Organizing Your Course

Knowing the best way to organize your content for students is just as important as knowing how to put that content on Blackboard.  In a fully online course, your students’ primary contact with the course, the College, and with you as the instructor is the Blackboard content and interactive tools. Even in a blended course environment, the organization and accessibility of content and assignments still sets a tone for the course, both in-person and online.

The questions you want to be answering as the instructor are about the content itself and the student’s synthesis of the material, not the technical “Where can I find?” questions. By thinking about our content and presentation before we begin, we can prevent 80% of the technical questions and let both you and the student focus on the meat of the course.

We put a lot of content on Blackboard—syllabi, course schedules, documents, readings, reference materials, assignments… the list goes on, even for in-person classes. How we present that content is very important, and here are some considerations for your course:

 

First and foremost: Your course is a website. Consider what qualities you like and dislike when you are online and in a task-oriented mindset.

 

Visual Decisions

Customizing your Blackboard course is a great way to give it personality and make students feel as though they’re entering a virtual classroom. When you’re in your course, under Control Panel > Customization > Teaching Style, you’ll find a wealth of options for your course. You can change colors, themes, buttons, even the place where students enter the course, all of which can add your personal style and presence to the course.

For more information on changing the Course Entry point, go here.

For more information on customizing your course, go here.

 

The Course Menu

The Course Menu in your course is not static—you can add, delete, hide, and rename anything on it, and we encourage you to! Keeping your course menu very straightforward and uncluttered makes it much easier for students to find information and content in the course.

The default menu in Blackboard looks something like this:

Course menu: Home Page, Announcements, Contact Information, Information, Content, Discussions, Groups, Tools, Help

This menu appears automatically in all courses.

Here’s a course menu that suffers from “button bloat””

 

Here’s a course menu that’s been updated to fit a course’s needs and structure:

Course Menu: Announcements, Contact information, Syllabus, Week-by-Week,Discussion Board, My Grades, Email, Help, Resources

This menu has been updated specifically for the needs of the class.

In this course, the instructors have chosen to remove some links from the default menu, rename others, and add specific tool links. By removing items that the class will not be using, including the Home Page, the Groups Tool, and the general Tool page link, the menu is less confusing for students. The Information section has been renamed “Syllabus” and the Content section is “Week-by-Week”, where the instructors keep their course content presented in a weekly module structure. By adding links to the My Grades and Email tools, the students can get easy access to necessary tools without having to navigate the ungainly Tools page.

For more information on adding content areas to your course menu, go here.

For more information on creating tool links in your course menu, go here.

Try removing, renaming, and adding items to your course menu. It will make things easier for you and your students!

 

Organizing Your Course Content

Before we talk about some of the possibilities for organizing your course as a whole, I’d like to bring your attention to the importance of how you present your content in Blackboard. Instructor presence, both directly and indirectly in an online course, makes a huge difference to students’ engagement with the course and the material. Check out our information on instructor presence here to find more information about how you can present your content in a way that cuts down on questions and helps students engage more fully without getting caught up in the technical details.

Keeping your syllabus, course schedule and other important documents that students will need through the semester separate will make it easier for students to locate these items easily. In the course, you may want to put these in the Information section, and rename that section to something more appropriate to what it contains. This presents a direct path for students to follow to get to this information.

Outside of the vital course documents there are a variety of ways to organize your course content, and we’ll briefly discuss those here. An important thing to remember is there isn’t a “right” way to do this, not even for the vital course documents—depending on how you set up your course and how you use Blackboard, some methods will suit better than others.

These three possibilities are just a drop in the bucket, and they certainly aren’t mutually exclusive. Combining them, along with the other customizations talked about earlier, can help you find the organizational method that works best for you and your students.

The most common way to organize content, particularly in fully online courses, is chronologically. Some instructors will break down the content in folders labeled by class dates or weeks, corresponding with the course calendar and syllabus. This makes it easier for students to locate assignments, readings and activities, particularly in fully online or blended courses. Each week is usually a fully self-contained lesson, including reading assignments, any lecture notes, assignments, and links to discussions or other activities.

Another way to organize content is by module or theme. If a course is divided into specific modules regarding topics or themes, you can divide the course by these themes. I’ve seen this most often in courses that teach discrete skills as well as courses that are team taught by instructors with different focuses.

Some instructors, particularly those who use Blackboard as a supplement to a fully in-person course, organize their course by the type of content. For example, the instructor may create a folder that contains all the PowerPoint files for the class lectures, another folder for all the assignments due over the course of the semester, and another that has links to external websites the students may need to access over the course of the semester.

While this is a good way to direct students to the necessary content, it does have some drawbacks. As with all content items, titles and descriptions will need to be very clear (for example, a PowerPoint for a specific lecture should contain the subject and date of the lecture so that students can locate it by either piece of information) and there should be a clear delineation of what is placed in what folder. Placing a document referenced in a lecture in the lecture notes folder may make sense, but it may be better placed in a supplementary materials folder. Be sure to consider all of the content you need to place in your course before determining the folder structure. These types of courses often generate the most “Where can I find this?” questions.