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Best Practices for Restricting Availability
in Learn

One of the most common Blackboard Learn issues that faculty report is: "I can see the assignment (or test or PowerPoint), but my students say they can't see it. What am I doing wrong?" The answer, in most cases, is that the assignment was created in one folder and a link to it was created in another; the instructor set the first object or folder to be unavailable and, as a result, the assignment became unavailable through the link, as well. Below, we provide specific examples and recommendations grouped under three general principles. Hopefully, if you follow these recommendations, learning object availability in Blackboard should become a choice rather than an accident.

  1. Use Links Only When Necessary. In Learn, links can have their own availability settings because they are independent of the object to which they are linked. Both the link and the original object (document, test, assignment, etc.) must be available for the link to work, and hiding the link does not necessarily hide the original object. Here are three cases where links are often created:

    1. In courses migrated from Bb Vista, the Assignments (or Assessments) tool becomes a folder (item on the course menu) containing the originals of all assignments in the migrated course. Links to the assignments that existed in folders and learning modules migrate as links to the originals in the Assignments folder. The same holds true for Assessments, but the folder on the course menu is called Assessments.

      Pitfall: If the Assignments folder is hidden on the course menu (indicated by a white square with a gray line through it), no assignments will be available to the students, even if the links are available.

      Recommendation 1: Move assignments from the Assignments folder to the modules where they are used and delete the link objects (indicated by a link symbol in the upper left-hand corner of the icon).

      Recommendation 2: Retain the Assignments folder and make the folder visible by selecting "Show Link" from the drop-down menu next to "Assignments."

    2. Creating a Course Link from the Build Content menu: Links to any content in the course can be created by hovering over "Build Content" and selecting "Course Link." For example, a test can be deployed to an "Assessments" folder, and a link to the test can be created in a "Week 3" folder. Course Links can be easily distinguished from the objects to which they are linked by the presence of a link symbol in the upper left corner of the icon. Links to discussion forums, on the other hand, do not have the link symbol (because forums do not exist outside the Discussion Board).

      Restrictions on the original object (e.g., Adaptive Release "Dates" or "Membership" criteria) can limit availability of the object from the link, even though the link is available.

      Recommendation: If you plan to restrict the availability of objects in your course, do not use Course Links. In the example above, you could move the test from the "Assessments" folder to the "Week 3" folder and delete the link object, or keep the test in the "Assessments" folder and delete the link in the "Week 3" folder. If you do decide to use Course Links, remember to change the availability of the item in both the original object and the link.

    3. Creating a discussion forum in a content area or folder creates a forum and a link to the forum.

      Pitfall: If the forum is unavailable, the link will appear to be available but will return an error message.

      Test availability of links frequently using the Test Student. (Under "Course Tools," click "Add Test Student" to create a Test Student in your course and set its password. Log out and then log in as the Test Student, or open another browser and log in as the Test Student.)

  2. Understand that Adaptive Release is used only to restrict access to objects. It has no other function. The "Grade" criterion in Adaptive Release allows the instructor to base the availability of an object upon completion of a related task.

    Pitfall: After setting date restrictions for a test or assignment in Adaptive Release (under "1. Date"), the instructor also selects the Grade Center column for the object (under "3. Grade"), and the object becomes unavailable. Setting a "Grade" criterion is not necessary when setting date criteria, and choosing the Grade Center column for the object creates an impossible condition: it must be submitted before it can be attempted.

    Recommendation: If you are setting date restrictions in Adaptive Release, leave "Select a Grade Center column" set to "None," unless you really want to make access to the object dependent upon completion of a different prerequisite task. (Date restrictions can also be set in the Availability section of the test or assignment by using the "Display After/Display Until" checkboxes, but setting dates both there and in Adaptive Release is redundant.)

  3. Hide tools in the Tools Area only if the Tools Area is visible. The Tools Area is a page of tool links that can be made available to students through the course menu, since students do not have access to the Control Panel. Tools that will not be used in the course should be hidden from the Tools Area. However, although the button next to each tool says "Hide Link," clicking this button actually disables the tool.

    Pitfall:  An instructor hid the Blogs tool in the Tools Area and also deleted the Tools Area from the course menu. Later, the instructor decided to use a blog and created a blog topic. No error messages were shown to the instructor, but students attempting to use the link saw the message "Blog Content Item not available." The Tools Area had to be re-added to the course menu in order to turn on the Blogs tool again.

    If you hide tools in the Tools Area (therefore making them unavailable), do not delete the Tools Area from the course menu.

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