Where do the dead files go? Deleting and restoring files in the VLE

We have had a couple of queries here at ELDT towers asking about what happens to files when they have been deleted from the VLE. There are really two possible answers here, depending on what you mean by “the VLE” and where the files have been deleted from. Underlying this issue is the fact that any files that are released to students through a VLE module are stored somewhere in the VLE’s “Content Collection” and so what happens to your files will depend on whether they have been deleted from a VLE module or the Content Collection itself.

A file has been deleted from a VLE site: Once a file has been added to a VLE site it will automatically be stored in the Content Collection. If a file is then deleted from the VLE site, the file will still be stored in the Content Collection and can be relinked into a VLE site if necessary. In general sites should be linked to a specific area of the content collection, you can access the default storage location for a site by clicking Browse Content Collection… when you are editing an item.

A file has been deleted from the Content Collection: Files can be removed directly from the Content Collection by clicking the Recycle button. As the name suggests this does not automatically delete the item, instead it moves the file to the Recycle bin for 90 days after which time it will automatically be permanently deleted.

All of this has 3 important ramifications;

  1. You can normally retrieve any files that have been deleted in error, either by re linking a file deleted from a VLE site to the version still stored in the Content Collection, or by restoring files that have been sent to the recycle bin in the Content Collection.
  2. Files that have been removed from the Content Collection will still be available in VLE sites until they are purged form the recycle bin.
  3. Don’t confuse Content files with “Content items” – you may be able to get files (powerPoints, pdfs, word docs etc) back if you delete them but this doesn’t apply to Content items that you create directly in the VLE and may choose to add files to. If you delete items it can be a far trickier process to restore them and on some occasions this may not be possible.

Screenshot of file embedded into Content item

One response to “Where do the dead files go? Deleting and restoring files in the VLE

  1. Thanks Simon. Some extra precautions for content which is not stored in files:

    The above only applies to Files, and not e.g. Content Items (the sections of text you create using the text editor in Edit mode) so it’s important to have backups of these. A few thoughts below based on my experience.

    Tips:

    * If you have the right privileges, make regular Exports (in Course Tools on the left menu). Or, if you need to back up users’ progress/grades/etc., use Archives instead. But make sure you download these (at least keep the latest one somewhere safe) rather than just leaving them in the VLE, because if you lose the course, you’ll lose these too. As long as you don’t lose both the course and the Export file at the same time, you should be OK!

    * For quick and easy backup/restore/sync/comparison, if the important content in a course all sits under one parent Content Folder, you can just copy this folder somewhere else. It’s a good idea to have a backup folder within a course, so that you can very easily restore content if something goes wrong. You can create a hidden item on the course menu and call it something scary enough that nobody will delete it. It’s a good idea to copy your backups into a folder with something like the date as its name, so you can navigate them easily (otherwise they’ll all have the same name by default).

    * My favourite method is copying a Content Folder containing all of your content to a different course. You may be able to ask the ELDT for a course specifically for this. Make a folder in it for each course you want to back up, then as above, folders for each backup. Copy the content from the source course, and choose this as the destination. It’s pretty unlikely you would lose both your original course and the backup course, and you should be able to restore the content yourself (just copy it back).

    Watch out:

    * When you copy content, Blackboard generates new links for it. So if you restore/update from a backup/master copy, any deep links to the old content will not point to the new. There’s no way around this that I know of, other than using deep links sparingly (e.g. just linking to a course, which shouldn’t change, rather than content within it, which may do) or updating them (e.g. by using a permalink system which you can later update)

    * Similarly to the above, Blackboard seems to ‘regenerate’ (nothing to do with Doctor Who) the folder/link structure of courses in its own time (possibly around midnight), after copying content. If you create new content, in my experience, you can link to it from the left hand menu straight away. But if you copy content (perhaps if it is above a certain size), you will have to wait until at least the next day to be able to link to it. Worth building into your planning process – this may make last-minute changes difficult, if you use copying a lot.

    One way of working with this:

    * For one of our courses, we have three copies: LIVE, EDITING, and MASTER. We try not to edit the LIVE copy directly unless it’s urgent. When we are updating content for the next version of the course, we copy the content from MASTER into EDITING (each of these steps involves backing everything up), then edit it in EDITING. When this has been checked, it is copied back to MASTER. This then becomes a master copy, but is not made live. We then copy from MASTER to LIVE, updating it to the latest version. May seem like a lot of work but you may be glad of it one day. Until Blackboard has version control/undo, I think it’s worth being careful!

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