Wentworth’s Blackboard instance will be on the move, again. In 2014 we migrated our Blackboard courses from the UMass Online instance to a separate instance hosted with Blackboard Managed Hosting. While this has served us well allowing us to leverage new tools that were unavailable to us in the UMass system, we are now planning another migration for December 2017. Although, generally we are satisfied with our current hosting arrangement, Blackboard’s SaaS (Software as a Service) solution provides benefits worth the migration.
One visible benefit will be the ability to use Blackboard’s new ULTRA interface. This new interface has a more modern look and feel and is quite different from the Bb Learn “Original experience” we have now. For those familiar with Canvas, the interface is similar. Once we move to the SaaS environment, we will be looking for volunteers to test the new interface and make recommendations for rolling it out to the campus. Initially, however, we will continue using the “Classic” interface that we have now so users will see no change in the look and functioning of the system. We do not plan any upgrades as part of the move, just like our move from UMass Online to Managed Hosting.
A major benefit to the SaaS environment is shorter or no downtime for upgrades and patch installs. Currently, we must schedule a minimum of 12 hours downtime to upgrade the system or to install patches. With this requirement we schedule can only schedule absolutely essential security patches during the term because we can only justify asking the community to tolerate downtime for significant gain. In the SaaS environment, these patches can be applied with no downtime, improving the user experience with faster application of bug fixes. In addition, we can see new features faster. As Blackboard adds features they will be added to our system in a deactivated state. If a feature is critical, we can choose to turn it on soon after it appears rather than waiting to batch release new features as we do now.
Blackboard will still manage our systems but they will move from Blackboard’s data centers to Amazon Web Services data centers. Since we will be moving to the same version in the SaaS environment as in the Managed Hosting environment, the move is easier in some ways but will require significant (3-5 days) downtime. Our plan is to schedule the migration between final grade submission and winter break, a time when most users, we hope, will be occupied with thoughts other than Blackboard. Our goal is for the system to be available by the day after Christmas for faculty to generate course manuals and prep for Spring 2018 courses.