This topic provides some best practices and recommendations for deploying Blackboard Drive at your institution or organization. It also provides some useful tips and examples to help with your deployment.
Blackboard Drive Overview
Blackboard Drive is a client desktop application for Windows that allows desktop access to the Content Collection tab by mapping it as a shared network drive (a lettered drive on Windows). Blackboard Drive uses the WebDAV protocol for communication with Learn content management but has many advantages over the OS native WebDAV clients. Blackboard Drive provides better reliability, a more consistent experience, and improved user efficiency.
Blackboard Drive is integrated into the Blackboard Learn user interface with Easy Edit to provide simplified editing from the Content Collection tab and improved efficiency. Easy Edit with Blackboard Drive allows users to open a file for editing directly from the user interface and makes editing as simple as three steps: click, edit, and save. To learn more about Easy Edit, see Editing Files Using Easy Edit.
Blackboard Drive must be installed on the end user's computer. To make this easier for Blackboard Learn system administrators, there a number of tools and features to help more easily deploy and manage the software, including:
- Mass Configuration, which allows Blackboard Drive configuration settings to be bundled in the product installer or downloaded from a web server.
- Auto Update, which allows Blackboard Drive to prompt end users to download and install product updates.
- MSI installer option, which allows Blackboard Drive to be deployed via standard mass deployment tools.
Blackboard recommends that Mass Configuration be used to improve the experience of end users and reduce help desk questions when installing and using Blackboard Drive. Blackboard also recommends that Auto Update or another remote deployment tool be used to automate upgrading to newer versions.
While Blackboard Drive provides an improved user experience over native OS WebDAV clients, Blackboard will continue to support these OS native WebDAV clients and the existing learn "Web Folder" feature for cases when a user does not have Blackboard Drive available.
Blackboard Learn Support
Blackboard Drive is supported for use with Blackboard Learn 9.1 SP 4 and later.
Easy Edit with Blackboard Drive, which provides simplified editing from the Content Management web interface and improved efficiency, requires Learn 9.1 SP 6 and later.
Operating System Support
Blackboard Drive for Windows 1.7 supports the following Operating Systems.
- Windows XP SP3 (32-bit)
- Windows Vista (32-bit and 64-bit)
- Windows 7 (32-bit and 64-bit)
- Windows 8 (32-bit and 64-bit)
- Windows 8.1 (32-bit and 64-bit)
Easy Edit with Blackboard Drive on Windows supports Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome.
End User Requirements
Installing Blackboard Drive requires administrator privileges because it needs to install a kernel-level driver.
Deployment and Distribution
Blackboard Drive provides a simple and seamless user experience for updating, accessing, and editing files and folder in the Content Collection straight from the desktop. Blackboard Drive also provides a more consistent and improved user experience than native OS WebDAV clients, reducing the burden on IT and improving overall end user adoption and satisfaction.
Blackboard Drive must be installed on an end user's computer, so you must choose a strategy for deployment and distribution. Common options include:
- Allowing users to download and install Blackboard Drive.
- Deploying with software management tools that can deploy MSI installers for Windows.
- Pre-installing on managed computer images or in computer labs.
For any chosen distribution method, Blackboard recommends that Mass Configuration be used to improve the experience of end users and reduce help desk questions configuring and using Blackboard Drive. Mass Configuration allows pre-configuring and updating application configuration settings such as volumes and preferences. Blackboard also recommends that Auto Update or a remote deployment tool be used to automate upgrading to newer versions. To learn more, see Mass Configuration and Auto Update.
Allowing Users to Download Blackboard Drive
If you choose to allow users to download Blackboard Drive, you must decide to who, where, and how to provide the Blackboard Drive installer.
Blackboard recommends that you use Mass Configuration to create a pre-configured installer for your users. If you want to give different groups of users different configurations, such as one configuration for instructors and another for students, it is possible to create two separate configured installers.
Some suggested places to put Blackboard Drive for download include:
- In the Learn Content Collection, such as in the Institution area. This allows you to use permissions on the files to control who has access Blackboard Drive.
- Linked from a module in Learn community engagement. This allows you to control rollout using institutional roles.
- On your IT or helpdesk website.
- Another location where you distribute software to users (such as a FTP site or shared drive).
Users will then be responsible for downloading and installing Blackboard Drive. They will require administrator privileges on their computer to install.
Benefits to Users
If you provide a properly Mass Configured installer, users will be able to use Blackboard Drive immediately after installing without additional configuration. If you use Auto Update, users will automatically be notified when an updated version is available to them.
Managed Deployment with Third Party Software
If you use a third party software deployment package, such as software that covers rolling out MSI installer packages, it is possible to distribute Blackboard Drive as a MSI.
The Blackboard Drive Windows setup executable allows extracting a MSI installer to deploy to client PCs. This is possible with the /save command line argument in the Windows installer. If you do plan to use this approach and would like to use Mass Configuration to pre-configure, you must add the configuration file to create a custom installer first, then extract the MSI file. To learn more, see Command Line Reference for Windows and the Examples in this topic.
Pre-Configuring on a Disk Image or on Managed Computers
It is also possible to install Blackboard Drive onto a pre-configured disk image for managed computers. If Mass Configuration and Auto update are also used, you can manage settings and push out updates automatically on these machines.
To learn more about shared computers and computer labs, see Computer Lab Deployment and Shared Computers.
Marketing and Training for Blackboard Drive
After you have decided on your method for deployment, the next step is how to market or communicate Blackboard Drive to your user community. Blackboard Drive provides significant benefits to users. This information needs to be communicated to your users so that they can install and use it to reap the benefits of the improved user experience. Providing some basic training or resources will help your users. Marketing for awareness is especially important if users are expected to download and install Blackboard Drive themselves, and it is important to drive user adoption.
Blackboard had provided a Communication Toolkit to assist you with this process. Blackboard also recommends marketing it in visible locations such as a module in the My Institution page of Learn Community Engagement or on your IT and helpdesk website. Materials include:
- Faculty or Educator brochure (PDF): This is a two-page brochure on the benefits of Blackboard Drive to educators.
- Student Marketing (Word): This is a one-page communication about Blackboard Drive directed at students who have virtual hard drives or personal folders in the Learn Content Collection. It was designed for institutions or organizations to modify with their branding and communication style.
- Installation instructions (Word): This is an example of install instructions that can be modified and distributed as a resource for end users.
- Blackboard Drive Logos: To be used in various materials as needed for rollout of the product.
- Blackboard Drive web banner: To be used as an email signature, in a module of the Community Engagement portal or on other web properties.
Mass Configuration and Auto Update are two important and powerful tools to help administrators configure Blackboard Drive for end users and roll out updates to both the configuration and the software itself. Blackboard recommends using these tools as part of your Blackboard Drive deployment.
Careful use of these tools will help administrators and end users have an efficient and positive experience. Immediate benefits include:
- Efficient content management without manual configuration: Removes the need for end users to configure Blackboard Drive after install so that they can use it right away.
- Reduced Helpdesk Calls: Fewer help desk calls if it is already configured to work with your Learn server.
- Simplify Training: Train users how they can be more efficient using Blackboard Drive, not how to configure the software.
- Easy Product Updates: Auto update makes it easy to update to the latest version or to modify the configuration for users.
Mass Configuration allows configuring Blackboard Drive for users, setting up Volumes to connect to Learn, defaulting and locking preferences, and restricting users from modifying settings. Mass Configuration also allows setting some additional technical settings for the software that cannot be set in the user interface, such as connection timeouts, and auto-lock settings. Many of these technical settings are to work around application compatibility or other issues and are generally not needed unless advised by Blackboard Support.
To learn more, see Mass Configuration for Windows. These topics document the options and provide a sample Mass Configuration XML files.
Auto Update solves two problems. The first problem Auto Update addresses is updating the Blackboard Drive version, such as rolling out the latest service pack for users. This helps to ensure that users are on the release you want them to be on for the best experience. The second problem Auto Update addresses is remotely updating the configuration defined in Mass Configuration. This allows administrators to make sure that users are using the desired settings in Blackboard Drive.
Typically an Auto Update file will specify:
- The version of the software that should be used.
- Location of the software installer for updates (this can be in the Content Collection or another Web Server).
- Location of the remote Mass Configuration XML file and version of the Mass Configuration File. (Mass Configuration XML file can be in Content Collection or in another Web Server).
To learn more, see Auto Update for Windows.
The location of the Auto Update XML file is specified in the Mass Configuration XML file with the massUpdateUrl element in globalSettings. This auto update XML file can specify the location of a remote Mass Configuration XML file to update configuration remotely.
Blackboard recommends that Auto Update be used to push the configuration so changes can be shared remotely. Doing so requires two Mass Configuration XML files: one that specifies the Auto Update XML file location and is included in the distributed installer and a second that defines configuration options such as volumes and is pointed to in the update-info.xml Auto Update file.
To learn more, see the Examples in this topic.
Best Practices for Mass Configuration
While the specifics of the Mass Configuration will vary by an institution's needs and use cases, there are some best practices to consider when creating your Mass Configuration XML file.
- Start with the provided sample/template files rather then start from scratch. The structure is somewhat complex and editing these files and removing items that are not needed will speed up the process and reduce errors.
- Configure auto-update by specifying the massUpdateUrl to remotely update the configuration and push out new versions of Blackboard Drive.
- If using Auto Update for Mass Configuration it is possible to configure the installer with a basic configuration to set auto update URL and put the rest of the configuration in the remote configuration file. This means three XML files are needed: Mass Configuration XML to specify Auto Update XML location in installer, Auto Update XML, and remote Mass Configuration XML.
- Provide at least one Volume pre-configured for your users.
- Consider locking the volume to prevent users deleting it.
- Consider locking the volume to prevent users from editing either the entire volume or specific items within the volume such as server (URL), name, and sharing level.
- If you want to allow entering username, you will need to allow that field to be editable.
- If providing a single volume, Blackboard recommends mapping to the WebDAV root: https://server/bbcswebdav/.
- If providing multiple Volumes, consider mounting the desired content areas (/users, /courses, /institution, and so on.).
- Blackboard does not recommend providing a mapping for both root / and subfolders (such as /institution) because Easy Edit with Blackboard Drive would have to ask the user which Volume to use when opening a file. This is not an ideal user experience.
- Consider preventing users from adding additional volumes manually by locking those settings.
- In a shared computer environment such as a computer lab, consider the following
- Pre-configured volume with no username save/password specified.
- Disable saving of username and passwords.
- Consider setting clearCacheOnServerDisconnect so that the cache is cleared every time a volume is disconnected.
- Setting clearCacheOnServerDisconnect for computers used by one user is generally not necessary and performance impacts of clearing the cache may outweigh the added security.
If deploying on computers that will be used by multiple users, such as a in a computer lab, there are some additional considerations.
At least one drive mapping should be pre-configured (that is, to /root) or multiple to desired areas (/root and /institution for example). These volumes should be configured to not specify a username.
In a computer lab deployment, it may be desirable to automatically map a drive with a user's home folder. This is possible to do with Mass Configuration. To learn more, see the Mass Configuration for Windows.
Blackboard also recommends in a shared computer deployment to use Mass Configuration to not allow saving a password and to not require/specify a username for pre-configured volumes. This is possible with the disableSavingPassword and disableSavingUsername elements in the globalSettings of the Mass Configuration XML file.
It may also be desirable to set clearCacheOnServerDisconnect to true on the volume configuration to delete locally cached files when a user disconnects. This will prevent the next user of the computer from being able to access cached files.
It is important to realize that while Blackboard Drives look like any other network drive, there are some limitations you should be aware of. Because Blackboard Drive uses WebDAV, a WAN protocol, and is backed by a true content management system with features such as versioning, tracking, and metadata, it is not the same as a network drive that relies on LAN protocols and a simple file system. Blackboard Drive should not be expected to perform and behave exactly like a network drive in all cases. Blackboard Drive also includes special "application filter" technology that prevents many applications from undesirable and potentially destructive behavior of files. The most common example of behavior Application filters prevent is some programs that delete the original file and replace with a new one, causing versions to be lost, links in courses to break, and so on. Application filters "intercept" this behavior and overwrite the file with the "final" saved version, preventing a loss of versions or broken links, but adding some slight performance overhead.
Some specific limitations include:
- Files are written to a local cache and then uploaded to the server in the background. This means a program might be done saving a file but the file is still uploading in the background.
- It is not possible to use database files over Blackboard Drive, such as MS Access files or MySQL databases.
- It is not possible to edit "Shared workbooks" in Excel. Only one user can lock the file for editing, others would open as read only.
- Windows Explorer may try to download files to generate icon previews. It is possible to disable this in Windows for a volume.
Mounting to a Volume Using Scripts
How to Mount to a Volume on Windows
It is possible to mount an existing volume and user only (for example, workserver, john). Use net use to mount a Blackboard Drive volume.
From command line, run the following command:
>netuse x: \\BbDrive\workserver john
The volume is connected.
The following are some useful examples to illustrate some items discussed in this document. For additional examples including the template files, see Mass Configuration for Windows and Auto Update for Windows.
Example: Specifying a Auto Update XML file in Mass Configuration File
The following tag can be added to the globalSettings section of the xdconfig_customer.xml file.
Example: Specifying a Mass Configuration file and extracting MSI installer
This example shows how to specify an admin Mass Configuration file and also how to extract a MSI installer. Blackboard recommends that you specify a Mass Configuration file as well as specify an Auto Update file
Specify a Custom Configuration File
C:\> BlackboardDrive-x64_1.6.15324_setup.exe /au xdconfig_customer.xml
This command will create a new installer file: BlackboardDrive-x64_1.6.15324_setup.new.exe
The installer will contain the specified xdconfig_customer.xml file, which specifies the URL to the update-info.xml file. When downloaded, the update-info.xml file tells Blackboard Drive where to locate the Mass Configuration settings and the latest product installer for Auto Update.
Extract a MSI installer
C:\> BlackboardDrive-x64_1.6.15324_setup.new.exe /save
This command will create a MSI installer: BlackboardDrive-x64.msi
If you plan to use Mass Configuration, Auto Update, or both, you must specify the custom Configuration file before extracting the MSI file.
Example: Specifying a Auto Update XML file in Mass Configuration File
The following tag can be added the globalSettings section of the xdconfig_customer.xml file.
Example: Creating a Mapping to Learn Content Management & Locking Settings
Here is a basic example that creates a mapping to Learn Content Collection at the root folder. It also demonstrates how it is possible to lock a number of the settings to prevent users from modifying.
If you want to prohibit a change in the config tree (for example, you want to all users to have the same sharing level for all their volumes), you can use the config locking mechanism. It is easy as adding a new attribute gen:locks with particular lock name to the node which you want to lock. There are four types of lock with the following names and meanings:
- edit: user will be NOT able to change the value of the node.
- add: user will be NOT able to add new element to no the list(node).
- delete: user will be NOT able to delete any element of the list (node).
- deleteItem: user will be NOT able to delete the element (node) from its aggregating list.
If you want to have more locks on one node separate them by the comma ',' character (for example, gen:locks="add,delete").
Here is a partial XML example for adding a new volume MyVolume. We want users to have only this one volume, so we set lock for adding (gen:locks="add") of elements (volumes in this case). We would also like to forbid the deleting of the volume we are adding, so we set lock of deleting (gen:locks="deleteItem") on our new volume (Note that we could also lock the whole list entirely using <volumeList gen:locks="add,delete">). We also want that the volume have always sharing level set to Heavy level. The URL and name should also remain unchanged, so we add the edit locks to them.
The attribute gen:guid serves to make each config node unique. The value of the guid is up to the user creating the config. Blackboard recommends the following format to ensure uniqueness: <institution_name>;<date_in some format>;<string_which_describes_the_node>. Its value is not connected to any other node or value. The only restriction is its uniqueness and the recommended format is just to guarantee this.
<!-- Lock Prevents Adding Additional volumes -->
gen:guid="MyInstitution;04:03:08 12:30:36 +0100;MyVolume">
<!-Must Provide unique GUID, this is suggested format -->
<!-- Lock Prevents deleting this volume -->
<!-- Lock Prevents changing setting -->
<!-- Lock Prevents editing server URL -->
Example: Map to a users home directory
The following excerpt from a Mass Configuration XML file shows how a mapping can be created to point to a users home directory in My Content.
<!-- The template which creates all user settings is updated through gen:updateListType -->
<!-- New volume that will connect to a user's home directory. Requires username to match home directory name. Useful for lab deployments for access Virtual Hard Drive in Learn NOTE: #U must be a capital U-->
<gen:newElement gen:guid="MonumentU;04:03:08 12:30:36+0100;home" gen:locks="deleteItem">
</gen:updateListType> <!-- end of updating user settings template -->
Example: Disable saving username and password example
Useful for Computer Lab or Share computer deployments, these Mass Configuration options can prevent a user from saving their username and password for a Volume. This can be done in the globalSettings section of the Mass Configuration XML file (such as xdconfig_customer.xml).