This document is an attempt to clarify the support model provided by 3rd party vendors as well as to clarify what the Distance and Online Learning Help Desk can and cannot do in support of these products.
What is a 3rd party vendor?
A 3rd party vendor, in terms of technology, means “a separate individual or organization other than the two principals involved.”( http://www.yourdictionary.com) A 3rd party is typically a company that provides an auxiliary product not supplied by the primary manufacturer to the end user. In our case, the two principals are Blackboard and Hudson Valley Community College. The 3rd party vendors who provide auxiliary products, currently in use at the college, include Publisher material (such as McGraw Hill, Pearson, Revel), Turnitin, VoiceThread, and Web Assign.
LTI is an abbreviation for Learning Tools Interoperability, which is a standard protocol developed by the IMS Global Learning Consortium. Establishing these standards allows 3rd part vendor services to integrate with a Learning Management System (such as Blackboard) as single-sign-on tools. This means that even though these products can be accessed through Blackboard, Blackboard is only a conduit to and from the vendor’s website, which is the reason 3rd party vendors are responsible for providing support for their own product.
However, as some faculty may have experienced, it can be confusing and frustrating to get adequate and timely support with these products and the Distance Learning staff has limited access to them since they live on the vendor’s website. We do not have administration rights to trouble shoot (like we do in Blackboard) or the expertise that the vendor should have with their own product.
What are the considerations for adopting a 3rd party vendor LTI?
Accessing these products through an LMS is student-centered because of the ease of accessibility to the product, as well as being easier for faculty to manage. Because of the integration capabilities between Blackboard and 3rd party vendors, the students are automatically enrolled into the 3rd party vendor’s product (although some, such as publisher material, may require a code).
However, there are important things for departments and faculty to consider when adopting 3rd party vendor products. The primary one is that faculty and students need to contact the vendor directly for support. Currently, there is a wide range in the quality and adequacy of support provided by 3rd party vendors. In the big picture, LTIs are still relatively new, so there are significant growing pains in companies being able to deliver what they promise in terms of support. The sales representatives can do a nice job of demonstrating the product, but they are not the ones who understand the technology of these products. When considering an LTI, it is important to get verification from the sales representative that faculty and students can get support in a clear and timely manner.
When experiencing a problem, how do users know if it is a problem with the 3rd party vendor or with the Blackboard interface? Who do I ask for help?
Regardless of the problem, faculty can always start by contacting the Distance Learning Help Desk with the understanding that if it is determined to be a vendor issue; the next step is to contact the vendor. In fact, the reality is that solving any 3rd party problems will likely take several parties;
- The Faculty (or students), who use the product and can explain where the problem is happening in the context of the course.
- The Distance Learning Help Desk, who can document some information and can help determine if it is a Blackboard issue or a vendor issue. If it is a Blackboard issue Distance Learning Help Desk will write a ticket to Blackboard.
- The Vendor, who will need to be contacted directly by the faculty or student if it is determined to be a vendor problem. The vendor may also need some information from the Distance Learning Help Desk such as the version of Blackboard, etc., which we can work in collaboration to provide.
What about support for Blackboard Collaborate, Equation Editor and Respondus?
Blackboard Collaborate and the Equation Editor are actually part of Blackboard features and functionality. Those problems need to be reported directly to the Distance Learning Help Desk, which can write a ticket to Blackboard Support, if necessary.
Respondus is a utility that works with LMSs, including Blackboard, by logging in to the LMS for faculty, and populating tests, pools and surveys. Problems with Respondus also need to be reported to the Distance Learning Help Desk, for example, if the license has expired, or the inability to upload to Blackboard via the product. In fact, at this time, there is a special workaround for uploading through Respondus due to the way we are authenticating to the system, and DL can give you the details, as well as alternative upload options.