(For more resources related to this topic, see here.)
Courses in Blackboard Learn
The basic structure of any learning management system relies on the basic course, or course shell. A course shell holds all the information and communication that goes on within our course and is the central location for all activities between students and instructors.
Let’s think about our course shell as a virtual house or apartment. A house or apartment is made up of different rooms where we put things that we use in our everyday life. These rooms such as the living room, kitchen, or bedrooms can be compared to content areas within our course shell. Within each of these content areas, there are items such as telephones, dishwashers, computers, or televisions that we use to interact, communicate, or complete tasks. These items would be called course tools within the course shell. These content areas and tools are available within our course shells and we can use them in the same ways. While as administrators, we won’t take a deep dive into all these tools; we should know that they are available and instructors use them within their courses.
Blackboard Learn offers many different ways to create courses, but to help simplify our discussion, we will classify those ways in two categories, basic and advanced. This article will discuss the course creation options that we classify as basic.
Course names and course IDs
When we get ready to create a course in Blackboard Learn, the system requires a few items. It requires a course name and a course ID. The first one should be self-explanatory. If you are teaching a course on “Underwater Basket Weaving” (a hobby I highly recommend), you would simply place this information into the course name. Now the course ID is a bit trickier. Think of it like a barcode that you can find on your favorite cereal. That barcode is unique and tells the checkout scanner the item you have purchased. The course ID has a similar function in Blackboard Learn. It must be unique; so if you plan to have multiple courses on “Underwater Basket Weaving”, you will need to figure out a way to express the differences in each course ID.
We just talked about how each course ID in Blackboard has to be unique. We as administrators will find that most Blackboard Learn instances we deal with have numerous course shells. Providing multiple courses to the users might become difficult. So we should consider creating a course ID naming convention if one isn’t already in place. Our conversation will not tell you which naming convention will be best for your organization, but here are some helpful tips for us to start with:
- Use a symbol to separate words, acronyms, and numbers from one another. Some admins may use an underscore, period, or dash. However, whitespace, percent, ampersand, less than, greater than, equals, or plus characters are not accepted within course IDs.
- If you plan to collect reporting data from your instance, make sure to include the term or session and department in the course ID.
- Collect input from people and teams within your organization who will enroll and support users. Their feedback about a course’s naming convention will help it be successful.
Many organizations use a student information system, (SIS), which manages the enrollment process.
Default course properties
The first item in our Course Settings area allows us to set up several of the default access options within our courses. The Default Course Properties page covers when and who has access to a course by default.
- Available by Default: This option gives us the ability to have a course available to enrolled students when it is created. Most administrators will have this set to No, since the instructor may not want to immediately give access to the course.
- Allow Guests by Default and Allow Observers by Default: The next options allow us to set guest and observer access to created courses by default. Most administrators normally set these to No because the guest access and observer role aren’t used by their organizations.
- Default Enrollment Options: We can set default enrollment options to either allow the instructor or system administrator to enroll students or allow the student to self enroll. If we choose the former, we can give the student the ability to e-mail the instructor to request access. If we set Self Enrollment, we can set dates when this option is available and even set a default access code for students to use when they can self enroll. Now that we have these two options for default enrollment, most administrators would suggest setting the default course enrollment option to instructors or system administrators, which will allow instructors to set self enrollment within their own course.
- Default Duration: The Continuous option allows the course to run continuously with no start or end date set. Select Dates sets specific start and end dates for all courses. The last option called Days from the Date of Enrollment sets courses to run for a specific number of days after the student was enrolled within our Blackboard Learn environment. This is helpful if a student self enrolls in a self-paced course with a set number of days to complete it.
Pitfalls of setting start and end dates
When using the Start and End dates to control course duration, we may find that all users enrolled within the course will lose access.
Course themes and icons
If we are using the Blackboard 2012 theme, we have the ability to enable course themes within our Blackboard instance. These themes are created by Blackboard and can be applied to an instructor’s course by clicking on the theme icon, seen in the following screenshot, in the upper-right corner of the content area while in a course. They have a wide variety of options, but currently administrators cannot create custom course themes.
We can also select which icon sets courses will use by default in our Blackboard instance. These icon themes are created by Blackboard and will appear beside different content items and tools within the course. In the following screenshot, we can see some of the icons that make up one of the sets. Unlike the course themes, these icons will be enforced across the entire instance.
The Course Tools area offers us the ability to set what tools and content items are available within courses by default. We can also control these settings along with organizations and system tools by clicking on the Tools link under the Tools and Utilities module. Let’s review what tools are available and how to enable and disable them within our courses.
The options we use to set course tools are exactly same as those used in the Tools area we just mentioned. Use the information provided here to set tool availability with a page.
Let’s take a more detailed look into the default availability setting within this page. We have four options for each tool. Every tool has the same options.
- Default On: A course automatically has this tool available to users, but an instructor or leader can disable the tool within it
- Default Off: Users in a course will not have access to this tool by default, but the instructor or leader can enable it
- Always On: Instructors or leaders are unable to turn this tool off in their course or organization
- Always Off: Users do not see this tool in a course or organization, nor can the instructor or leader turn it on within the course
Once we make the changes, we must click on the Submit button.
Quick Setup Guide
The Quick Setup Guide page was introduced into Blackboard 9.1 Service Pack 8. As seen in the following screenshot, it offers instructors the basic introduction into the course if they have never used Blackboard before. Most of the links are to the content from the On Demand area of the Blackboard website. We as administrators can disable this from appearing when an instructor enters the course. If we leave the guide enabled, we can add custom text to the guide, which can help educate instructors about changes, help, and support available from our organization.
We can continue to customize default look and feel of our course shells with images in the course entry point and at the top of the menu. We might use these images to spotlight that our organization has been honored with an award. Here we find an example of how these images would look.
Two images can be located at the bottom of the course entry page, which is the page we see after entering a course. Another image can be located at the top of the course menu. This area also allows us to make these images linkable to a website. Here’s an example.
Default course size limits
We can also create a default course size limit for the course and the course export and archive packages within this area. Course Size Limits allows administrators to control storage space, which may be limited in some instances. When a course size limit is within 10 percent of being reached, the administrator and instructor get an e-mail notification. This notification is triggered by the disk usage task that runs once a day. After getting the notification, the instructor can remove content from the course, or the administrator can increase the course quota for that specific course.
- Maximum Course disk size: This option sets the amount of disk space a course shell can use for storage. This includes all course and student files within the course shell.
- Maximum Course Package Size: This sets the maximum amount of content from the Course Files area included in a course copy, export, or archive.
Grade Center settings
This area allows us to set default controls over the Grade History portion of the Grade Center. Grade history is exactly what it says. It keeps a history of the changes within the Grade Center. Most administrators recommend having grade history enabled by default because of the historical benefits. There may be a discussion within your organization to permit instructors to disable this feature within their course or clear the history altogether.
Course menu and structures
The course menu offers the main navigation for any course user. Our organization can create a default course menu layout for all new course shells created based on the input from instructional designers and pedagogical experts. As seen in the following screenshot, we simply edit the default menu that appears on this page.
As administrators, we should pay close attention when creating a default course menu. Any additions or removals to the default menu are automatically changed without clicking on the Submit or Cancel buttons, and are applied to any courses created from that point forward.
Blackboard recently introduced course structures. If enabled, these pre-built course menus are available to the instructor within their course’s control panel. The course structures fall into a number of different course instruction scenarios. An example of the course structure selection interface is shown in the following screenshot: