Let’s go on a virtual field trip to two very different places. We’ll start with a kindergarten classroom. Open the door and picture it in your mind. What decorates the walls? What kind of furniture is there? Is the room divided into different areas? What are they? If you didn’t know it was a kindergarten classroom before you had opened the door, what would make its purpose obvious to you when you did look inside?

Now let’s hop to the other end of the spectrum and visit an AP Chemistry classroom. Open the door and ask yourself the same questions. Decorations? Furniture? Divisions? Clues to its purpose?

If we think broadly, the rooms are actually quite similar. There is some kind of display on the walls. There are workstations for teachers and students (though the chairs are noticeably different heights). There is a sink, probably a whiteboard and a projector, and storage areas for equipment and supplies.

But if we think particularly, the spaces are as different as the students who use them. Holding an AP Chemistry class in a kindergarten classroom would be uncomfortable and ineffective, and kindergartners would be similarly unhappy in an AP Chemistry classroom.

So how do you design a Blackboard course that works for you?

Think about your students.

  • Which parts of your course will they need most often?
  • Can you break up the course menu into smaller content areas so they have to click less (making content areas or folders unavailable is great for “hiding” past or future content when it’s not needed)?
  • Are there separate areas for tools such as blogs or discussion boards so they know where to go?
  • Is content grouped by date/unit/chapter, or by purpose, such as readings, assignments, and assessments)?  Which would be clearer to your students?
  • What will work best for your students?

Think about everyone else.

Unlike a classroom, which is really dedicated to your students, it’s likely that other people are going to be looking at your Blackboard course as well: parents, teaching assistants, and administrators, for instance.

  • Do you have an area specifically for parents or observers, if appropriate?
  • Does the layout make sense to your teaching assistants or instructional designers so they know where to put new content?
  • Can administrators look at your course and know exactly what is happening, just as if they were walking into your classroom?

Make it feature-rich.

Take Facebook as an example, where my niece uses the chat feature and my elderly aunt plays some game that always wants me to feed her fish. Because that single site includes both of those features, both of them are happy. Your course can work the same way.

A second-grade teacher might not feel comfortable having his students blog, but it would be ideal for a college professor teaching a distance education course (and I’d love to see that second-grade teacher creating a classroom blog with his students for parents to read!). There are so many features in a Blackboard Learn course that instructors in all fields and all levels can pick and choose the ones they want and how they want to use them.

What are other keys to designing a course that works for everyone?

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