Blackboard Do’s & Don’ts: Quick tips on building your course space



When I first started building a course space in Blackboard, I had no idea what I was doing. Sure – I read some articles and reviewed best practices. I even had a trained and knowledgeable instructional designer assigned to work with me (shout out to Theron!). Regardless, I made mistakes. Here are a few top-of-mind do’s and don’ts as you embark on this journey…

  • DO include a course schedule with dates | DON’T include dates anywhere else

    If you want to minimize ongoing customization headaches, only include due dates in ONE PLACE. Your course schedule or lesson plan should be THE central clearinghouse for all date-specific tasks and deadlines. That way, if you have to change anything later – you are not scrambling to remember where that same due date was everywhere else in your course space.

    Caveat… you will also include due dates with assignment dropboxes, quizzes, etc. so… sorry, it’s not as one-stop-shop as I would like.

    Tip: In your to do’s lists at the top of each lesson or week, copy/paste a standard disclaimer to remind students to check the COURSE SCHEDULE (or whatever you label it) for all current due dates. Example… All assignment details, instructions, reference links and documents are posted in the assignment dropboxes. Check the Course Schedule in the left column for due dates and points.

  • DO be consistent with due dates and times | DON’T be all over the place

    If you want to limit confusion and panicked late-night emails, I HIGHLY recommend setting a standard due date for various tasks that happen consistently in the class such as contribution to the discussion forum, weekly quizzes, weekly assignments, etc.

    Tip: Decide on a standard date these activities will be due and a set time. For example… All assignments are due on Sundays at 11:59p. or Complete your original contribution to the discussion forum by Wed. at 11:59p with final peer contribution no later than Sun at 11:59p of the same week. All times Pacific.

  • DO set up timings for the release of units | DON’T let them work ahead

    I will admit, with some of my online-only classes, I break this rule. But the downside is that you will have 3-4 eager beavers who want to work ahead and therefore ask a ton of questions you are not yet ready to address. They may also be naggy about not getting timely feedback on assignments.

    Tip: I suggest releasing each unit in succession – typically at midnight the day before the new unit begins. I tend to release on Sunday with a Monday kick-off to the new unit.

  • DO have a “Questions for the instructor” discussion forum space | DON’T just have them e-mail you

    If you want to avoid the bombardment of the same question over and over — start a “Questions for the instructor” forum in the discussion board and Subscribe to it.

    Tip: Train your students to post all questions to this shared and all-access space. Encourage them to go there first as questions come up. You will find that students will often help each other in this space before you even have a chance to respond. And, it gives you a single spot to address questions that are likely not isolated to one student. You can also include a description when you set it up that says “Do you have a question for the instructor? Feel free to ask it here in this public thread. For private concerns, please email the instructor directly.”

  • DO set up rubrics | DON’T rely on disconnected grading criteria

    Rubrics can become your lifeline when it comes to grading in Blackboard. Without rubrics, for tasks that are not auto-graded, you will have to manually determine the points earned by the student and therefore be expected to provide ample feedback should any points be taken off. Not that we shouldn’t be providing meaningful feedback regardless, but with built-in rubrics, you have a much stronger platform for justifying your grading decision processes. >> Learn more about building rubrics in Blackboard

  • DO set up announcements | DON’T just set up to-do lists

    Blackboard has a wonderful feature called Announcements. You can set them up to auto-post each week, or you can email them to students right away. Announcements in the proper section do not get buried, they are repeatable, and they remain “sticky” in that section so students can refer to them later. I create 15 weeks of announcements before I launch a class. I use a template that is modified as needed. I schedule their release to post every Sunday at 11:59p. And it’s great. Here is an example: Welcome to Week 10 in COMSTRAT 383. This week I am catching up on grading from Lesson 3. Here are your to do’s for this week…. Please remember to turn in your microproject and podcast audio file to the designated dropbox in Blackboard.

    Tip: Create a document in Word that outlines your announcements for the remainder of the semester. Include a brief welcome, to do’s for the week, an update on where you are (grading, getting organized, about to post a video, etc.) and brief closing. Then, create announcements in Blackboard and copy/paste the content from Word into Blackboard. Do you like templates? Here’s one you can use… [.docx template]

    >> Learn more about creating announcements in Blackboard

That ends my first installment. More will come to me so stay tuned. In the meantime, I created a self-audit checklist for Murrow faculty teaching online classes. Feel free to check it out!

This post is part of Rebecca L. Cooney’s Online Teaching Tips series. Check out more tips in the “Online Teaching Tips” category.

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