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Miscellaneous technical topics

Question: What is Spokane Virtual Learning?
Answer: The Spokane Virtual Learning program is a Web-based educational project providing instructor-led online courses to students in Spokane Public Schools.
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Question: What courses are currently offered?
Answer: Our course catalog is always available on our website. Feel free to visit : our course catalog.
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Question: How long do the classes last?
Answer: The online class schedules coincide with traditional schedules. That is to say, courses begin the same day as regular classes...and end the same day. Most courses mirror their traditional counterparts in duration, generally one full year. Class curriculum, resources and materials can all be accessed any time of day or night, however.
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Question: What grade level should I be?
Answer: Each course is designed for specific grade levels. Please see the course description in the course catalog for details.
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Question: Are the courses entirely online?
Answer: You will be expected to interact (via Blackboard, phone, discussion, messaging, etc.) with your instructor and fellow students perhaps more than in a traditional course. There will be no face-to-face component of these courses however, there may be some instances were assessments are proctored, a teacher needs to meet with a student or small group face-to-face, or students will be asked to work at a library or in a lab setting when they fall behind.
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Question: How many online courses can I take at one time?
You may take as many courses as needed, however, your parent and/or guidance counselor must approve.
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Question: How do online courses compare with traditional courses?
Spokane Virtual Learning courses are as rigorous, if not more so, than traditional "brick & mortar" classes. Students will have to be more self-disciplined, in fact, than traditional classes.
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Many of the features of traditional classes will be found in online classes--such features as class participation, homework, group collaboration, testing, etc.

Question: How much time per week does each course take?
Answer: Spokane Virtual Learning maps out each course to meet the state/district standards and to meet the state-time requirements (180 hours for one credit, 90 hours for a half credit). This translates to 36 weeks with approximately five to seven hours a week. Advanced Placement courses require about 10 hours a week.
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Question: Can I can work at a pace faster than is planned?
Answer: Absolutely, you can accelerate through the course. I've observed students completing a year course in a semester--if they put the time in!
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Question: How do I register?
Answer: For details about registration, please go here.
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Question: What are the deadlines for enrollment?
Answer: Enrollment is currently on a first-come/first-served basis. Enrollment will end when all classes are filled.
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Question: Will I get credit for online courses?
Answer: Definitely. The online courses will provide the same credits as traditional classes.
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Question: Are the grades pass/fail or on the same GPA scale?
Answer: SVL grades are on same GPA scale as in traditional schools, and the grades are recorded in the same system as the traditional schools. Student transcripts will list the SVL subject/grade.
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Question: What are the features of the online program?
Answer: The program features:

  • Ease of use – Students can access the online system with minimal prior technological experience.>
  • Quality instruction – Curriculum is developed by top instructors in the region.
  • Flexibility – Instruction will utilize digital presentations, video and audio materials, Flash interactivity and more.
  • Accountability – The online system provides a number of statistics on individual students and the class which allows for participation reporting, tracking and monitoring of time students spend online.
  • Parental observation - Parents (as observers) may access student grades and course content, but not participate in activities.
  • Collaboration – Students and instructors can participate in free-form chat, chat lectures, questions and answer chats, archives, white boarding, class tours, and group web browsing.
  • Threaded Discussion Forums – The online system allows students and instructors the ability to share concepts, ideas, questions and answers.
  • Online assessments – Students may participate in a variety of assessments including: multiple question formats, including multiple choice, multiple answer, true/false, matching, ordering, fill-in the blank and short answer/essay, and ePortfolio. Grades are securely accessible to individual student (and parents) via the online gradebook.>
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Question: What computer skills do I need?
Answer: Spokane Virtual Learning is very user-friendly!  
Students should be successful with basic computer skills, including: >

  • Ability to work within a Windows or Macintosh system environment
  • Ability to navigate the Internet using a standard browser
  • Familiarity with standard e-mail and word-processing programs.
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Question: Do I need access to a computer?
Answer: Yes, at the very least you'll need access to a computer lab at your school. It's highly recommended that you have a functional system at home as well.
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Question: What kind of computer do I need?
Answer: Although the following minimum configurations are provided, it's highly recommended that you have access to a more powerful workstation.:

Recommended Minimum Configurations
PC: 200Mhz+ processor, 800x600 monitor (1024x768 recommended), 56k dialup connection or higher
Macintosh: G3 (running OS X), 800x600 monitor (1024x768 recommended), 56k dialup connection or higher** THERE ARE KNOWN ISSUES WITH THE TEXT EDITORS AND MACINTOSH'S WEB BROWSERS**
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Question: What technical support is offered by the district?
Answer: While we can support the computers used in your school (within Spokane Public Schools), we cannot be responsible for supporting any technology that is not district property.
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Question: What software do I need?
At the very least you'll need an Internet browser (such as Internet Explorer) and "Office-like" tools (such as a word processor and spreadsheet application). You will also require certain free browser plug-ins, such as Flash Player.
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Question: What kind of Internet connection do I need?
Although it's possible to get by with a 56k dialup Internet connection, it's highly recommended that students have some form of broadband connection (cable, DSL).
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Question: Do I need any browser plugins?
Answer: Some course content may require specific plugins in order to be displayed properly in a Web browser. The Plugin Tester provides access to the most common plugins as well as tests whether they have been installed.
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Question: What is Blackboard?
Answer: Blackboard is an easy-to-use online course management system. Blackboard delivers tools that enable you to provide your students with course materials, discussion boards, virtual chat, as well as online assessments. You can incorporate word processing, audio and video, spreadsheets, and presentation files into your course without learning HTML.
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Question: What if I forgot my Blackboard password?
Answer: If you have forgotten your password you can click the "Forgot Your Password" link on the Blackboard login screen and complete the form. An e-mail will then be sent to the account specified within your Blackboard account profile. If you do not receive this e-mail, please contact SVL at SVL@SpokaneSchools.org.
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Question: How do I get into my Blackboard Course?
Answer: Ensure you are running IE (Internet Explorer), version 5.5 or later before logging into Blackboard. There are two ways to access the Blackboard site. 1) In your browsers address bar enter the Blackboard Web site address http://bb.spokaneschools.org. Once at the site, it is recommended that you add this address to your favorites.
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Question: How do I print in Blackboard?
Answer: Printing in Blackboard is the same as printing on other Internet sites. Since Blackboard uses frames to divide up the screen you need to first click the area of the page that you want to be printed. Rather than clicking on the print icon on the browser tool bar, you have more control over what you print by choosing File --> Print from the browsers menu bar. From there you can make selections about what you want to print (e.g. all pages, one page, a range of pages).
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Question: Does Blackboard have a spell checker?
Answer: Yes, Blackboard does have a spell checker. After entering content into a text box, click the spell check button located in the text box editor menu bar.
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Question: What are the recommended requirements to use Blackboard?
Answer: The following are a list of recommendations when using Blackboard. (PLEASE NOTE: These are not requirements. The system may work without these recommendations being met but Blackboard may be slow or problematic.)Platform: Windows 95, 98, 2000, NT, ME; Mac OS 9 or Mac OS X
Hardware: 64 MB of RAM and 1 G of free disk space
Software: (may vary from course to course) Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Microsoft PowerPoint, Adobe Acrobat Reader Browser: Internet Explorer 5.5 or higher (Java and cookies must be enabled.)
Modem: 56K or higher
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Q.I'm having trouble taking online tests/quizzes. How do I fix it?
Answer: If you're experiencing problems when taking online tests/quizzes, here are a few things to look for that may be the source of the problem. 1) Make sure no pop-up blockers are installed or currently running on the system. 2) Make sure the system is free from Spyware/Adware by using free scanning utilities such as Ad-aware or Spybot Search & Destroy. 3) Clear the browsers cache and delete any temporary Internet files.
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Question: Why does Blackboard give me an error message saying "There was a problem with this login request. Contact the system administrator." when I try logging in?
Answer: This problem occurs when you access Blackboard from a Bookmark/Favorite that is going directly to the login screen. To prevent this from happening you must enter Blackboard by first going to the opening page (http://bb.spokaneschools.org), clicking the "Login" button, and then entering your username and password. If you wish to have Blackboard added to your Favorites, make sure that you bookmark the main screen and not the login screen.
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Question: I keep getting a weird error message when I try to log in. It says something about an "Empty Result Set." What is that and how can I get rid of it?
Answer: This error is caused when Blackboard cannot set a cookie on your computer. Some people do not permit cookies on their computer, but Blackboard needs to set what's called a "Session" cookie in order to work. You will not be able to log onto the system until you permit Blackboard to set that cookie.The good news is that this is not a permanent cookie on your computer's hard drive and it will not hurt anything on your system. A Session cookie is only stored in memory and as soon as you close your browser it will go away. To permit cookies in Internet Explorer, look in Tools -> Internet Options -> Privacy Tab. The privacy must be set to "Medium" or lower in order for Blackboard to work.
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Question: I use Netscape and I'm trying to get to my Blackboard classes. I keep getting a blank screen instead of the login screen. What's going on here?
Answer: This is a known issue with Netscape. The problem is related to the way Netscape stores "cache" copies of Web pages. You probably knew that all browsers keep a copy of visited Web pages on the local hard drive. That is to speed up the browsing experience for home modem users (if the requested Web page hasn't changed since the last visit then it's loaded from the local cache instead of downloaded from the Web). With Blackboard and Netscape, there seems to be a problem with the cache copy interfering with the Web version of the page.

You may try the following steps to correct the problem. When the blank page is displayed, click the "reload" button at the top of the screen (that is the button with the bent arrow). If that doesn't work, press and hold the Control Key and tap "R" (that's CTRL+R), which will force a page reload. Frankly, it's not too likely that these will help, but they are quick and easy to try.

Next, you should check your cache preferences. On the menu bar, click Edit -> Preferences. On the preferences screen, click "Advanced" and then "Cache." You should set the cache to "Every time I view the page" rather than the default "When the page is out of date." While you are on that screen, click the button to Clear Cache in order to clear out any old copies of the page. (For what it's worth, I had to clear the cache in order to make Netscape work while I was fooling around with it to answer your question.)

After doing all of that, try re-loading the page again. Hopefully, it will work this time.
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Question: I cannot get logged into Blackboard. When I try I get an error message that states I don't have the right credentials. How do I fix that?
Answer. This error is caused by an incorrect security setting on your computer. In order to function, Blackboard needs to be able to execute scripts on your computer.

To activate scripts in Internet Explorer, look in Tools -> Internet Options -> Security Tab.

Now, click on the "Internet" zone icon (the globe) at the top of the screen. Next, click on the "Custom Level" button at the bottom of the screen. Scroll down the page until you find the "Scripting" section and be sure "Active Scripting" is enabled.

Some users are concerned about running scripts on their Web pages. While some scripts are harmful, in order to use Blackboard you must have scripting enabled. There are no scripts within the Blackboard system that will harm your computer in any way. If you want, you can turn off scripting again when you finish your study session.
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Question: It seems like I have to log onto Blackboard two times. The first time I get an error message and the second time it seems to work. Why is this happening?
Answer: This probably has to do with a default security setting in Internet Explorer (since it's a default you would likely see this problem on several different computers). To fix it, click on Tools -> Internet Options -> Security Tab -> Custom Level Button. Near the bottom of the list of customization options, you'll find those for "User Authentication." Select "Anonymous Logon" for your authentication method and click "OK."

What is happening is that Internet Explorer is attempting to log into the site automatically using Windows logon information (even if you enter your userID and Password) and that is fouling up the works.

If you've only seen this problem from one computer but not others, then there is a second possible cause: bookmarking the logon page instead of the Blackboard entry page. You need to start your blackboard session at http://bb.spokaneschools.org/ and login. When you do that, Blackboard begins what is called a "session" that will permit you to log in without an error. Otherwise, Blackboard treats your logon as an error and forces you to do it a second time.
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Question: When I log on I get some strange message about "challenge token null" and then I have to log on a second time. What's going on?
Answer: This is usually caused by bookmarking the logon page instead of the Blackboard entry page. You need to start your blackboard session at http://bb.spokaneschools.org/ and login. When you do that, Blackboard then begins what is called a "session" that will permit you to log in without the "Challenge Token Null" error.

I know this is a weird error message that doesn't mean anything to most human beings (including me), but it's caused by not getting a "session" properly started. If you will begin your work on the Blackboard entry page you should not have any problems getting to your lessons.
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Question: When I log on I get a message about an error in the authentication module. How can I fix this?
Answer: This error comes from blocking cookies on your computer. Some folks do not permit Internet Explorer to set cookies and Blackboard cannot function without cookies.

In order to use Blackboard you will need to enable cookies on your computer. To do that, start Internet Explorer and click on Tools -> Internet Options -> Privacy and move the slider to "Medium" (or lower). After you do that, you should be able to log onto our Blackboard system.

If you are concerned about privacy and do not want cookies enabled on your computer, you can reset that slider to a higher level when you have finished with your Blackboard session. However, you'll have to remember to set it to "Medium" every time you want to work with your online class.
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Question: I keep getting an error message when I try to add a comment to the discussion board. It says something about inserting the FrontPage CD or the Microsoft Small Business 2000 CD (or some other Microsoft CD). Why is this happening?
Answer: That error is caused by the WYSIWYG editor and it means that the Microsoft Internet Explorer Web browser on your computer has a problem: the triedit.dll file (or some other .dll file) has been disassociated or is missing (aren't you glad I told you that?). To fix this problem, the easiest thing to do is remove and reinstall Internet Explorer.

You can also just turn off the WYSIWYG ("What You See Is What You Get") editor, which should also fix this problem.
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Question: I'm trying to add a comment to our class discussion board, but it isn't working. However, if I go to a school computer lab or use a friend's computer I seem to be able to post without any problems Any ideas on what's causing this?
Answer: This is pretty unusual behavior. However, since you are able to post from other computers then the problem would seem to be with your computer, not the Blackboard system.

You should check your computer for viruses and spyware. Either of these types of problems may cause you to not be able to post to your discussion board. You should first ensure you have good anti-virus software and that your virus definitions are updated. Then scan your whole disk to look for viruses.

You should also scan you disk for spybots. There are two good programs you can download and use for free to help find and remove spybots: Spybot Search and Destroy and AdAware.
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Question: I cannot enter my comments into the discussion board. I can read the discussions and click on the "Reply" button, but there doesn't seem to be any way to add my own comments. How can I join the discussion?
Answer. This is probably caused by the "What You See Is What You Get" (WYSIWYG) editor used in Blackboard; some computer configurations do not display the WYSIWYG screen (such as Macintosh and Linux machines). You should turn off that editor in order to revert back to the older text editor.

To disable your WYSIWYG editor, click on the "My Institution" tab and then the "Personal Information" link in the tool box on the left side of the screen. On the Personal Information screen, click on "Set Text Box Editor Options" and then disable your WYSIWYG editor. You will then be able to use the older editor which should work without any problem.<back to top>

Question: My instructor recommended that I first write my discussion board comments in Word and then copy and paste that into the discussion board. By doing this, I can use all of Word's tools (like spell check) to improve my posts. However, if I type something that's long I can't paste it into the discussion board editor. How can I fix this?
Answer: The editor used in the discussion board is not intended to be used for really long notes. It will not handle any response that's more than about 4000 characters. If you want to just dash off a paragraph or two then the text editor is fine. However, for long responses (something that's a couple of pages or more) you will need to create a Word document and then upload that document into the discussion board. Uploading a long file also makes it easier for other folks in your class since they can then download your comments and read them at their leisure instead of plowing through several screens of text while online.
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Question: I'm trying to take one of the quizzes in my class, but the quiz screen is blank.
Answer. This problem is usually caused by a "Popup Blocker." If your instructor has created the quiz so that it pops up in a new window and you have a popup blocker installed it may permit the quiz window to open but the window will be blank. Try disabling your popup blocker and see if that helps.
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Question: I took a quiz and was able to scroll down until I reached question #10 and then I just couldn't go any further. I then removed all of the browser buttons and such (even my bottom status bar), but it just wouldn't go. I tried my optic mouse's scroll wheel, reduced text to minimal, stretched the quiz out as big as I could. No matter what I tried, I could not scroll down to the last question and the "submit' button." What do I do now?
Answer: This problem can be solved by ensuring your browser window is maximized. If you are using Internet Explorer, click on the middle button at the top-right corner of the window (it's the button next to the "Close" button). That button should maximize your window and solve the scrolling problem.
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Question: I sent a file to my instructor via the Assignment tool. However, my instructor cannot find the file and I won't get credit for the assignment. What is going wrong?
Answer: There are two possible solutions to this problem.
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The first is pretty easy. Make sure you clicked the "Send" button in the drop box. Sometimes students will add a file to the drop box; but then forget to click the "Send" button to actually submit the file to their instructors. Remember that just because you can see the file in your drop box doesn't mean that your instructor can also see it.

The second possible problem has to do with a naming quirk in Blackboard. When using either the Drop Box or the Assignment tool in Blackboard it is important that you do not use a "#" symbol in the file name. That is a special symbol that Blackboard interprets as HTML code and will keep your instructor from being able to open your file. You must rename your file so it does not have a "#" symbol. For example, instead of sending a file named "Quiz #1" use a name like "Quiz_1".
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Question: I sent in an assignment but my instructor says that Blackboard has locked it and it cannot be graded. I know I finished it. What went wrong?
Answer:. At the bottom of the assignment page are three buttons. The "Cancel" button will cancel your work and the "Submit" button will send your assignment to your instructor for grading. This problem is usually caused by the "Save" button, which will save your assignment but not send it to your instructor. If you click "Save" then your instructor will see that you are working on your assignment (it will be "locked" on your instructor's page), but your instructor will not be able to view your saved files until you submit your assignment. You should go back to the assignments page and click the "Submit" button when you have completed your work in order to actually send it to your instructor.
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Question: I'm trying to take a quiz but when I access it I get a message that the quiz is already in progress. What do I do now?
Answer: One thing that can cause this problem is if you double-click the quiz link instead of single-clicking it. If you double-click the link Blackboard could try to open the quiz on the first click and then try to open it again on the second click. You will have to ask your instructor to re-set the quiz for you and then be careful to not double-click the link when you re-take the quiz.

Another thing to check is for popup blockers. If your instructor set up the quiz to open in a new window it may be that Blackboard is trying to open the quiz but cannot since you have a popup blocker on your computer. The next time you click the quiz link Blackboard will report that the quiz is in progress. You will have to ask your instructor to reset your quiz and then disable your popup blocker in order to take the quiz.
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Question: My instructor wants me to use the Blackboard Virtual Classroom, but it doesn't start after I click on the link.
Answer: There could be a couple of reasons for this problem.
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First, if you are using some sort of "Popup Blocker" software on your computer that could be interfering with the virtual classroom. Disable that software for a few minutes and then try starting the virtual classroom again. If this works, check to see if your Popup Blocker software permits you to specify a Web site as "OK" and add the virtual classroom to that list. If your Popup Blocker does not permit an "OK" list then you'll have to disable it every time you want to access the Virtual Classroom.

Second, the Virtual Classroom relies on a recent version of the Java Virtual Machine, which you can download for free from Sun Microsystems (http://java.com/en/index.jsp). You need to install that software on your computer before the Virtual Classroom will work.
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Question: I was trying to look at a PowerPoint slide show in my class. When I clicked on the link to the slide show, I saw the Blackboard login screen where the PowerPoint slide should have been. The login screen was not active and I could not enter my password. My classmates did not have any problems seeing the slides. What am I doing wrong?
Answer: If you are using Office 2002 (sometimes called "Office XP"), you may experience difficulty opening certain Office documents (especially PowerPoint presentations) from Blackboard. You must install the Office XP Service Pack 2 available from Microsoft: http://office.microsoft.com/ProductUpdates/.
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Question: Help! The font on my screen is tiny. What can I do to fix that?
Answer. Internet Explorer permits you to set the font size for your convenience. For some reason, yours got set to "Tiny." To reset your font to a legible size, try one of these:

  • Hold the Control button and scroll up with the mouse wheel. This lets you adjust the displayed font size in both Internet Explorer and Mozilla.
  • Check the accessibility options to see if they have been set for tiny fonts.
  • Set the font size at View -> Text Size -> Medium (or larger).
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Question: My instructor said she updated one of the pages on Blackboard, but it still looks the same to me. What's happening?
Answer: Modern Web browsers will "cache" (or keep a local copy of) Web pages in order to make browsing faster. It is likely that you are looking at an old copy of the page that's actually on your computer rather than in Blackboard. You can force your browser to update the page from the Web by clicking the "Reload" or "Refresh" button at the top of the screen. You can also force Internet Explorer to reload the page by holding down the Control key and tapping "R."
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Question: When I copy and paste text from Microsoft Word into Blackboard, all my quotes and em dashes get turned into question marks. How do I fix that?>

Answer: The problem probably has to do with Microsoft's so-called "smart" quotes. Microsoft automatically converts standard straight quotation marks (", ') into angled "smart" quotes. This works great in MS Word...but looks terrible on the Web.

Make sure to turn off smart quotes when creating text intended for Blackboard!

Here's how:

1. In Microsoft Word, go to "Tools-->Autocorrect Options-->AutoFormat As You Type"

2. Uncheck "Straight quotes" with "smart quotes"

3. While you're at it, uncheck "Hyphens (--) with dash" which is another source of irritation.

Unfortunately, this fix doesn't convert previous documents embedded with "smart" quotes. These will have to be fixed by hand...or via search & replace.

Please note that this *does not* apply to Word documents that have been *uploaded* into Blackboard. "Smart" quotes only affects text copied and pasted into Blackboard.
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Question (and answer) not here? Who do I contact?
Answer: Feel free to contact:

Spokane Virtual Learning
2900 East 1st Avenue
Spokane, WA 99202
509-354-7545


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Spokane Virtual Learning         2900 East 1st Avenue, Spokane, WA 99202       phone-509-354-7545      fax-509-354-7582
Spokane Public Schools complies with all federal and state laws and regulations and does not discriminate.

It is the policy of the School Board to ensure that student records are created, maintained, disseminated,
and disposed of as required by law and as deemed necessary
and appropriate to provide for the educational welfare of students
and support of District's educational programs, and/or for the orderly
and efficient operation of schools.

The Board directs the superintendent to establish procedures
that govern the collection, content, management and control of student records.
(Refer to Policy 6220 for District policy on public record requests.)