Skip navigation
All Places > System Administrator Community > Blog > Author: tb32012

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

 

Time for another update on this topic! This month's update will be short but juicy, so let's dive in:

 

Addition of 'Comment Summary' to Annotated PDF Downloads

When we rolled out the 'download PDFs with annotations' capability, one of the pieces of feedback we received was that the point- or comment-based annotations had to be expanded one at a time before they could be printed for physical review. Also, expanding the comments within the PDF - particularly longer comments or comments with lots of text - could potentially cover up or block the content on the page making it more difficult to view the content that the annotation was associated with.

 

To help alleviate this, on 10/23/2018 we implemented new functionality that adds a 'Comment Summary' section to the end of annotated PDFs when downloaded from New Box View. This new feature does a few things at once:

 

  • Adds numbered labels to comments based on location within the document, with numbering starting at the top comment
  • Adds a 'Comment Summary' section to the end of the PDF
  • Lists comments based on (1) page number and (2) comment number

 

Here are some screenshots of the functionality in action:

 

Screen Shot 2018-10-23 at 5.14.22 PM.png

Note the three Point Comments in New Box View

 

Screen Shot 2018-10-23 at 5.14.32 PM.png

Same three comments numbered in annotated PDF download

 

Screen Shot 2018-10-23 at 5.14.51 PM.png

Comment Summary with page number and numbered comments listed

 

This new functionality has been implemented within the microservice that supports this feature, so no change or update to Learn is required to access this feature. Go check it out now!

 

Note: this is separate and unrelated to the 'Summary View' feature that has been requested that presents an aggregated view of annotations while viewing files online and within New Box View; this new summary of comments is only for downloaded PDFs containing annotations.

 

Box Deprecation of TLS 1.0 and Supported Web Browsers

Technology companies across Internet have been broadly deprecating support for the older TLS 1.0 standard (e.g. Salesforce.com) and Box is following suit. Here is the link to the Box information on the change. There are two relevant points for Blackboard clients:

 

Supported Browsers

The Box and Blackboard matrices for browsers supporting the newer TLS 1.1 standard are available here: Box Supported Browsers and Blackboard Supported Browsers. Directly comparing the matrices:

 

Screen Shot 2018-10-26 at 2.27.43 PM.png

Box supported browser versions

 

Screen Shot 2018-10-26 at 2.27.50 PM.png

Blackboard Learn supported browser versions

 

The main point is that the oldest browser versions supported by Blackboard are significantly newer than the oldest browsers that support at least TLS 1.1, so there should not be any issue for users on Blackboard-supported versions of browsers.

 

Timing of Deprecation

Box originally announced end of support for TLS 1.0 on 6/25/2018 and completely deprecate TLS 1.0 calls on 11/12/2018. This means users need to be on a browser supporting TLS 1.1 before 11/12 or they will not be able to use New Box View within Learn.

 

Note that Blackboard removed support for TLS 1.0 and 1.1 for Learn SaaS customers on 8/31/2018.

 

Thank you for your continued patience and support as Blackboard and Box continue to improve this area of functionality!

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

 

9/28 Edit: updated expected CU delivery dates

9/14 Edit: updated Excel file annotations info

10/16 Edit: updated delivered CU dates and links

 

It's been ~six weeks since my last update and there has been some new developments on multiple fronts that I thought I'd share:

 

Excel-based File Annotations

Box has informed Blackboard that today, September 13th, they will be enabling annotations capabilities for Excel-based file formats (.xls, .xlsx, etc.).  Once available, this functionality will represent another improvement to New Box View and another gap closed against the former Crocodoc solution.

 

The exact time this functionality will be available is not known, but I will keep checking and update this post once confirmed!

Excel files can now be annotated!  Go try it yourself!

 

Screen Shot 2018-09-14 at 4.20.35 PM.png

 

Download with Annotations in Learn Original Bug Fix Availability

Since the release of the Download with Annotations capability, a bug was identified that prevents the download of annotated documents when using the 'My Grades' workflow.  We've identified the underlying issue and have a fix ready, but the fix must be applied to Learn instances (not within a microservice).  The next round of planned Cumulative Updates for Learn will provide this fix, and are currently targeted for the following dates:

 

 

These dates are still targets and could move, but this is our expected timing based on what we know right now.  I'll update this post as the CUs become available.

 

In the interim, the workaround for this issue is to use the Download with Annotations capability by accessing the attempt through the Content -> Assignment -> Attempt workflow.

 

Accessibility Update

Box has made internal progress on improve the accessibility of New Box View: the main content and navigation UI has been accessible for quite a while, and the annotations have been the next priority and progress has been made.  However, the improvements will not be available until the general annotations features make their way into the main Box content management application, and I don't yet have a timeframe from Box on that action.  However given the development cadence and agile methodology that Box follows, movement and communication from Box means that we're getting closer!  As soon as I have more information, I'll share it via an update to this post or a new blog post.

 

I've also updated the issue tracking spreadsheet this month as well.

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

 

8/13 edit: added release information for Cumulative Updates!

8/23 edit: added info on 'Print' option that previously existed in the Box UI

 

Now that we're on the other side of BbWorld and getting closer to back-to-school period for many institutions it is a good time for an update on progress with New Box View!

 

Download with Annotations

As I discussed in my May update, we continue working to build the capability to download student submissions with instructor annotations embedded within the documents.  We've been coding for several months and we're very close to completion!  In fact, here's a quick demo video of the functionality in action:

 

 

Direct link to video hosted on Collaborate, with download in mp4 format available from the "hamburger" menu in the top left corner: Bb Collaborate

 

This new feature is being implemented with a combination of Learn-side changes and a new microservice: on the Learn side, when annotations are present within the document being rendered by New Box View a new button will be present for all users to download the document with annotations; on the microservice side, the new microservice will work in tandem with the existing microservice and help build the new PDF with original content plus annotations and provide it to Learn for download by the user.

 

This functionality will be made available through a Cumulative Update to the versions of Learn listed below:

 

 

We are finalizing the timeframes for each of these releases over the coming days.  As I have specific dates for availability, I will add them to the information above.  Stay tuned!

 

Some additional details that will be noted in release notes or documentation, but I thought would be relevant to provide ahead of time:

 

For the initial release, we are focusing on the ability to download text-based documents only.  While New Box View allows users to annotate on both text-based documents and images, the ability to download images with annotations applied is a significantly more challenging problem than applying annotations to documents in PDF format.  We will continue to investigate supporting downloading annotated images as well as new file types that will support annotations in the future (e.g. Excel-based files).

 

All downloaded documents with annotations will be in PDF format, regardless of original file format.  The time it takes to create the PDF version of the document will depend primarily on the size of the original file, with larger files inherently taking more time.  Because of this, there may be a small delay between the time users click the "download with annotations" button and when the file is made available for download within the browser.  We do not expect a significant delay; however New Box View allows for file sizes up to five gigabyte and converting a file that large to PDF may take several seconds.

 

We also removed the native 'Print' option from the Box UI (in the toolbar that contains the annotation capabilities) to help reduce confusion for users when looking for the right place to download documents.

 

There is a known issue with Chrome's built-in PDF viewer which may cause problems when viewing the PDF documents created with this functionality.  Therefore, we recommend viewing PDFs using a native PDF viewer like Adobe Acrobat.

 

Annotations on Excel-based Files

Unfortunately, Box has been delayed in making this feature available due to technical limitations on their side and the previous timeline I had stated will not be accomplishable.  We are continuing to receive updates from Box on the situation, and I expect to be able to provide a new timeline in my next update.

 

As always, thank you for your continued patience and we look forward to providing another update with more release information shortly!

For the better part of 12 months, the Blackboard SafeAssign Team had been designing the infrastructure and implementation plan for moving the SafeAssign service out of the Blackboard Managed Hosting facilities and into the cloud-based Amazon Web Services (AWS) infrastructure.  The benefits of an AWS-based deployment include increased flexibility in hardware allocation, the ability to be more responsive to changing submission volume, and the potential for more rapid innovation across the SafeAssign technology stack.

 

On April 3rd, 2018 the SafeAssign migration to AWS was completed (link to BtBb announcement) and all new user submissions and requests would be processed in the SafeAssign environment deployed within AWS going forward.  The timing of this transition was important as many schools were starting to enter an end-of-year "Finals" period in which we typically observe a greater amount of student assessment (and by extension SafeAssign usage) than other periods of the academic and calendar year.

 

We typically track two metrics as representative of the client experience with respect to performance:

  • Paper Load represents the number of documents in the queue waiting to be processed
  • Paper Turnaround Time represents the average amount of time a user waits to receive a SafeAssign Originality Report back from the service

 

These two metrics are highly correlated and help us to understand the performance of the service at any given time.  In previous years and while hosted within Blackboard Managed Hosting facilities, SafeAssign often struggled to maintain acceptable performance for all clients during the critical Finals period:


SafeAssign Paper Load Apr to June 2017.png

Paper Load April 1 to June 1, 2017

 

SafeAssign Paper Turnaround Time Apr to June 2017.png

Paper Turnaround Time April 1 to June 1, 2017

 

As you can see from the graphs above, during the 2017 Spring Finals period SafeAssign struggled to keep paper turnaround times under 12 hours for a period of almost three weeks and paper turnaround times reached almost 45 hours average at their peak; this means that some students and instructors were waiting nearly two days to get Originality Reports and results from SafeAssign, which is clearly not the experience we want to provide for our clients.

 

We are pleased to report that after the move to AWS, the SafeAssign service performed significantly better during this high-volume Finals period than in previous years.  Here are the graphs of the same Paper Load and Paper Turnaround Time metrics from the 2018 Spring Finals period:

 

SafeAssign Paper Load Apr to June 2018.png

Paper Load April 1 to June 1, 2018

 

SafeAssign Paper Turnaround Time Apr to June 2018.png

Paper Turnaround Time April 1 to June 1, 2018

 

Comparing the graphs from 2017 to 2018, the improved performance of the service is clear: while there were still small spikes of load, the average paper turnaround time was just over nine minutes!  This represents a significant positive change in user experience and perception of the performance of the service.  We received no reports of delays from clients during this period, and we're proud to announce this information to all users of the SafeAssign service!

 

As we progress through 2018, we will continue to make performance improvements to SafeAssign that should continue to reduce these metrics over time.  In addition to this, we're working on a new responsive and accessible Originality Report user interface that will be enabled by the AWS infrastructure.  We'll be providing more details about this new interface at BbWorld 2018 this year, so look for more information coming soon!

 

We would like to thank our students, teachers, and administrators for continuing to rely on SafeAssign for originality and plagiarism reporting, and we look forward to continuing to improve the service in the months to come.