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2018

(this post is a continuation update from my prior post in February 2018)

 

Edit: 3/27 - Drawing Annotations were enabled for all customers on 3/26, noted by Box in their changelog here.

 

There has been quite a bit of activity over the past few weeks regarding New Box View, with some good progress being made but also some bumps in the road.  Specifically, Box released both Drawing Annotations and "sticky" Point Annotation Mode as promised in early MarchUnfortunately, unexpected performance problems were quickly identified with the new Drawing Annotations and Box made the decision to remove the new tools until these issues were remedied.  Box has now made progress in fixing the root cause of the performance concerns and have since reenabled sticky Point Annotations and plan to reinstate the Drawing Annotations no later than Tuesday, March 27th.  I will update this post once we have confirmed Drawing Annotations have been made available again. 

 

Note: the Box site link above states this, but I wanted to call out that feedback and data created using Drawing Annotations while they were active will be available again when the tool is reenabled – no data will be lost

 

More broadly, the circumstances of Drawing Annotations mentioned above has highlighted several gaps in communication between Box, Blackboard, and Blackboard clients regarding the timing of changes to the New Box View service.  Generally, the flow of information through the community ecosystem is represented as:

 

(1) Vendor-distributed generalized information

Leads to...

(2) Blackboard-distributed information outlining impact for Bb clients

Leads to...

(3) Bb clients'-distributed targeted information specific for clients' end users' needs

 

After continued discussions between Blackboard and Box, we have identified several specific actions which will help fulfill the expectations at all points in that communication chain:

  • Monthly updates from Box to Blackboard with expected changes coming in the next month
  • Email and publicly reference-able location from Box for monthly updates
  • Additional end user-facing documentation (e.g. "how does this new feature work?")

 

These additional activities help reinforce the information in coming from Box in (1); will allow Blackboard to tailor our communications across our established channels (here on the Bb Community Site, on Help.blackboard.com, and through Behind the Blackboard) to meet the needs of (2); and enable the Administrators, Instructional Designers, content creators, facilitators and other end-user facing roles at Blackboard client institutions to be successful at (3).

 

This additional work continues to strengthen the partnership between Blackboard and Box to provide timely and accurate information to Blackboard clients regarding product updates.  We appreciate the community's patience as we work through these actions and look forward to continuing to improve the communication, features, and overall experience of using Inline Grading within Blackboard Learn and the New Box View service.

4/12/18 edit: updated information about IP addresses

 

A quick update: the previously-planned and then deferred AWS migration for SafeAssign is back on!  New date and time are April 2nd starting at 3am EDT.  All other information previously provided is still correct.

 

There was an additional question from the community about whitelisted IP addresses for SafeAssign, and I can confirm that IP address changes will be necessary with this migration.  If you have whitelisted IPs for SafeAssign, they should be updated to the values listed here: Cloud FAQs | Blackboard Help

 

Here is the link to the updated Support Bulletin from Behind the Blackboard: https://blackboard.secure.force.com/btbb_articleview?id=kAA3900000000JTGAY

The planned SafeAssign migration to AWS recently announced for March 8th, and covered in my blog post last week, has been delayed.

 

The SafeAssign Team has been preparing for this migration for around 12 months. Due to the size of the SafeAssign database, the plan for migrating data was based on an iterative approach which would limit downtime to a few hours. During the 12 months of planning both test migrations and a migration of the SafeAssign Staging environment were completed.  Originally, these tests were thought to be successful, which led to our plan to complete the migration on March 8th.

 

When finalizing the migration activities of the SafeAssign production environment, we discovered a risk for issues regarding concurrency and data table inaccuracies, which could cause data corruption or loss for student submissions after the migration. This was not apparent during test and staging migrations and not something the team could easily correct before the March 8th migration.

 

Given the potential data loss and corruption we are postponing the AWS migration scheduled for March 8th until solutions for the identified problems can be resolved.  We will publish a new bulletin when we have a new migration date.

 

We understand that our administrator partners have notified end-users of the disruption and we apologize for the last-minute postponement of the migration.

We recently announced a downtime event for the SafeAssign service on March 8th, and I'd like to take the opportunity to provide more information about the reason for this downtime to provide transparency for the Bb Community:

 

For over a decade, the SafeAssign service has been hosted in Blackboard's Managed Hosting datacenters and for most of those years the performance of the service was stable and able to support the volume of submissions coming from Blackboard Learn customers.  However, over the past several years Learn clients' interest and usage of Safeassign has increased significantly:

 


 

SafeAssign is also a very cyclical product and there are small periods of very high numbers of submissions followed by long periods of low to medium numbers of submissions.  This peak load period is difficult to accommodate without relying on modern cloud computing techniques:

 


 

The graph above represents the number of papers submitted per minute over the past two weeks as of this writing; the spikes are ~midnight EST, and the big spikes are Sunday nights leading into Monday mornings.  You can see that each day has a relative peak but Sunday nights are the highest volume days with volume trailing off towards Saturday each week.

 

To handle both the increases in volume over the years and the peak volume periods, we're moving the SafeAssign infrastructure into the Amazon Web Services platform on March 8.  Actually, we've been moving the service to AWS in pieces over the course of about nine months, and March 8 represents the final migration of the remaining components of the service.

 

Unfortunately, given the scope of the migration it is not possible to prevent some downtime for the service during this transition.  We understand the impact that downtime for the SafeAssign service has on clients and users.  We are planning this downtime on a Thursday to allow enough buffer prior to the expected peak of Sunday night (per the graph above) should any problems arise during the migration.

 

The move to AWS should represent one of the final full-downtime events that SafeAssign should ever experience.  Aside from the entire AWS infrastructure we rely on going down (which can happen, though is quite rare), the risk of SafeAssign outages should be significantly reduced by this transition.  The AWS infrastructure also provides opportunity to implement automated scaling policies which will reduce the possibility of delays during peak load periods.  Finally, our architecture design within AWS will support additional improvements to things like matching algorithms, search data sources, and other areas which will improve the overall quality of the SafeAssign service.

(This post is meant to serve as an update to the prior post in December 2017)

 

To provide as much information and transparency as possible, we held several webinars on February 15th and February 21st to provide updates to clients across multiple markets on the status of changes to the New Box View service (recording available here).  The goal of these webinars was to continue to track and communicate changes to the New Box View service over the past several months since the Blackboard Learn integration with New Box View was made available and to provide information on new functionality coming soon.

 

As discussed in these webinars, there we are using two classifications of issues:

  • Bugs which are problems with existing functionality
  • Features which are new functionality not currently present

 

From these categorizations, we can track the progress over time of changes to the New Box View service. For bugs, Box and Blackboard continue to be responsive to customer reports of issues relating to both the New Box View service and the integration between Blackboard Learn and New Box View.  Below represents an accounting and status of bugs reported at the time of this writing:

 

Live tracking spreadsheet available here: link

 

For features, one specific improvement has already been delivered and a date has been provided for several new features:

 

UX for point- and highlight-based annotations – delivered on January 10, 2018 by Box

Previously, comments on point-based annotations were accessed by hovering with the mouse cursor over the point annotation while comments on highlight-based annotations were accessed by clicking on the highlight.  This caused confusion for users who expected the same interaction between comments on the two types of annotations.

 

On January 10, Box updated the interactions for comments on both point- and highlight-based annotations to be accessed by hovering over the annotation:

 

Point and Highlight Annotation OnHover.gif

Sticky annotation mode – in development, planned for delivery March 5 by Box

A less-requested but still relevant improvement to the New Box View service has been to make it easier for users to add multiple annotations of the same type in sequence without having to re-select the annotation mode from the main navigation bar.

 

On March 5th, 2018 Box will be updating the New Box View service with a “sticky” mode for annotations (specifically point- and drawing- annotations):

 

point annotations sticky small.gif

Drawing annotations – in development, planned for delivery March 5 by Box

One of the most-requested features for the New Box View service is to provide users the ability to add freehand drawings to documents.

 

On March 5th, 2018 Box will be updating the New Box View service with the ability to add drawings by entering into “drawing mode” (similar to “sticky” mode for point annotations):

 

Drawing Annotations.gif

 

Downloading documents w/ annotations – in design, timing TBD by Blackboard

The most-requested feature addition on the Bb Community Site is the ability for users to download PDF versions of their documents containing the existing annotations at that point in time. 

 

Blackboard recognizes the significance and importance of this functionality and has begun investigation into building this functionality within Blackboard Learn.  We have recently raised the priority of this work and completed a proof of concept for a technical design.  Blackboard is scoping the effort required to move from proof of concept to full scale implementation.  When the scoping effort is complete, we will be able to provide a timeline for the availability of this feature.  We are targeting this work for Q2 2018, and will confirm timing in the coming weeks.

 

Going forward, we will continue to use the input from the Blackboard client community (including voting on outstanding ideas here on the Community Site) to prioritize and communicate the importance and need for improvements in the New Box View service with Box, Inc.  Blackboard and Box remain closely partnered to improve the Inline Grading and document rendering capabilities.  As progress is made with New Box View functionality and new timing information becomes available, Blackboard will provide periodic updates on new features on a timely basis.  The roadmap below represents our current, best understanding of timing for the work I've just discussed:

 

 

 

A Focus on Assessment

We'd also like to expand on Blackboard's larger strategic approach to feedback and assessment of which Inline Grading is one component of a larger suite of assessment tools within Blackboard Learn.  While we continue to make progress with improvements and changes to the New Box View service, note that document rendering and annotation is also only one part of the overall feedback and assessment capabilities within Blackboard Learn.  Blackboard's intent to provide users with valuable tools for managing and communicating the process of assessing student work extends to several other existing and upcoming functional areas as well:

 

 

These changes in combination with improvements to the New Box View service represent a holistic approach to feedback and assessment from Blackboard.