In a previous post we talked about personalization and user preferences and how they can help improve the user experience. Well, what about how teachers create and present content within their course? The presentation & structure of content has just as much impact on the experience of users with disabilities as the learning management tool does. Blackboard Learn provides teachers with a variety of ways to structure the content they create to best meet the needs of their students. There are different layout options and even different content types that give the teacher all of the flexibility they need. But the key is to keep it simple.
In addition to the typical content items, assignments and tests that can be created within a Blackboard course, a teacher can also organize content into folders, lesson plans or learning modules. Each has a distinct advantage for the students and can be used to accommodate different needs.
- Folders are the most straightforward of the three. They allow teachers to group content together and create a clean navigation structure for the students.
- Lesson plans were introduced in Release 9.1 and build on the existing folder functionality. They allow a teacher to define more granular 'instructional' information that can either be shared with the students (like a list of materials to bring to class or the learning objectives the content is addressing) or kept hidden (such as the methodology for teaching the lesson). Packaging content in this way can help maintain the context of what the students are learning with the material being used to teach it.
- Learning Modules allow a teacher to build some structured navigation into the folder and enforce a sequence to the presentation of the content. This can help guide students through the content and ensure they do not miss important details.
Organizing content into folders, lesson plans and learning modules can simplify the experience of the course and potentially reduce the cognitive load for users with disabilities.
Blackboard Learn also provides instructors with three different 'views' of course content: icon only, icon and text, and text only. The icons that are used are indicative of the type of content (the assignment icon differs from the test icon and from the video icon, for example) and may be helpful or distracting, depending on the need. The icon-only view reduces the amount of information presented to the student to just the title of the content item and its relevant icon. The student clicks the icon and loads a page with only the details of that single item presented. This layout simplifies the presentation of content and allows a user to focus in on one element at a time, which may be easier for users with cognitive disabilities to understand.
Both the "Icon and Text" and "Text-Only" layouts show the full details of all of the items on the page in a list including title and any description, links, images, attached files or other information that is available. The relevant icon is also displayed in the "Icon and Text" view. Both views keep all of the content at the users' fingertips and don't require an extra click to get to the details of any item.
While it is possible to select different layout choices for different content areas, folders and lesson plans, you still need to consider the confusion of constantly changing the structure and weigh it against the benefit of each option. Remember. Keep it simple. Use folders and lesson plans to organize your content, learning modules when you want to help guide your students through the material, and icon-only views when you have a lot of content to present on one page and don't want to overwhelm them with everything all at once.
The user experience team is always interested in how teachers are organizing and structuring content in their courses and what, if any, impact it has on their students’ learning. Share your experiences and tell us what else you need. We’d love to hear from you!