With the new academic year looming, you will want to make sure that your Blackboard course is in a fit state for students to use. I know there is a widely held view that Blackboard is not fit for purpose, and it’s a view that I am sympathetic to, but that’s a discussion we can have another time. Here I’m taking the pragmatic view that it’s what we’ve got, and you’re more than likely going to have to use it. So, what sort of things should you be doing?
The University has Policy and Guidance for the VLE, and part of that is Design and Navigation Standards. This is a good place to start to get your Blackboard site in order.
Our Blackboard Default View is based upon feedback from students and staff. What came out of that consultation is that students want to see a Blackboard site that is logically and consistently organised, with clear pathways to content and activities.
Some things to note:
- It is a ‘Default View’. It is not a ‘template’. That’s because we want you to be able to make decisions based on your pedagogical requirements, rather than have a one-size-fits-all approach.
- Unlike some other universities we don’t use the terms ‘Minimum Standards’ or ‘Threshold Standards’. That’s because we don’t have a Blackboard Police Force to monitor and enforce those standards. We don’t have the staff or resources to do it and I’m not sure that top-down centralised monitoring is something we’d want to pursue anyway. A better approach is to have recommendations, and allow academic staff to work with those recommendations as they see fit for their context. Having a ‘template’, threshold standards, or minimum standards could be seen as ‘an invention of the Innovation Prevention Department’.
So, here are the recommended Design and Navigation Standards for your Blackboard site, as set out in the University’s Virtual Learning Environment (Blackboard) Policy and Guidance Statement:
i. Include an outline of the module/programme with a statement of learning outcomes (by quoting from or linking to approved versions held in the SRS), and a module/programme calendar where relevant, under the main navigation heading of “Overview”.
ii. Learning and teaching content should normally be stored under the overarching main navigation heading of “Materials and Activities” and organised in such a way as to aid student navigation – for example, content might be arranged chronologically with reference to the module/course calendar; by theme or topic; or by group activity – but other formats may be used as appropriate to the programme/module.
iii. Key contact information for academic, administrative and technical support should normally be provided under the overarching main navigation heading of “Help and Contacts”.
iv. Where the VLE instance includes references to, or actual, assessment of student work, collected information about the assignments, plagiarism advice, deadlines and submission methods/boxes should normally be provided under the main navigation heading of “Assessment” (even if individual assignments are provided or discussed elsewhere within the course materials – internal links can be made in these cases).
v. Where a significant form (or forms) of online interaction are included within a programme or module, a direct link to relevant sections of the VLE should be included as a main navigation heading. For example: “Discussion” or “Group Area”.
vi. Headings and subheadings should be clear and consistent.
vii. Downloadable files and other materials should be named in a way that is consistent and descriptive of their content, and provided in a form which affords access by all students registered on the VLE instance. For scanned materials provided by the Library, this should be done by entering the appropriate naming text in ‘Name of Link to File’ (in Blackboard) rather than amending the actual file name.
viii. Folders and information (including announcements) which are out of date or not in use should be removed from the navigation structure or deleted altogether
ix. Regular checks (at least once per academic year) should be made by VLE Convenors of the currency of materials available through their VLE instances – this includes references in texts, links to online resources, etc.
x. Prominent and appropriate links to key academic information resources should be included in any programme or module VLE instances. The Library, Careers, Learning Development and Student Welfare should provide regularly updated information for departments to include on their VLE instances, where possible targeted through collaborative work between the departments and services.
xi. Major changes to the design and/or navigation of a live VLE instance should not normally be made part-way through a module or programme; where this is unavoidable, users should be:
- given as much notice as possible
- told what is changing and when
- given support in using the new design or navigation features
- told who to contact should they need assistance
If you want any help in doing any of this then please get in touch. For ways to enhance your Blackboard course beyond the Default View, then see my Blackboard site ‘Enhancing Your Blackboard Course’.