAM-663).

Here's hoping that in the future it will also support exporting to Respondus better.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Experiments with Sakai Test & Quizzes export and import into Blackboard 9.1SP5

Objective: Sakai 2.7 Tests and Quizzes supports IMS QTI 1.2 export. Blackboard 9.1SP4 (or later) supports IMS Common Cartridge 1.1 import. Can we export a multiple choice test from Sakai and import it into Blackboard?

Short Answer: YES

Original Quiz in Sakai 2.7

Imported into Blackboard 9.1SP5

Rough details (getting fleshed out):

1. create a simple multiple choice quiz in Sakai 2.7, Tests and Quizzes

2. export quiz as IMS QTI 1.2 format, save it, e.g., exportAssessment.xml

3. create a course in Bb, create a simple multiple choice quiz in Bb 9.1

4. export the course as IMS Common Cartridge 1.x format, e.g., CommonCartridge_COURSEID_DATESTAMP.imscc

Packages and Utilities > Export/Archive Courses > Export Common Cartridge

I chose "Export as Common Cartridge 1.0"

this will serve as our IMS Common Cartridge "wrapper"

5. create a folder and unarchive the resulting Bb imscc

6. find the assessment resource in the imsmanifest.xml, e.g.,

identifier="ccres00001" type="imsqti_xmlv1p2/imscc_xmlv1p0/assessment"><file href="ccres00001/ccres00001.xml"/></resource>

7. edit the actual resource file. e.g., ccres00001/ccres00001.xml

8. keep the assessment ident tag (because it's reference in the imsmanifest.xml), replace the title with what you want (e.g., Sakai QTI Test)

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>

<questestinterop xmlns="">
<assessment ident="ccres00001" title="Sakai QTI Test">

9. replace everything else with the Sakai exportAssessment.xml body (comment out Sakai's quetestinterop and assessment tags)

10. do a few tag modifications [to be fleshed out, magic here...]

11. zip the files into a new imscc (e.g., my.imscc)

$ zip -r my.imscc ccres00001/ csfiles/ imsmanifest.xml
adding: ccres00001/ (stored 0%)
adding: ccres00001/ccres00001.xml (deflated 92%)
adding: csfiles/ (stored 0%)
adding: csfiles/home_dir/ (stored 0%)
adding: imsmanifest.xml (deflated 58%)

12. As instructor, go into Blackboard > Packages and Utilities > Import Packages/View Logs > Import Package

import the new imscc, select [x] Tests, Surveys, and Pools and submit

13. cross-fingers and hope Blackboard likes your package, you can check the import logs to see a successful import

14. check the resulting quiz (questions, answers, score, etc).

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The content below is outside of the Blackboard Learn environment.

Starting in Blackboard Learn 9.1SP3, when you display external links within the same window, you get a RED status "The content below is outside of the Blackboard Learn environment."

Users are either confused or annoyed by this red alert, even though it is benign.

We had put in an enhancement request to at least make it a "green" alert ("green" good, "red" bad).

Ross Brown at NKU suggested:

Try editing or removing the text from the language pack. I think this
is in

So I copied the Language Pack for en_US, started the Language Pack editor, searched for the string "The content below is outside", and found the entry in the

I changed it from content below is outside of the Blackboard Learn environment.

to<div class="receipt good">The content below is outside of the Blackboard Learn environment.</div>


And then I tried blanking out


Update: 11/30/2011

In 9.1SP7, I found that the message is now tagged as
which has a blueish  gray color

.infoReceipt {background:#6D8AAF; border-color:#62758F; color:#fff;}

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Google Analytics and Mobile Learn

Can you track Blackboard Mobile Learn access?

Yes, but you may have some difficulty separating out "pure" Mobile Learn from clients who use browsers on Mobile Devices. Especially since Mobile Learn also allows clients to launch the browser when it encounters something it cannot display, e.g., an assessment.

Note: because of SSO (SiteMinder) we have our own custom login page. We put the GA tracking on the login page. And we have the Mobile Learn Building Block configured

Authentication Type: Force To Web

This forces the Mobile Learn client to our custom login page.

Google Analytics: Visitors > Mobile > Mobile Devices shows Android and iOS (iPad/iPod).

When I accessed via Mobile Learn on the iPad, it showed up as "Mozilla Compatible Agent/iPad", where "Mozilla Compatible Agent" is the browser type, and "iPad" is the Operating System.

Google Analytics: Visitors > Mobile > Mobile Carriers shows Sprint access

Google Analytics allows you to filter based on "Mobile Devices". You select an "Advanced Segment" called "Mobile Traffic".

Here's Content Overview without any filtering:

Here's Content Overview filtered on "Mobile Traffic":

Blackboard recently updated the Mobile Learn building block (91.2.9); among its features is

Blackboard Mobile Learn usage analytics available from the Building Block registration page (MLBB-118)

We'll be taking a look at that next.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Blackboard 9.1SP4 (and later) and Basic LTI Support

One of the new features/enhancements in Bb 9.1 SP4 was the support for Basic Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI).

From the Release Notes:

The Basic Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) is an IMS derivative of the full Learning Tools Interoperability specification that provides a simple integration for instructors to install external learning tools and applications anywhere within their courses. Users do not have to sign in to multiple tools. External content and tools are added to a course the same way a URL is added. The tool or content is launched by clicking the link.

Developers can add Basic Learning Tools Interoperability extensions to their Building Blocks, increasing their market value.

Experimenting with Basic LTI

Step 1. In order to experiment with Basic LTI, I needed to find a Basic LTI Consumer. I found one on the IMS Global site.


Step 2. As System Administrator, configure Blackboard's Basic LTI Tools Providers


Go to System Admin > Building Blocks > Basic LTI Tools Providers > Register Provider Domain

1. Provider Domain Status

Set the status of the provider domain. You can also provide a list of additional hostnames to share this configuration if needed.

Provider Domain:

Provider Domain Status: [x] Approved

2. Default Configuration

Basic LTI Tool Providers can request configuration per link, or can provide key and shared secret information for site-wide configuration.

Default Configuration: [x] Set separately for each link

3. Institutional Policies

Choose whether you want to override the institution policies for this specific tool provider domain.

Send User Data: [x] Send user data over any connection (though you may want "Send user data only over SSL" instead)

User Fields to Send: I chose all three
[x] Role in course
[x] Name
[x] Email Address

Show User Acknowledgment Message: [x] Yes
Message Text: "You are about to let us send your Role in Course, Name and Email Address to"

and Submit

Also, if you just upgraded from 9.1SP3 (or earlier), then you should make sure the Basic LTI tool is enabled as a Course Tool.

System Admin > Course Settings > Course Tools

Basic LTI: [x] On

Step 3. As Instructor, set up the link in a course

Go to a Content Area > Build Content > URL

1. URL Information


[x] This link is to a Tool Provider

selecting this pops up two more fields for the Key and Secret provided by the Basic LTI Consumer.

Key: 12345
Secret: secret

and submit.

Step 4. Launch the link

Try the link as a student.

Note that you get the Confirmation (every time):

and when you click on the Launch button, you should be taken to the Basic LTI Consumer URL

Q. Where's the Blackboard username?

A. Well, you don't seem to get it. What Blackboard is sending as 'user_id' is the User primary key identifier (e.g., _16476_1) , and not the friendlier username (e.g., test1_student).

I tried passing a template variable (e.g.,

but it didn't come through.

Suggested enhancement: Let us decide what to send back as user_id amongst the myriad of possibilities (external person key, username, email, etc)

Update April 27, 2011 - I've been told there will be some changes coming in 9.1SP8 to address the user_id/username.