Learn.UQ (Blackboard), UQ's Learning Management System (LMS), must occasionally be made unavailable while ITS performs maintenance within the LMS itself, or on peripheral systems.  

These periods of unavailability are referred to as maintenance outages and the periods of time specified for these outages are referred to as a maintenance window.

These planned maintenance outages ensure that we can provide a secure and reliable online environment, maximising system availability. Without planned maintenance outages the LMS is at risk of unexpected outages and/or security breaches.

All outage windows are notified in advance on the ITS service status page and the Spotlight section on the Blackboard Welcome page. There are two types of outage windows: fixed maintenance and special maintenance.

Fixed Maintenance Windows

In the middle and at the end of each year the University's Learning Management System (Learn.UQ) may be unavailable for critical maintenance or upgrades. These windows are essential for a robust secure system. Typically the main LMS system upgrade will occur between the end of Semester 2 exams, and Christmas subject to consultations, and approval by the DVC(A). The mid year maintenance will typically occur at the end of the week that Semester 1 results are published (after results are published, at the end of the second week after exams finish), subject to approvals.

Saturday Mornings

The DVC(A) has endorsed a maintenance window on Saturday mornings from 5:00AM to 9:00AM except a) during the week before O-week, or during O-week, or weeks 1 or 2 of a semester, and b) in the two weeks immediately before exams (week13 and revision week), or during the 2 weeks of exams. User level communications for any outage will still occur, including an all staff/students memo. Outage requests have to go through normal internal change management processes to ensure quality. The maintenance window is required because regular patching and updates will further enhance the stability of what is a critical corporate system, and Saturday morning is the lowest point for Learn.UQ usage in the week. All instructors were notified of this proposal and invited to give feedback during September 2013.

Special Maintenance Windows

Other Maintenance Windows are required for specific critical maintenance. These periods are negotiated as required.

Maintenance Window Selection

Care is taken to minimise disruption caused by these outages. Unfortunately all possible windows have some level of impact, and therefore the dates of lowest impact are sought by ITS.

Impacts considered include: teaching periods; pre exam study; exams; post-exam marking; pre-supplementary exam study; supplementary-exams; post supplementary exam marking; special semesters (e.g. School of Medicine and CPD); pre-semester course preparation periods.

Main Learn.UQ Upgrade Date Selection

  • The period of least disruption to the University is sought. Unfortunately there is no window that will not be inconvenient to one of the many stakeholder groups.
  • A large range of impacts are considered including: teaching periods; pre exam study; exams; post-exam marking; pre-supplementary exam study; supplementary-exams; post supplementary exam marking; special teaching periods (e.g. School of Medicine and CPD); pre-semester course preparation periods.
  • Dates are proposed 9 months in advance and feedback is collected and considered carefully.
  • Post upgrade feedback is collected and considered carefully.
  • Upgrading a system in the middle of a teaching period is avoided, because:
  1. Impact during Semester: Mid semester upgrades run a significant risk of disrupting live courses. While upgrades are tested by Blackboard (vendor), ITS, and all staff who take up the offer, upgrading a tool in the middle of semester, loaded with partial semester data, is more risky than a pre-semester upgrade and likely to disrupt classes. An upgrade before the start of the teaching period also allows instructors to do a final check of technology ready for use that semester.
  2. Impact on the following semester: A mid Summer Semester upgrade (Christmas) would dissuade staff from adopting, and testing new features during that semester. Real world testing during summer semester is an important way for the University to identify and mitigate issues before the larger impact on Semester 1 (1500 courses). Upgrades in-time for the start of Summer Semester allows staff to adopt and test new features during that semester, with a relatively lower impact (150 courses versus 1500 courses), making for a more stable experience during the higher impact Semester1.  There have been a number of cases where only real world testing identified issues during summer semester giving the University time to implement appropriate workarounds, training and communications for Semesters 1 and 2. Examples of problems detected in this way include:
  • an intermittent problem where Adobe Connect prompted for login details was identified, and a work-around prepared for Semester 1.
  • a problem with blogs taking a long time to load, only evident with extremely large numbers of students in some communities (>10000). An alternate solution was provided for Semester 1.
  • a problem with cloud profiles was discovered, and users were able to be warned.
  • a bug with importing group members by .csv was identified. It was only caused by the files larger than a certain size, and a work around was prepared for Semester 1.
  1. Doing a mid-semester upgrade that changes the look and feel for instructors and students generates significant fear and anxiety amongst staff and students.
  • Marking week is the lowest usage week that is not in the middle of a teaching period. Clearly there is an inconvenient impact on marking that particularly affects large classes. Coordinators are always given at least six month's notice of the year upgrade date through multiple communication channels, and are asked to take this into account with marking plans.
  • Upgrading during marking week has the following mitigation options:
    • Students revising for supplementary exams will have three weeks after this outage to prepare for supplementary exams.
    • Staff during marking week have the following mitigations available:
  • Course coordinators can download marks from Blackboard Grade Centre for manipulation in Excel before uploading to SI-net. This removes their dependence on Blackboard.
  • Coordinators have weeks before the upgrade and days after to do this export.
  • The overwhelming majority of the feedback received on the marking week upgrade window has been from people who simply did not plan for the upgrade during the marking period. The communication and support campaign has therefore been extremely comprehensive.

Preferred Maintenance Window Selection

The current preferred maintenance window is Saturday morning as explained above. Below are the issues considered for selection of the preferred maintenance window.

Arguments for Saturday morning

  • Saturday morning is the equal lowest usage point of the week (with Sunday morning)
  • Sunday is available as a buffer to fix problems
  • The window only goes to 9AM (although some changes need to go longer)
  • Echo recordings will still work even during maintenance (recordings store on the capture devices and load up when the server is available). Only echo views are affected.
  • Sunday afternoon experiences much higher usage than Saturday afternoons (for overruns)

Arguments for Sunday window

  • Saturday is listed in the calendar as a teaching day
  • Sunday morning is equal lowest usage point of the week (with Sat morning)