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Chalk it up to being detail-oriented – “Access Denied” errors in Blackboard – A Guest Post

My wife teaches an online class, and the primary means of communication (for assignments, student work, discussions, etc.) is a web application called Blackboard.  My wife, despite being the power-user that she is, understands that not all of her students can glare at the application and bend it to their will (believe me, she has QUITE the glare), so she tries to do things that minimize their pain.

And yes, my suggestion of “just tranq them” was totally unappreciated.

One of the things she does is to field tech support requests herself where she can, whether it is with word processing software, web browsers, or Blackboard itself.  Today’s guest post is an email she wrote to the Blackboard administrator at her college documenting the solution to a problem she hit, or more correctly, one of her students hit, with Blackboard.  The original problem was that a few students were getting “access denied” errors when they tried to download the assignments from Blackboard.  Some other students, though, weren’t having any problems, and initially my wife couldn’t reproduce the error.

She had a couple of rounds of emails to the administrator to try to sort out what was happening, and when she finally cracked the problem she wanted to make him aware so he could pass this gem along to the other online instructors.  For the purposes of this post, we’ll use “Andy” as the name of our Blackboard administrator, and “Joe” is a dummy user that my wife was testing with (trying to reproduce the issue that the real student was having).

****

Hi Andy,

This has been the most strange issue.  I’ll fill you in on some details in case it happens to someone else, because I originally took the same tack as you — since ‘Joe’ could access the files, it must be the student’s browser/firewall/something.

As it turns out, the students who were taking the standard route of clicking on Course Documents, then the Unit 1 folder, then the handouts folder, could download the file just fine.

However, some students aren’t so great at remembering where to find files.  So at the beginning of the week I had posted an Announcement with a checklist of what they needed to accomplish over the next 7 days.  I also hyperlinked to the applicable Discussion Board forums and to the folders in Course Documents — I hoped to reduce the number of ‘I can’t find the file’ emails.

But those hyperlinks were the problem.  Students who clicked on the hyperlink to go to the folder in Course Documents got this Access Denied screen (and once I realized the hyperlinks were the issue, I checked and ‘Joe’ was getting it too, but I – as instructor – did not get it).

Where it got weird is that the hyperlinks for the Discussion Board worked fine.  For everybody.

Huh.

So as I was typing this, I went to look at the hyperlinks one more time to see if I could figure out why, and I just did.  This was the original (bad) hyperlink:

/webapps/blackboard/content/listContentEditable.jsp?content_id=_12809_1&course_id=_339_1

What jumped out at me was ‘listContentEditable’ — Is that related to having editing mode turned on?  And if so, would that mean only users with instructor-level permissions would be able to access it?

Apparently so, because if I turn editing mode off, the URL changes to:

/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_339_1&content_id=_12809_1&mode=reset

And, voila! Everyone can get the hyperlink to work now – even ‘Joe’.

So, I guess the lesson is if I’m cutting-and-pasting the hyperlinks inside Blackboard, I need to have the editing mode turned off.

(And I don’t see this anywhere in the manual, so I guess I shouldn’t feel too stupid!)

****

This issue raises a couple of points. First, the error report of “I’m getting an error when I try to access this document” wasn’t specific enough because there were multiple ways to get to the files. The path that the user took to get to the point of clicking the link to the document mattered.  For us trying to troubleshoot odd errors, paying attention to what the user is doing to get the issue is critical to solving it.

Second, being able to test the system as if you were a user – and not an administrator – is also critical, especially when it seems to be security-related as this one was. In the course of testing this, my wife got a dummy user account called “Joe” that had the same rights that her students did, and no more.

Troubleshooting is all about the details.

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February 8, 2010 Posted by | General, Guest Post | Comments Off on Chalk it up to being detail-oriented – “Access Denied” errors in Blackboard – A Guest Post