Getting Started: A good practice baseline for Blackboard sites
To help colleagues in transitioning to a fully online environment, we have developed ten baseline good practices to support you in providing an online site that works well for you, that you feel confident with, and engages your students. These practices will be developed further over the remainder of the semester.
The ten practices, and their associated prompt questions, are intended to help you review your current Blackboard site and guide your thinking. Once you have taken a look at these practices, you may wish to visit the Design Online Learning pages, where you will find further guidance.
Is my site structured clearly to help students navigate quickly, understand the sequence of activities, access information and easily understand the layout of unfamiliar courses?
The organisation of paper content, learning tasks and activities (e.g. discussion forums, quizzes and surveys) should present learners with a meaningful ‘map’ of suggested activity, within the paper as a whole and within individual weeks or topics. Presenting information in a clear, accessible way and providing straightforward navigation between content and activity spaces supports efficient and effective learning.
Your Blackboard (Bb) site should convey a sense of the structure of your paper. Clarity of the structure is important to help users find what they are looking for. Use clear headings, provide section overviews, number sections and sub-sections.
Consistency is key. Implement consistent use of headings within sections and consistent labelling of resources and activities.
Think about the intended pattern of activity within the online learning environment and how you intend students to use it. Consider whether the structure supports this pattern of activity.
Make sure the navigation pathways are clear and the information is up to date.
The site should give an impression of organisation, clarity and manageability. Ensure that the most frequently accessed materials are prominent.
Department or School has a Blackboard template. If it does not, consider whether core papers can have a common structure, so that students using these sites will know where they should look for activities and resources.
Alison Fraser and Bill Doolin from the Faculty of Business, Economics and Law have designed a very well-structured site. Clear navigation, use of folders and the inclusion of a range of resources and activities contribute to an engaging online space.
Does my site help learners to orientate themselves, especially outlining how they are expected to learn and engage and how they may contact key staff members to get help when they need it?
Orientation information is important in every paper because learners have differing levels of experience with online learning environments. Such allows for each paper to communicate important differences about which even experienced learners need to be aware of. While paper sites will ideally be consistent from one paper to another (see ‘Practice 1, above), orientation cues direct users to the most important information; give them a way to establish their understanding of paper structure and operation and help them get off to a good start in the paper.
Put yourself in the place of learners, consider those who have studied online before and those who have not. For inexperienced online learners, identify the key information they will need before they start. This might be as simple as making sure staff contact details and the Paper Booklet are prominent.
Make sure you explain what is unique and/or different about this paper compared to others and how it relates to other papers that students are taking.
Consider how you are signposting your learners – any orientation should outline the learning outcomes for the paper, set out your expectations and the expectations you have of the learners.
You could create a simple text-based welcome/orientation message at the start of your Blackboard site. This will create a sense of manaaki and make the students feel at home.
Video messages can not only help to orientate students but can also support teacher presence (see Practice 4).
For more information, follow these guides on making welcome and orientation messages.
This is a great example of an orientation video from Aaron Evans from the Faculty of Health and Environmental Sciences. The video gives students a roadmap of their learning journey, outlines the teaching team’s expectations and provides reassurance and support.
Does my site have places that allow for effective and consistent online communication with and between students?
Have I provided opportunities to hear from my students about how they are doing?
Teacher-student communication plays a critical role in student learning. For students in some papers, online messages may be the most highly contextualised, personal interaction they have with you. It is important to establish how students and staff will communicate with each other on the site. For example, making it clear that you will provide weekly Blackboard announcements for paper-related issues and that students should use email for personal matters.
Communicate regularly with your learners, especially at the beginning of the paper. This communication could take many forms. It might be mainly text-based, but you can use a combination of visuals, audio and video.
Communicating online is a learned skill. Effective online communication takes practice and effort to achieve, but it gets easier with experience. Think about the tone you wish to set, as the students will take their lead from you.
Think about how you will manage responses to student queries even when they arrive out-of-hours. Remember their pastoral needs, but also your own health and well-being. Whatever your normal work pattern is, make sure students know how this translates in the online space. Online teaching can take place anywhere, anytime – but it does not have to.
When you set up a discussion forum, make its purpose clear. For example, as a place for students to ask questions about the paper, or as a space to complete a specific task that contributes to assessment.
Consider setting up activity completion to enable students to track their activity and progress through the course. You can send reminders to those who have yet to contribute to activities or submit assessments.
4. Teacher presence
Have I considered how I create my online presence which gives students a sense of belonging and helps them to feel connected to a community of learning?
Does my site clearly outline assessment requirements and link to tools and information to help avoid plagiarism?
Have I provided well-labelled learning resources, using internal and external sources?
7. Student Active Participation
Do I encourage students to share their learning resources, interact with each other and participate in online activities?
Have I considered the accessibility of my site?
Are files provided in accessible formats with cross-platform compatibility to enable students to view them on mobile devices?
Does my site support inclusive practice?
Is the site culturally inclusive, does it consider the needs of students with disabilities, or the educational background of students?