In academic year 2015-16, the University completed an OJEU competitive procurement exercise to test the marketplace and secure a service provider for the next five years. Professor Brian Murphy explains more about the procurement process, the selected supplier and how the digital learning environment at Ulster University will bring benefits to teaching, learning and student engagement in the following Insight article available to Ulster staff at https://www.ulster.ac.uk/insight/news/feature-news/2016/06/blackboard/
Following tender evaluations Blackboard were identified as the preferred and most economically advantageous supplier. Ulster has partnered with Blackboard since academic year 2008/09 having previously licenced WebCT. The new contract is substantially different from our previous 5 years with Blackboard; most notably the infrastructure will now be supported, managed and hosted by Blackboard in a remote data centre with 99.9% up-time service level agreements.
In terms of enhancements Ulster’s contract also provides us with the opportunity of upgrades to new versions of the platform, open learning capabilities, new instant messenger functionality and the opportunity to implement enhanced learning analytics. In parallel to the main platform, Ulster also completed a tender process for a synchronous video and audio teaching tool and Blackboard Collaborate was identified as the preferred supplier. From a technical perspective, an integrated suite of tools is beneficial and from a staff and student experience seamless integration will provide a richer experience.
Migration to a remote data centre offers a number of benefits for Ulster – the main motivation is to provide a robust and resilient service without single points of failure and most importantly a 24/7 service level agreement. The business case to support this investment was influenced by historical challenges with migration projects and downtime. Ulster is partnering with Blackboard professional services to migrate the infrastructure from the data centre in Coleraine during the weekend of 26th – 28th August 2016. The project team at Ulster consists of colleagues from the Office for Digital Learning and ISD Infrastructure teams and is governed through the VLE Futures Working Group and the Digital Learning Sub Committee.
The project team is undertaking a staged migration process with the first migration scheduled for mid July. The purpose of the initial migration is to test the data transfer, authentication and core functionality in preparation for a full migration in late August. Following best practice workflows it will be necessary to create a backup restore point of the production system that will result in downtime between 22nd and 29th August 2016. The downtime window also provides sufficient time to transfer data between Ulster and the remote data centre in preparation for service restoration on the 29th August.
The dates for the downtime have been negotiated in partnership with academic staff, Blackboard Professional Services, Office for Digital learning and ISD. Whilst there is never a good time for any service disruption the dates have taken into consideration the academic calendar and normal system usage patterns.
We are aware that some academic staff and students may be inconvenienced by Blackboard being unavailable. We apologise for any inconvenience.
If you need access to assignments or marks during this period, you can download both prior to the downtime. The Blackboard Helpdesk can offer advice depending on which assignment tool you use, please email firstname.lastname@example.org for guidance.
The Office for Digital Learning will be providing updates through multiple channels; all staff emails, Blackboard announcements and on the Blackboard Support wiki during the migration process. The Blackboard wiki is available at http://wiki.ulster.ac.uk/display/VLESUPPORT/Home