Skip to main content
Continuing Online Operations
Loyola is continuing online operations while we prepare for reopening safely in the fall. Coronavirus resources

Blackboard Interface from LORA (Student Information System): Future Dev

Future Development

FUTURE DEVELOPMENT (AS OF MAR 2017)

The LORA-to-Blackboard interface could be taken over partially or entirely by IT, with a considerable simplification in the process.The actual data transferred from LORA to Blackboard is small, simple, and straightforward. Relative to that, the existing interface is more complex than required. These complexities are due to:

  1. WebFocus reports can't be executed directly by scripts, so the interface emulates a person using web pages to execute and process them.
  2. Some of the data produced by the existing WebFocus reports needs additional editing and filtering

Replacing the existing interface with tailored, schedulable programs would eliminate most or all of these complexities.

COMPLEXITIES

The factors that make the interface more than just a simple extract and post are the following:

  1. Multiple Semester Selection
    • While the interface mostly forwards data regarding the current semester, it is often necessary to forward data for both the current and the next semester. Late in Spring, because the Summer semester is short, it might be necessary to forward data for the Spring, Summer, and Fall semester. 
  2. Process or Ignore Student Enrollments
    • When forwarding the data for any given semester to Blackboard, it is often desirable to suppress the posting of student enrollments. This is due to the frequent schedule changes students often make before settling on a semester schedule. While courses, instructors, and instructors are usually posted from LORA to Blackboard well in advance, it is often practical to delay the posting of student enrollments until about a week before classes begin.
  3. Eliminate Problematic Characters
    • Some course names (descriptive text, not the course ID) contain quotation marks. This can cause data processing on the Blackboard side to make mistakes about field boundaries, garbling some of the data. Embedded quotation marks have to be removed from all course names.
  4. Compress Course IDs
    • Course IDs as used by Blackboard are pieced together from distinct data elements. Because of limitations of the WebFocus reporting tool, the resulting Course ID sometimes contains embedded blanks that MUST be removed before data can be posted to Blackboard. For example, "17S-BA  -B100-001" must be compressed to "17S-BA-B100-001".
  5. Filtering Logic
    • The existing WebFocus reports specify most of the existing selection logic for including and excluding courses. Some additional courses and course enrollments are filtered out based on Course ID after the WebFocus reports are generated. See the "Exclusions" tab on this webpage. 

RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. Leave the existing WebFocus reports in place without changes, as these are used by the Evaluation Kit interface and can also be useful for manual data checking and adjustments in Blackboard.
  2. Create schedulable programs that deal with the complexities listed above and directly produce output in the format needed by Blackboard.
  3. Automate the entire process, up to HTTP Post to Blackboard, and run on a fixed schedule, such as 8AM and 8PM daily.
  4. Provide the Online Learning Team a web page or other process for determining which semesters are forwarded to Blackboard, and for each forwarded semester, whether or not student enrollments are to be included.

A SLIGHTLY SIMPLER ALTERNATIVE

An alternative that might be simpler on the IT side might be to complete just items one and two from the list immediately above. Twice each day, programs on the IT side could generate the necessary data for three semesters (current, and two following) and deposit the resulting files in a directory accessible to the Online Learning Team. The Online Learning Team and programs at their end could then decide which files to process and how.  Programming for the Online Learning Team could be great simplified compared to the current situation, although some day-to-day management of the interface process would be required.