What I Have Learned

Just a few of the lessons learned. When finished browsing, please return to the guest lecture.

Upgrade/Migration

Oh the joys of change! Over the course of the summer, we experienced a great deal of change and growth in addition to learning more about WebCT than can possibly be covered in this lecture.

As I mentioned before, we performed an upgrade from 2.2 to 3.6, however, with also performed a migration. Here’s what we did:

  1. Formatted a server with RedHat 6.2, the same OS as our 2.2 server.
  2. Completely backed up the entire 2.2 server and copied it onto the new server.
  3. We then began the installation of 3.5. (initially we were going to 3.5.1)
  4. We then wanted to purge the global database and were given code from WebCT that we thought would accomplish this task. But after we ran the code, we found that instead of giving us a clean global database, we had a corrupted server and had to completely rebuild the server.
  5. We rebuilt the server and performed a clean install of 3.6. We moved all our courses to the /admin/backup directory and WebCT restored our courses and gave us a clean global database in the process.
  6. Done – or so we thought. Because of this process we had a few things to clean up and we had to run some scripts on the publisher courses before we were “ready” to begin the semester.

So now you ask, did we do research on migration/upgrade? The answer – yes. Were we able to find clear documentation from WebCT? No. Did we talk to WebCT Support about the best procedure for performing the upgrade/migration? Yes.

Actually, here it is October and classes have been in session since August 20th and at the end of September I found out that WebCT usually does not support migrations that their “consulting” group does not provide. I was recently asked by a WebCT Support person why we didn’t have their group perform the migration and my answer to him was, “what consulting group and why weren’t we ever told about such a thing.”

What have I learned from this migration/upgrade? Research, research, research! Talk to everyone you can possibly talk to about performing upgrades/migrations, spend time on the WebCT Discussion boards on www.webct.com, spend time in the webct-users listserv and then ensure you have adequate time and servers to thoroughly test the new version.

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Global Database

The Global Database within WebCT is the main database for students, designers and teaching assistants. When we first started using WebCT we chose to allow faculty and students create their own global Ids. A global ID allows the student to access all of his/her classes logging into WebCT only one time. While that mindset working in the beginning when we were smaller we found that the number of students enrolled in online or web-enhanced courses almost tripled in the first year. Our system of allowing students/faculty to create their own global Ids was causing duplicate students and making the support of WebCT more difficult.

When we upgraded we made the decision to disallow this procedure for students and make it part of my job to upload students into the global database. One of the biggest hurdles was being able to create a standard formula for both Ids and passwords while also maintaining FERPA regulations. I contacted other colleges and universities using WebCT to find out their process for creating WebCT Ids. Our college does not give out email addresses to all students so we had to come up with a different formula. We finally settled on a combination of letters and numbers from the student’s first and last names, birth date and social security number.

I worked with our Data Processing department to create a program that pulled students from our “mainframe” (student registration system) and created the WebCT Ids and passwords. I then took that file and modified it so that I could populate students into their courses. I used the Courses field to accomplish this task. Once the semester was underway, I continue to update the global database, but use the Registered Courses field. The use of this field allows students to be added to the global database, but also allows faculty to control their own gradebooks and import only the “new” students into their classes.

This procedure has significantly cut down on the amount of emails between the student and myself when they are having problems and the instructor/student. We can log directly into WebCT as the student to see what they are seeing and help them with their problem.

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Browser Information

WebCT has always been browser specific, but with version 3.6, I have found that it is far more important for students and designers to use the correct browsers and set up their browsers as directed by WebCT. Version 3.6 is also far more dependent on the cache settings and if not set properly can create more problems for students than we realize.

You can go to the link below to check your browser to see if it is compatible with WebCT:

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WebCT Support/Documentation

Support
WebCT Support does provide telephone support as well as a searchable knowledge base on it’s website. When I have contacted Support, I have found that they, for the most part, are knowledgeable and respond to calls in a timely manner.

Support went through some changes during the summer in an attempt to provide better service to their customers. They moved away from a regional segregation of staff into a team approach. However, I have found this format somewhat frustrating and fragmented. You don’t generally talk to the same people about issues related to your school. Since multiple people handle requests, it is difficult to determine whether issues relevant to your school are a symptom of a larger problem within the file structure of WebCT.

Documentation
If there is one thing that truly sticks out working with WebCT is the lack of clear documentation. While the software clearly meets our needs, documentation is sorely lacking. I have been assured that WebCT has tripled their documentation staff, but as of this writing, I have not seen improvement in this area.

When I started working with WebCT, I went looking for some kind of “user group” with which I could network and discuss issues regarding WebCT and was unable to find anything. However, I did stumble across a listserv and have found reading the information it provides extremely informative. If you are interested in WebCT, I would strongly recommend that you join a listserv.

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