And no, I don’t mean putting Blackboard in the corner (though some days, I’d love to!). I mean being unexpectedly logged out of Blackboard.
Knowing how to prevent potential problems is like having a pencil sharpener handy so that your work can go on its way without much interruption.
When Blackboard is an important part of our classes and work, we find ourselves with the window often open on our computer screens, sometimes in the background, and fairly regularly in use. I certainly take for granted the knowledge that I can work in my browser window and that the data will save and submit without any trouble.
Well, I’m wrong. And the number of times I’ve lost work in Blackboard should have taught me that by now.
Blackboard like any secure website has a timeout for logged-in users. This means that if we’re on the site but not clicking anything, the system assumes we’re not there any more and logs us out. From a security standpoint, this makes a lot of sense, but sometimes it catches us off-guard. Here, we’re going to talk about some ways to prevent losing data because of Blackboard’s time-out feature (both for ourselves and for our students).
1. Type anything longer than a few sentences in a word processing program.
I know, I know– we tell you not to copy and paste from Microsoft Word because the formatting comes over terribly and can mess up the formatting of your Blackboard course. And it does. Instead of using Word, try using a program like Notepad, Wordpad or Notepad++ (my personal preferred program). These programs don’t create any of the extra formatting so you can safely copy and paste.
Why should we use a different program to write up our Blackboard content? Well, web browsers and Blackboard don’t register typing as an activity. This means that Blackboard doesn’t know that you’ve been working on that rubric or assignment for an hour – it only sees that you’ve been on the same page for an hour. It isn’t smart enough to know if you’re typing or if you’ve gotten up to walk the dog, and it errors on the side of security. Also, web browsers can crash and take all of that productive work with it. Word processing programs can crash too, but you can also save your documents to your computer, to be rescued after a restart.
2. When you’re designing tests or quizzes in Blackboard, don’t choose “Force Completion” when you’re setting the test options.
Why? Force completion means that as soon as a student loses network connection or has a browser problem, the system will submit the assignment and prevent them from getting back into the assessment. If you’ve set a timer for the exam, this should be sufficient to prevent students from having any unfair advantage. The timer will continue to tick down even if the student closes their browser or restarts the computer. When they get back into Blackboard, they’ll be able to get back into the test and complete their work without asking you to reset the attempt so that they can do it over again.
When it comes to Blackboard tests, this is the most frequent problem students have. We can’t reset these attempts, so we have to send them back to you, their instructor, for further assistance.
3. If you have many questions that require long answers or extended work, set the test to display the questions one at a time.
If questions will take more than a couple of minutes for the students to complete, set the test to show one at a time. This goes particularly for short answer or essay questions. By clicking the Save and Continue button at the end of each question, students are saving their work and indicating to Blackboard that they’re still logged in. (Clicking the Save Answer button will also do the same thing in a test that displays All at Once.)
To make things even more complicated, if you’re a DSL user, or even just on a wireless connection, your network connection can time-out or drop momentarily and bump you out of Blackboard too. As you can imagine, there are a lot of ways for things to go wrong. But all of these suggestions will help make sure than any kind of interruption will prevent you and your students from losing work.
Don’t let the possibility of a technical glitch prevent you from trying something new. An accidental log out or network hiccup is nothing worse than a broken pencil lead in the scheme of things. Knowing how to prevent potential problems is like having a pencil sharpener handy so that your work can go on its way without much interruption.