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Activation of Blackboard Observer function - Comment and Question Period

Carl Lejuez, interim provost and executive vice chancellor
Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019, 11:27 a.m.
KU Lawrence Faculty and Staff

Colleagues, a student-service issue has come to light that requires me to ask for your swift input. Please accept my apologies for the short notice. I’ve already consulted with university governance leaders and now I need to seek your comments.

KU enrolls nearly 500 student athletes each year and needs to assist these students in meeting NCAA academic performance requirements. The students’ continuing academic progress directly affects their scholarship status and their ability to participate in intercollegiate athletic competition.

In order to safely and efficiently monitor student-athlete academic progress, for the past four years, Kansas Athletics Inc. (KAI), with permission from Undergraduate Studies, used the “My Success” function offered through the Starfish platform (and compatible with Blackboard). KU made the decision to cease its contract with Starfish and switch to a program offered through EAB, an education advisory collaborative. EAB does not have the capability to interface with Blackboard. Unfortunately, the expiration of the Starfish contract on December 8, 2018, has caused interruption of KAI’s online oversight of student-athlete academic performance. Without a way for academic advisors to safely monitor academic progress online, counselors will have to rely on student provided information, which may not be accurate and which may require further contact with faculty, costing faculty time in reporting. In addition, student-athletes may feel compelled to share their own Blackboard login information to their assigned KAI academic counselor in order to comply with their obligations of reporting their academic performance. Any sharing of login information is very problematic from an institutional control perspective.

With guidance from KU IT, and with the full support of the university-wide Academic Systems Steering Committee, the Provost’s Office would like to activate a function within the KU Blackboard system called Blackboard Observer. Like the My Success function, the Blackboard Observer function allows IT to assign login credentials to KAI Academic Counselors, so they only see what is posted on a faculty member’s Blackboard page. A few key points about the Blackboard Observer function are:

  1. KU IT will create login credentials for “Athletics Academic Counselors,” and this moniker will show up in the “Observer” function on Blackboard for those faculty who have student-athletes enrolled in their courses.
  2. The Observer function would allow the athletics academic counseling professionals to view grades posted by instructors in Blackboard for student-athletes only (these students have provided signed permission to release all grade information). 
  3. The function is read-only. Thus, the observer sees grade information only and cannot manipulate anything within the site.
  4. Instructors who post grades to Blackboard to post grades, would no longer be asked to respond to hard-copy/email notes from KAI requesting periodic updates on academic progress for student-athletes.
  5. An instructor can choose to opt-out of the Blackboard Observer status for student-athletes in a class if they choose.

This proposal to activate the Blackboard Observer function has been shared with leadership members of faculty governance. However, before activating the Observer function in Blackboard, I would like to receive your comments by the end of day on Wednesday, January 23, 2019. Any faculty members who have comments or questions about the activation of the Blackboard Observer function can:

  • Send an email to provost@ku.edu,
  • Send an email to govern@ku.edu; or 
  • Share your thoughts with Interim Provost Lejuez directly in 250 Strong Hall by reaching out to Melissa Smith at melissasmith@ku.edu (785-864-4904) to schedule a visit.


Carl Lejuez
Interim Provost & Executive Vice Chancellor

Office of the Provost
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