Blackboard Possible Service Outage 4/18

The Blackboard vendor will be performing some planned maintenance procedures on our servers that have the potential to cause brief service interruptions between the hours of 2:00 am and 6:00 am Eastern Standard Time on April 18th, 2014.

This maintenance is not expected to cause any interruption in Blackboard access, but we wanted users to be aware of the potential for a temporary interruption in service.  Any interruptions that do occur are expected to only last a few minutes.

It is therefore recommended that if users are accessing Blackboard during this window that they save all work frequently and complete any tests, quizzes, assignment submissions, etc., outside of this service window.

If you have any questions, concerns, or experience issues after this maintenance has taken place, please submit an IT Support Center ticket the approximate time that the issue happened, steps you took leading up to experiencing this issue, and a screenshot of the error if possible.

AE&T Committee Awards for FY 2015

Members of the Academic Engagement & Technology committee met with OIT and Media Services staff on March 12 to award $21,000 in competitive funds for technology in support of teaching and learning.  The committee funded the following requests:

  • 1 license for Survey Monkey software ($300 to Sociology)
  • 3 licenses for ChemDraw software ($1,500 to Chemistry)
  • 4 new iMac computers for the Digital Media Lab ($8,000 to Art & Art History)
  • 1 Blackmagic pocket camera, 1 Sony lens, and 1 Lumix lens ($1,700 to Theater, Film & Media Studies)
  • 1 Smart Podium, 1 license for Survey Monkey software and 1 license for Experimental Management System software ($3,900 to Psychology)
  • 30 iClickers  and start-up funds to explore cloud-based student research computing options  ($2,000 to Biology)
  • 3 licenses for Filemaker Pro software ($600 to Boyden Art Gallery)
  • $3,000 to cover one-half of an upgrade to an institutional license for Mathematica software  (matching grant with OIT)

A special thanks to AE&T Committee chair Celia Rabinowitz for her labors in managing this process.

All Things Wireless

This summer the College is planning to make improvements to student residences on campus, including the inaugural provision of wireless access to the internet in all residences.  This project, also a year-long effort to extend and upgrade wireless coverage to other corners of the campus that had previously lacked such coverage, represent significant progress in OIT’s efforts to modernize the College network infrastructure.

The next step in the modernization roadmap is a much-needed upgrade to the wireless technology in classrooms, computer labs, and other learning spaces on campus.  Most of the wireless equipment first installed years ago in Schaefer, Goodpaster, Montgomery, Kent and Margaret Brent has never been replaced, and was never designed to support high-volume wireless access to the internet in support of teaching and learning.  Over the next year OIT will work with the Academic Engagement & Technology advisory committee to identify needed technology improvements that will provide better internet access in these learning spaces.

R.I.P. Windows XP

Microsoft ended support for the Windows XP operating system on April 8, 2014.  Among other things, this means that Microsoft will no longer publish security updates for Windows XP, thereby making computers that still run XP more vulnerable to viruses and malware.

Recognizing this security threat, members of the OIT Desktop Support Services unit have been busily upgrading older college-owned computers that still run XP to Windows 7.  Almost 100 machines have been upgraded to date, with another 150 scheduled for an upgrade over the next three months.  Kudos to Linda Ward, Jean Miller, Karen Cozzens, Jeff Krissof, and Jon Arakelian for their efforts on this front.

If you use a College-owned computer that is still running Windows XP, and if you have not been contacted yet about an upgrade to Windows 7, please contact OIT immediately at 240-985-4357.

Phishing Attempt – March 19, 2014

A phishing attempt was sent to a number of users on campus.  The subject line of the email contained the phrase “Documents” or “View this Document.”  The email tells users that a Google Document was sent to them and to click the link to view the document.  The link will take you to a webpage that looks like a Google Drive sign-in page.

Do not click on the links in these emails.  If you have already done so, immediately change your password using Password Manager at

This scam is an especially convincing and detailed phishing attempt. The following tips will help you decide if the email you received is legitimate:

  1. Hover over the link to verify the URL is actually a Google Doc page. A Google Doc link usually begins with  Any other URL is a sign that it is a phishing attempt.Phishing_2(1)
  2. Poor grammar, generic language, and emails sent to hidden addresses are all indicators of a possible phishing attempt.Phishing_1
  3. If you are already logged into Google, you should not be asked to log into Google again to view a Google Doc you were sent. Being taken to a log on page when you are already signed in is a sign of a phishing attempt.
  4. Google has removed all the fraudulent sign in pages that were reported; however, more pages can be created by hackers.  Always use caution when clicking on links in emails.
  5. If you received an email like the one described above (particularly if you were not expecting a document to be shared with you), it is good practice to check with the sender by phone or separate email message to see if they did share a specific document with you.

Please report this email as a phishing attempt to Google.  More information about phishing as well as instructions to report phishing can be found on Google’s About Phishing support page.

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact the IT Support Center at x4357 or open a ticket at

Portal Service Interruption – Thursday, March 20, 2014

In order to provide maintenance and update services to the Portal systems, there will be a scheduled service interruption from approximately 5:00 am to 10:00 am on Thursday, March 20, 2014.  Portal access will be down for this time period and is expected to return by 10:00 am.

We will keep you informed of any further information as it becomes available.

Course Evaluations Survey Customizations

The snow on the ground (again) isn’t keeping OIT from looking to spring, and the Course Evaluations that come with it.

As of today, we are calling for custom survey requests in the following form. Please submit this form by Monday, March 31st for each course for which you would like to:

  • Change the date/time the survey is available. The earliest possible beginning date and time is April 16th at 8:00 am, and surveys may end as late as May 7th at 11:59 pm.
  • Request additional instructors be added to the course evaluations, if you are not the only course instructor.
  • Merge surveys for merged or cross listed courses, if you have a cross-listed course for which you would like to have a single survey
  • Create a survey for a course that is not usually evaluated*/Not deploy a survey for a course.
  • Make a request that is not covered by the above items.

Again, please submit this form by Monday, March 31st for your changes to be implemented.

Instructors have from when the surveys have been created, up until their course’s surveys are released to students to add optional questions to them. Keep an eye out for more information about adding questions to your surveys. If you’d like to get a jump on things, you can take a look at the additional questions available.

*Courses that are not usually evaluated include, but are not limited to:

  • SMPS (except Art/Arth & POSC)
  • Independent studies
  • Study Tours
  • No credit courses
  • PHEC courses

Blackboard possible service outage

In order to keep Blackboard up to date, we will be updating several building blocks in the production server at 9:00 am-11:am, Monday, March 17th (the start of SMCM’s spring break).

We have tested these updates out in our Blackboard Test Server and did not encounter any issues. While we do not expect any down-time on the Blackboard Production Server, please be aware that temporary interruption in service is possible.

We recommend that if users are accessing Blackboard during this window that they save all work frequently and complete any tests, quizzes, assignment submissions, etc., outside of this service window.

If you have any questions, concerns, or experience issues after this maintenance has taken place, please submit an IT Support Center ticket the approximate time that the issue happened, steps you took leading up to experiencing this issue, and a screenshot of the error if possible.

SafeAssign Questions (and ANSWERS!)

Recently, I ate lunch with the Biology Department to discuss the Blackboard Building block, SafeAssign. After the meeting, I realized that there isn’t yet a great source of information for the tool, so I decided to do some homework and answer some of the questions I’ve received over time.

What is SafeAssign?

SafeAssign is a building block in the Blackboard Learning Management System that checks students’ work for plageriazation.

How does it work?

SafeAssign checks a submitted work against four sources:

Source Description Example
The Internet: All documents/pages publicly available and indexed by the tool A webpage
ProQuest ABI/Inform database: Over 2.6 million articles from 1990-present A scholarly article in a peer-reviewed journal
Institutional document archive: Documents submitted through SafeAssign at the same institution A document submitted by a student from a previous semester
Global Reference Databaset: Papers volunteered by students to prevent cross-institution plagiarism A document submitted by a student from another institution

More information about these databases can be found here.

Can others see work in the institutional database?

No, the only works that are visible are ones that you, or your students have submitted.

Sounds great! Are there any drawbacks?

Being that this is a building block, and not a part of out-of-the-box Blackboard functionality, there are going to be a couple issues:

  • Syncing across multiple sections/courses is an issue if you are reusing a SafeAssignment. Information on this particular issue can be found here
  • You must make the tool available for each course to be able to use it.
  • You cannot use this tool with Blackboard groups. (Though, you can have one student submit an assignment for their group)
  • Sometimes the tool is overly zealous about what it selects. Sometimes the results are not indicative of whether a student has plagiarized.

Is there any way to eliminate work from the institutional database?

Yes. If you have DirectSubmitted a document to the database, you can delete this submission. This will remove it from the institutional database.

Is there a way to check a paper against the databases without submitting?

Yes, create your SafeAssignment as a draft.


Students will be able to verify that their work, but their documents will not be added to the database. This is especially helpful when a final work is to be submitted later.

What kind of documents can be evaluated?

The following formats are supported by SafeAssign: .doc, .docx, .odt, .txt, .rtf, .pdf, and .html. If you have another kind of document, try exporting it as a pdf. This should maintain all of the text. SafeAssign cannot check for image plagiarism.

What is the difference between a SafeAssignment and a DirectSubmission?

A SafeAssignment is set up to look much like an Assignment in Blackboard, with some limited functionality (see my list of drawbacks above). Students submit to these the same way they would in a normal assignment.

A DirectSubmission is a document submitted by the instructor. An originality report can be run on all documents submitted this way. More than one document can be submitted if the instructor compresses the files as a zip folder first.

Ok great! I’m ready to use the tool. How do I:

Create a Safe Assignment Turn on the SafeAssignment tool, and then go here.
Grade SafeAssignments Instructions can be found here
Run an originality report Instructions can be found here
DirectSubmit a document Instructions can be found here.

Do you have any other questions about SafeAssign? Any other Blackboard tool? Ask away in the comments!

Phishing Attempt March 8, 2014

A phishing attempt was sent to a number of users on campus. The email asked the user to click on a link in the email or threatened that that user’s account would be disabled. The information details provided in the email, specifically:

  • the link provided
  • the name of the sender
  • the signature
  • inappropriate grammar

were clearly not referencing the SMCM IT Support Center. St. Mary’s College Office of Information Technology will never ask for your password.

Do not respond to these emails.

If you have already clicked ont he link and provided your infomration, you need to change your password using the Password Manager at

To report this email as a phishing attempt to Google, please follow the directions on this support page:

You can find out more about Unwanted or Suspicious Mail and how to deal with it by clicking on the links in this post:
Other Suspicious Mail

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact the IT Support Center at x4357 or open a ticket at