In yesterday afternoon’s session, I attended the “Blackboard listening session”, with senior members of the board arrayed before us like contestants on University Challenge.  There was very little discussion of the Blackboard Academic Suite: almost everyone wanted to talk about the Vista/CE6 product line.

Bb have committed to extending the open API layers for all their products.  This is primarily to enable better integration with external systems, but also, one hopes, to expose information stashed safely away in the database, presently protected from the impious meddlings of systems administrators.

One delegate noted that there were diagnostic and performance tuning tools available to the sysadmins at Blackboard hosting services that aren’t currently available to the poor souls who have chosen to support the system in-house.  Sadly many of these products are proprietary tools not belonging to Blackboard, so they can’t be released.  They have promised, however, to release some “best practice” guides and improve the “reference architecture” so we can find out what the thing is up to.

Inevitably our attention turned to the thorny issue of stability.  One delegate said they were now having trouble “defending the product” to the user community.  We were told that Blackboard had learned from a bad version upgrade from 5.5 to 6 for their Academic Suite, and were now much better at running an “enterprise development shop” than were their colleagues at WebCT.  The core development and maintenance teams had been separated so the product could continue to evolve while bugfixing went on elsewhere.  The beta release programme is now being extended to Application Pack 2 for CE6 and Vista, and time on developing this release is almost 100% focussed on stability & scalability issues.  AP2 is being presented as an end to all our woes, but the release date may yet be too close to the start of the academic year.