Course Design and Environment

Effectively present content in a student friendly environment:


Course timeline and schedule

The dates for each and every course topic, learning unit, and assessment are provided in enough detail so students can maintain their own calendars to keep track of due dates.

Point students to external websites that could offer them extra practice exercises relevant to the course of study, help them understand the material in different ways, or support them to develop skills that are essential to completing assignments but not relevant specifically to the course content. Examples include Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab (OWL) for support with essay writing and Khan Academy for lessons in math, science and history.

Learning units

A learning unit is defined as a distinct group of learning activities and course content created by the instructor to guide the progress of students through a structured presentation of materials. Learning units may be organized by textbook chapter, module, course week, topic, theme, or by some other method, but it is suggested that each learning unit should be approximately equal in terms of amount of content covered and time required for completion.

Each learning unit includes:

  • Learning objectives
  • Activities
  • Resources
  • Assessment

Learning units can be thought of as an organizational structure for presenting course content. They may be organized in individual folders and made available within the Course Content section on Blackboard. As an example, each Learning Unit may have a video lecture, required reading, supplemental multimedia sources to foster deeper learning, assignments, quizzes, and exams.


Multimedia Elements

Consider the best use of multimedia sources to help students reach learning objectives. Using a lecture capture tool like Panopto offers students the advantage of experiencing your presentation of content through video recordings available for review at any time.

Other online resources including videos, podcasts, and websites can supplement reading material in ways that support deeper learning, exploration and elaboration for students. They can be used to illustrate course topics and complex concepts in the reading assignments; they can also be used to prompt students to apply their content knowledge in a myriad of contexts.  Additional resources include Blackboard’s mashup tool and Kanopy (available from the library).

If students perceive the content and/or context presented in these resources to be relevant to their own personal experience, values, and interests, they will feel more motivated to engage with it.


Accessibility of content

As an instructor, you want to reach as many students as possible and ensure that course content is accessible to learners with a range of abilities and needs; this is as important in a physical classroom as it is in an online environment. Designing accessible content is essential to implementing an effective online course.

This goal can be achieved often with some simple considerations for how content is posted. For example, when posting multimedia content, images need to be coupled with alternative text, and videos need to be captioned. PDF documents are often less accessible than Word files because text in PDFs may not be picked by screen readers.

Blackboard also has features and functions that can accommodate students with particular needs, such as offering extra time or attempts for tests for select students.

Instructors can also utilize the adaptive release option, which differentiates instruction for students, based on rules set by the instructor. Content targeting specific gaps or levels of proficiency can be unlocked when students meet certain criteria as they progress through the course.

Navigating the course

Optimal course navigation makes it clear for students where to locate what they need with minimum stress, so they can focus their energy on the quality of their course work. Clear menu organization and consistency of content layout throughout sections contribute to clear course navigation.

In addition, a clear explanation should be provided for students at the beginning of the course about how to locate and access various sections of the course.  This could take the form of a permanent announcement, which would sit prominently on the homepage and be the first item students see when they log in. It could also include a video introduction walking them through the Blackboard course interface.


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