Iowa State University

ITInformation Technology

Blackboard Learn System (Updated Oct 4)

This news item expired November 4, 2011. It may contain out-of-date information.

October 4 Update

Staff are continuing to troubleshoot both existing and new issues associated with the ISU Blackboard system.

  • At 6 p.m. CT, Monday, October 3, the Blackboard system had to be re-started. One of the system processes was consuming excessive CPU time. Staff worked to isolate the process, but the system was becoming extremely slow and almost unusable. The 6pm restart resolved the issue.
  • A workaround has been identified for instructors experiencing slow grade center displays. Go to http://www.celt.iastate.edu/elearning/?page_id=6148 for instructions. Some instructors may find they need to do this for every grade center display request. Blackboard has been notified of this issue, so they can address it in a future release.
  • There is still a known Blackboard issue with occasional slow or interrupted quizzing. Blackboard is working on a patch for this. They are currently testing, and if no problems are found, Blackboard will release this patch within two weeks.
  • Downloading of assignments can still be slow. System staff are working with Blackboard on this issue. In addition, network settings are being adjusted this week to see if it enables faster system response.

All Blackboard users are encouraged to contact support staff to report issues. This can provide important information for diagnosing problems. Instructors should continue to contact

bbhelp (at) iastate (dot) edu
, and students should continue to contact .

September 23 Update

At 6 a.m. on September 22, a previously-used file server was re-introduced into the Blackboard system. While that file server has minor issues, it is still a more stable file system than was running earlier in the week. The re-introduction of this previous file system should stabilize Blackboard while ITS system staff continue to investigate current Blackboard/NFS issues in a test environment. As of 11:30 a.m., September 23, Blackboard has stayed up and stable since the re-introduction of this previous file server.

A separate issue regarding occasional "lock-up" of a user's connection while taking a quiz has now been identified by Blackboard as a known issue within their code. Blackboard is working on a fix for this problem, although given the data they're providing thusfar, a fix yet this semester may not occur.

Meanwhile, mid afternoon September 22, WebCT experienced a brief outage. It is unclear whether this is related or a separate, coincidental event. System staff continue to monitor the system, analyze network data, and perform more testing in an effort to narrow the scope of the problem.

Faculty having difficulty are encouraged to continue to contact

bbhelp (at) iastate (dot) edu
with problems/questions, while students are encouraged to continue to contact to notify ITS of problems. These contacts provide important diagnostic data to system and network staff as we de-bug the system.

September 20

We have been experiencing a series of issues related to the new course management system, Blackboard Learn. After a week of normal activity at the start of the semester, courses began to more heavily utilize the system and its new features the week of August 29.

Below is a synopsis of Blackboard system events over the past two weeks.

  • In an effort to increase system efficiency, modifications were made on September 10. As user activity returned to the system on Monday, September 12, the database that supports Blackboard became stressed. Users experienced slow response times and large delays in uploading files and gradebooks. Database tuning was done the evening of September 12, and issues related to the database subsided. Additional database tuning on September 15 optimized the system, which is now experiencing normal database activity.
  • In a separate issue the week of September 12, some users experienced slow or delayed logins to the system. It was determined that the Blackboard system code interacted poorly with the university authentication infrastructure, causing login disruption from both on and off campus. The authentication delays were identified and corrected on September 19. In addition, staff are working with the vendor to identify what part of the Blackboard code may have caused the original issue.
  • On September 16, the device that distributes user load on the WebCT system failed. In order to return WebCT to service, the distribution device used for Blackboard was brought into play, resulting in a brief Blackboard outage the morning of September 16. The distribution device is now serving both systems until a second device can be integrated into the system. This will likely occur during the week of September 26, and users will be notified frequently in advance of this temporary maintenance outage.
  • The remaining unresolved Blackboard system issue relates to how Blackboard interacts with the campus storage infrastructure. For reasons still being investigated, this interaction fails periodically, and the system has to be restarted. This results in a periodic Blackboard outage of roughly 15 minutes, which occurred on three occasions on September 19. During one of the file storage failures late in the evening of September 19, the protocol for the network file system was modified in an attempt to remedy the problem. Staff are continuing to monitor the system.
  • Faculty are encouraged to continue to utilize the Blackboard system and to report problems to as soon as they occur. As the system issues are smoothed out, users should be prepared for alternative course activity in the event one of these brief outages occurs during a planned activity.
  • Blackboard, the company that provides both WebCT and Blackboard Learn, has announced plans to discontinue WebCT support in 2012. Blackboard Learn is a system that brings new features and functionality for campus users. At ISU, Blackboard Learn was introduced to a small group of courses in the fall 2010 semester, and its use scaled up gradually. After one year of use, the system now houses over 1400 courses, representing 75% of the course management system activity at ISU. The infrastructure to support Blackboard at ISU was designed to exceed the manufacturer's recommendations.

Blackboard support staff at ISU sincerely regret the problems that these multiple issues caused users on campus. As the system adjustments are made, we encourage you to monitor the IT Critical Events Log (CEL).