Tracking Specific File Use

CE/Vista Reports and Tracking displays summaries of activity. If an instructor seeks to know who clicked on a specific file, then Reports and Tracking falls down on the job.

Course Instructor can produce a report of the raw tracking data. However, access to the role falls under the Administration tab so people running the system need to make a user specifically to enroll themselves at the course level to get the reports. (Annoying.)

Instead the administrators for my campuses pass up to my level of support requests to generate reports. For providing these I have SQL to produce a report. This example is for users who clicked on a specific file. Anything in bold is what the SQL composer will need to alter.

set lines 200 pages 9999
col user format a20
col action format a32
col pagename format a80

clear breaks computes
break on User skip 1
compute count of Action on User

select tp.user_name "User",ta.name "Action",
      to_char(tua.event_time,'MM/DD/RR HH24:MI:SS') "Time",
      NVL(tpg.name,'--') "PageName"
  from trk_person tp, trk_action ta, trk_user_action tua,
      trk_page tpg, learning_context lc
  where tp.id = tua.trk_person_id
    and ta.id = tua.trk_action_id
    and tua.trk_page_id = tpg.id (+)
    and tua.trk_learning_context_id = lc.id
    and lc.id = 1234567890
    and tpg.name like '%filename.doc%'
  order by tp.user_name,tua.event_time
/

Output

  • User aka tp.user_name – This is the student’s account.
  • Action aka ta.name – This is an artifact of the original script. You might drop it as meaningless from this report.
  • Time aka tua.event_time – Day and time the action took place.
  • PageName aka tpg.name – Confirmation of the file name. Keep if using like in a select on this.

Considerations

I use the learning context id (lc.id aka learning_context.id) because in my multi-institution environment, the same name of a section could be used in many places. This id ensures I data from multiple sections.

The tricky part is identifying the file name. HTML files generally will show up as the name of in the title tag (hope the instructor never updates it). Office documents generally will show as the file name. Here are a couple approaches to determining how to use tpg.name (aka trk_page.name).

  1. Look at the file in the user interface.
  2. Run the report without limiting results to any tpg.name. Identify out of the results the name you wish to search and use: tpg.name = ‘page name

Most tracked actions do have a page name. However, some actions do not. This SQL is designed to print a “–” in those cases.

BBworld From Afar

Staying true to tradition, Blackboard found a great speaker, Seth Godin, with a positive message. Notes people took…

Scott found the best point, I think.

Compliance doesn’t work to create value. Compliant work will always go to the lowest bidder. We can always find someone cheaper to follow the manual. Value is created by doing something different.

See! This is a mind numbingly positive message.

I liked some people on Twitter pointed to Jeff Longland’s role with VistaSWAT as a leader in the vacuum Blackboard has left open in the community.

Created a Yahoo Pipe for Bbworld09.

UPDATED 2009-07-15:

This TED video has much of the same substance as Godin’s Bbworld keynote.

Access to Multiple Systems

For the term starting Jan 7, we have students who need to be directed to the new Vista system (v8). By standard practice, students also have access to the previous term a few weeks into the new term, let’s say Feb 23. So we’ll need to ensure some access to the old Vista system (v3).

There are multiple ways we can handle this access:

  1. School VIPs – We highly encourage users bookmark, publish links, and access school VIPs instead of the actual address. The idea being these addresses will always go to the right place. Other addresses could change and not work. We even have a v8 version for pre-cutover access and a v3 version for post-cutover access. The problem seems to be some campuses and users continue to use the addesses other than the school VIPs (v8 will only show them the school VIP).
  2. Custom login page – We would place an HTML file on the v3 system explaining general access has moved. Some people would need to get past this page and into the v3 system. The questions here are:
    1. Can we just give the admins the link to bypass the custom login page? They could then manage who has access to the site. They might have to provide this “secret” to thousands of students.
    2. Do we dare publish the link on the page? Something like “To check Fall 2008 grades: click here.”
  3. Deny access – We would deny access to all users except those who hold the Institution Administrator role in v3. The holders of that role would then be responsible to granting access one-by-one to other users who need to access to this old system.
  4. f5 iRule to 302 Redirect – We do host a school who uses autosignon. It is conceivable we could intercept attempts to login and redirect them to the correct host. It would be much better for them just to use the School VIPs solution.

Anyone have a better solution?

Enrolling Administrators

One of the challenges of having 42 institutions is managing the administrators. (Actually we created some 12 spare institutions but why is another  post.) So my challenge was how to not drive myself insane trying to enroll the 6 same admin users to each institution. The best way in my opinion is to create the users in an IMS XML file for each institution and import the data. Creating the users was easy. Next was doing the enrollments.

Naturally, I turned to the Vista 8 Enterprise System Integration Guide on pages 66-67 and 95-96 where it describes which roles can be enrolled at which learning contexts. They go from the lowest most common enrollments at the section level up to the division level. Yeah, there was not anything for the institution level. It even had a comment before the table on pages 66-67:

NOTE: Roles not specified in the table can only be added through the Vista Enterprise administrative interface.

So, because the Institution Administrator is not listed, I could not enroll users to it through the import? It depressed me for about a week. A flash of inspiration had me check the Vista 3 documentation. Sure enough, on page 49 of the Vista 3 System Integration Guide, Institution Administrator is listed. (Admin roles at domain and server contexts, designer roles at instiution and domain contexts are also listed.)

The XML is easy enough to write. Normally, when writing this XML, I just need to refer to the SourcedId for objects I create, so I know their values. However, with this, I need to the know the SourcedId.Id for the institution.

Fortunately, we have collected the properties to a institution.properties and parse it to generate what to run at the command line. Rather than by hand copying the files into place one-by-one, I created a script to take a template, check this institution.properties and place the files in the correct place. In order to make each object unique, a portion of the SourcedId.Name was changed to the name of the destination folder.

Now I just need to add to the script a portion to change the SourcedId.Id for the Institution to the source_id value in the institution.properties. That is easy. Much easier than figuring out where to look in the documentation to find what is correct.

We Need a 4th Vista DBA / Technical Support

Work for OIIT!

Become our 4th DBA / technical support person for our team.

  • Located in Athens, GA (college town, UGA football)
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  • we love open source
PDF of GeorgiaVIEW DBA position

Check out the PDF (right) for more information.

Sorry for the convoluted route to the application…

  • Click this link to go to our HR site.
  • Click the “View Job Postings / Apply for Job” link.
  • Check the “Information Instructional Tech” box.
  • Enter “learning” for the keyword and click search.
  • Systems Support Specialist 3” is our DBA position. We also have a Business Systems Analyst position for a less technical position.

We’d love to have you.

Confidentiality

A student wants Blackboard Vista to not reveal his or her last name. The student has already gone to the Registrar and gotten a confidentiality flag placed on the record. As I understand it, this flag in Banner is a FERPA protection to prevent the record from being provided to parties external to the university. It does not provide anonymity within the university. That electronic systems are being scrubbed of the student’s last name means something more than just confidentiality.

We only create new and not update from our student information system (SIS). So in general, the last name should not revert.

The instructor must know who the student is in order to correctly assign grades. If grades were automatically sent back to the SIS, then it would match the IMS id to the what is in the SIS. The user name or any other name is immaterial and not a confounder to the process. Unfortunately, our faculty has to manually transfer the grades. Some rely on the WebCT id / username. Others rely on the first and last name. I guess without names, this latter group is going to have to deal with relying on the WebCT id.

Only username, first and last name, and role are populated into the grade book. So moving the last name to another name field (like other, prefix, or suffix) would not help.

The last name appears to be part of their scheme for creating usernames, so they will likely need to change the username if the point is to not let anyone know what it is. The school in question does not appear to populate their Vista user records with a school email address. So I don’t know if the same would need to be done with it as well.

Blackboard Vista 3.0.7 does have issues with renaming the last name. While many things are immediately updated (good), some things are not. This is not a comprehensive list.

  1. The last name in the grade book was not updated. Removing the user from the section and restoring it to the section changed the name to the correct one.
  2. The last name in discussions was not updated.

So while renaming the account is easy to do, not everything takes place as quicklly as we would like.

Zemanta Pixie

Finding Sessions

Clusters can making finding where a user was working a clusterf***. Users end up on a node, but they don’t know which node. Heck, we are ahead of the curve to get user name, date, and time. Usually checking all the nodes in the past few days can net you the sessions. Capturing the session ids in the web server logs usually leads to finding an error in the webct logs. Though not always. Digging through the web server logs to find where the user was doing something similar to the appropriate activity consumes days.

Blackboard Vista captures node information for where the action took place. Reports against the tracking data provide more concise, more easily understood, and more quickly compiled. They are fantastic for getting a clear understanding of what steps a user took.

Web server logs contain every hit which includes every page view (well, almost, the gap is another post). Tracking data represents at best 25% of the page views. This problem is perhaps the only reason I favor logs over tracking data. More cryptic data usually means a slower resolution time not faster.

Another issue with tracking is the scope. When profiling student behavior, it is great. The problem is only okay data can be located for instructors while designers and administrators are almost totally under the radar. With the new outer join, what we can get for these oblivious roles has been greatly expanded.

Certainly, I try not to rely too much on a single source of data. Even I sometimes forget to do so.

Enrollments

In spelunking the Vista database, the main pieces of an enrollment are the user, the learning context, the membership, the role, and the role’s label. Its almost trivial how easily these tie together. Once you have them, then you can do all kinds of cool things…

  • Administrator reports Section Designer role was deleted but the Build tab is still showing. So, you dump out the user’s enrollments to confirm the role was in fact deleted. It turns out the user had a Designer role at a higher context. [1]
  • Instructor reports students who were never enrolled in the section appear as having missed an assignment. Support at the school says the it has a template, so naturally the vendor thinks it must be a bad template. Wait, you say, I didn’t think student data was part of the template. That changes everything! So, you dump out the enrollments for the members of that learning context to see who is or is not enrolled. Oh, the students were enrolled in the class. They are just deleted now.

[1] Designer access at a higher level means the Build tab shows. So if you hold Institution Designer and Section Instructor, then you have the Build tab you’d normally expect to need Section Designer to use.

Vos operor non obvius ut is Eruditio Contineo contigi

Blackboard Vista 3 (also 4 and CE 6) – You change your role in a section and get the error below. What do you do?

Error:

You do not have access to this Learning Context

Solution: Log out and log in again. This inconsistently happens after an institutional administrator changes roles for their own account.

tag: Blackboard Inc, ,

RE 2007: Administering Sakai

.

  • Timeline:
    • Oct 2006: Faculty committee selected Sakai over Blackboard Vista
    • Jan 2007: Developed a roll-out plan.
    • Jun 2007: Pilot
    • Aug 2007: Production
    • Still: Some classes still running on CE4.1, being phased out of use.
  • Needs – no more than 5% of code custom written by GA Tech or professional services.
    • Integration with Banner.
    • Grade book
    • Assignments – no resubmit. Professor had built a section aggregation tool which combined with assignments started killing the servers. Ate all the database connections. Dead in the water Monday afternoon to noon on Tuesday until a code change was implemented.
    • Assessments
    • Course lists would not show unpublished sections. Students were concerned registration failed to take place. Wrote a “More” link to show students the course exists but not yet available.
  • t-square
    • GA Tech – 30,000 users and 10,000 sections. 16,000 users login.
  • Sakai out of the box not very good.
    • Java Server on Tomcat.
    • User administration sux. No way to see what classs a student is taking without an outside application. Created an administrative console, available to machine room admins. Monitors services, processes. Admin console Perl connecting to APIs.
    • Admin role can access every course. Built in admin console to link directly to courses to go help troubleshoot.
  • Unicon – professional services
    • Built t-square implementation.
    • Created some tools.
  • Staffing
    • Systems – OS and hardware – 1 person
    • Application support – 1 person
    • Code developers, Quality Assurance – 3 people
    • Database Administrator – 0.5 people (spends part of time on other projects)
    • Instructional technologists – 2 people
  • Why Sakai? Faculty hate WebCT. Possibilities of integration (aren’t there possibilities for this with Blackboard?).
  • Costs – refused to say. Rumor is 2x our costs for making available for 200,000 students for Blackboard.

Kinda weird. Suggested it was nigh impossible to create accounts except through Banner in WebCT CE. Except the same APIs which create Banner accounts can create guest accounts?