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Best Practices for Course Development

Blackboard’s Exemplary Course Checklist focuses on four main areas: Course Design, Interaction and Collaboration, Assessment, and Learner Support. These categories have been expanded upon below based on instructional design best practices with resources for support. Please refer to the rubric and recommendations from this site as you create, design, and modify your courses. 

Course Design

Setting goals and objectives allow faculty and student accountability while providing learners with focus and direction like a roadmap. One can think of goals as targets using broad, general statements of what faculty want their students to learn (learning targets) while objectives are measurables that will help students reach those goals through aligned learning activities and assessments.

Resources:

The structure of course content can be critical to student success within the course. It’s important to consider student’s needs when developing resources reinforcing persistence, growth, and grit throughout the course.  

This can be done by developing course tours and welcome letters to orient students to the course. Course tours should be brief (no more than 10 minutes) touching on highlights, deadlines of high-stake exams/papers/assignments, and instructor contact information.

Content should be provided in “chunks” limited to 10-15 minute formats when presenting essential concept(s). To help with this, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are the essential concepts/components students need to know to be successful in their career?
  • How should these concepts be prioritized?
  • Should they be connected/integrated? Is there a relationship and if so, how best to present this?
  • Teaching strategy to use which will help students retain connections/relationships

Resources:

Promoting a growth mindset, persistence, and grit are all steps toward keeping students motivated and engaged but not an easy task for instructors whether teaching online, in-presence, or hybrid. To accomplish this, it’ll help to plan the layout of the course and decide on teaching strategies from a student lens.

Here a few strategies to help with this:

  • Course tour – demonstrate course structure and explain your why
    • Set expectations on communication strategies, due dates, and assessments
    • Key deadlines on assignments, assessments, and collaborative work
  • Due date standardization
    • Discussion posts – due Wednesdays by 11:59 pm
    • Papers – due Fridays by 11:59 pm
    • Quizzes – due Tuesdays by 11:59 pm
    • Assignments – due Mondays by 11:59 pm
  • Instructions – clear, concise, and provide examples when possible
    • Provide key resources to help with assignments or paired technology
  • Monitor well-being
    • Performance decline – please reach out and point students to available resources (on-campus and virtual)
    • Virtual Office Hours – interested students can take advantage of additional assistance
    • Virtual Review Fridays – Social hour for those interested
      • Engage students using Kahoot! to review for exams, brainstorm ideas for papers, or assignments
      • Go over technologies for upcoming assignments

The following prompts might help address course layout and teaching strategies

  • What will students need to know to stay on track?
  • How can you help students build connections with the instructor, course content, and their peers?
  • Is there a way to demonstrate connections between learning activities and assessments to course objectives?
  • How can communication strategies be used to maintain student engagement and motivation?

Resources:

During the planning of course design, as Blackboard features (discussion, wikis, blogs, journals), Video Content (Panopto) or Assessment software (ExamSoft, Examplify, or Respondus) be integrated, plan on including a brief description on the technology, how-to tutorials, and contact information for assistance.  

Brief descriptions for TLT supported technologies:

Blackboard Learn - Learning Management System (LMS) 

KUMC uses Blackboard Learn to manage courses and instructional organizations. Many tools and resources to help teaching and learning are integrated directly into Blackboard. 

  • File sharing and organization
  • Online testing (formative and summative) with grading and feedback options 
  • Submission of assignments (“dropbox”) 
  • Course calendar, tasks, and to-do
  • Discussion Boards 
  • Wikis, Blogs, and Journals 
  • Blackboard Collaborate Ultra web conferencing 
  • SafeAssign (plagiarism prevention) 

Panopto - Video Management and Sharing 

With Panopto, videos can be stored in an accessible, cloud-based location. Videos stored on Panopto can be shared with specific individuals, entire groups of people, or ever publicly over the web. Panopto Recorder allows for videos to be recorded using a computer or a phone app, while Panopto Capture is a browser-based option for creating videos. 

Panopto integrates closely with Blackboard, to both restrict access to only members of a class, and to allow students in a class to submit video-based assignments. 

Evaluation Kit 

EvaluationKIT is designed for administering course, instructor, and program evaluations, although it can be used for any survey where the respondents are primarily members of the KUMC community. Evaluation Kit integrates directly with Blackboard to allow for secure-yet-anonymous faculty assessments by students. 

Examplify/Examsoft – Secure, proctored exam environment 

For high stakes testing in a proctored environment, KUMC uses Examplify (by Examsoft). With Examplify, faculty, staff, and administrators can access high level learning analytics to make decisions on student progress and understanding. Grades from Examplify can be imported into Blackboard’s Grade Center. 

Poll Everywhere – Audience Response System/Student Response System 

With Poll Everywhere, poll questions can be presented to an audience of up to 1000 people. Responses can be submitted in a web browser, phone app, or SMS text message. Polls can be integrated into Microsoft PowerPoint, Apple Keynote, or Google Sheets slides and can be shared over web conferencing software such as Teams or Collaborate. 

Resources:

To ensure students’ needs are met as many do not self-identify disabilities assuming courses include technologies that will bridge the gap. To support and include all students, the application of Universal Design for Learning not only for the layout and design of the course but also for learning activities will be beneficial.  

 The UDL Guidelines are based on research and consist of four networks: Affective (Why), Recognition (What), and Strategic (How) of learning.  Aside from aesthetics and display of content (color, font size, different file types to consider), providing multiple ways for students to gain and demonstrate knowledge, and interact are important steps toward making a course accessible to all students, including those with disabilities.

Resources:

An overview of the potential benefits universal design brings to all students, not just those with disabilities. The site provides links to a number of instructional design and accessibility resources, including accessibility information for technologies supported by the TLT.

WAVE is a tool instructors can use to screen online resources for potential accessibility issues. To check for problems with any publicly available website, simply enter the page URL in the checker. To verify accessibility for Blackboard content, subscription-only journal articles, or other material for which a login is required, WAVE also offers the WAVE browser extensions for Firefox and Chrome. This extension will provide an accessibility report for any resource you can view within your web browser.

  • Try Test Driving Your Course with a Screen Reader

Experiencing first-hand what your course is like for a person using a screen reader can be an invaluable experiment. Both Windows (Narrator) and Mac (VoiceOver) systems offer built-in screen-reading software that can give you new insight into the features of your course that work well for vision-impaired students, as well as aspects that may be a source of frustration.

  • Your Course Accessibility Checklist. Raths, d. (2016). Campus Technology Magazine, 29(5), 24-26.  The easiest time to build accessibility into your online course is during the initial design phase. This article discusses strategies and resources for making a new course accessible
Interaction and Collaboration

In any type of learning, whether online, hybrid, or face-to-face, student interactions with the instructor, content, peers, and technology prove critical to student’s success in the course and creates a sense of belonging.  Even more so is the balance of providing synchronous or asynchronous activities, for each has its own set of benefits when aligned to learning objectives:

Asynchronous strategies allow:

  • Time for students to critically reflect and consider all sides of an issue before providing their opinion.
  • Inclusivity as more students have opportunities to contribute
  • Flexibility for students to work at their own pace

Synchronous strategies allow:

  • Immediate access to feedback and responses to questions.
  • Real time communication, virtual office hours, and educational assistance which keep students engaged and on task.

Resources:

To help students maintain momentum and remain on task, it’s important to provide them clear direction with instructions, a rubric, and examples/guides.  This will not only minimize questions regarding assignments but might decrease grade challenges afterward.

Resources:

Assessment

Students are provided a clear and complete description of the criteria used to evaluate their contributions and participation in the course.  The criteria are usually communicated within the syllabus and schedule at the beginning of the course.  By describing criteria, the instructor sets expectations for required coursework and participation.  The criteria also offer learners the information they need to understand how grades on learning activities and assessments will be calculated.

Resources:

Multiple assessment strategies should be used in all types of learning environments (online, face-to-face, and hybrid) and include alternative assessments, which require learners to apply what they learn and think critically.  Learners should demonstrate mastery in multiple ways.

Providing varied formats of assessment accommodates the diversity of learners.  The assessments should be sequenced in such a way to promote scaffolding and strengthening previously mastered knowledge and skills gained throughout their education.  Ways to assess students include:

  • Assignments within each module/lesson
  • Discussion boards, blogs, journals
  • Quizzes, midterms, final exams
  • Simulations
  • Research papers/reflections
  • Group and individual projects
  • Problem-based learning/team-based learning activities

Resources:

Students need to assess their learning progress as it provides them the opportunity to judge their progress and understanding of the course material.  This way, students can have better control over their learning.  To help students with self-assessment, it’s important to have learning activities where students have an opportunity to reflect on their performance or practice key concepts. 

Providing meaningful feedback plays a key role in increasing students’ understanding and evaluation of their learning.  The purpose of feedback is to improve performance and promote a growth mindset - not to make the student feel defeated. 

Resources:

Learner Support

Most can agree that online learning can be a different experience than face-to-face.  Research has shown including the following items might help learners navigate this landscape and provide them the support and encouragement to persist.

  • Send a Welcome Letter to the class
  • Post a biographical sketch with contact information
  • Course tour highlighting high stakes assignments with due dates, course navigation, best way(s) to reach you
  • Provide virtual office hours
  • Offer links to support services: IT help desk, educational and counseling support, writing center, Library Liaison, etc.
  • Include LMS tutorials

The key is to provide enough information for learners to feel supported but concise and accessible when they need it for reference.

Resources:

Providing contact information in the syllabus is helpful but, also including your contact information under “Start Here” within your Bb courses will create more opportunities for interaction.  In addition to providing contact information, posting communication guidelines and methods for contact (email, phone, text, etc.) may open additional avenues for communication and increasing your social presence in the course.

According to Blackboard’s Exemplary Rubric, including the following information would be helpful to students.

  • Course/instructor policies
    • Netiquette
    • Late/sick policy
  • Links to institutional policies
    • Academic honesty policies
  • Links to institutional services
    • Library
    • Tech Support
    • Writing Center
    • Educational Support and Counselling Services
  • Links to institutional policies, contacts, and procedures for supporting learners with disabilities are included and easy to find
    • Office of Accommodations

Please visit the following list of TLT-supported services and information regarding their compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act for IT Accessibility:

In addition to letting students know how they access accessible features in the platforms mentioned above, there are technical factors to consider such as:

  • Providing alternative file types
  • Break-down lengthy videos or large files to manageable sizes
  • Media is optimized for web delivery by providing streaming/captioning options
  • If including technologies, please provide instructions and how-to documentation for students to refer to.

Provide opportunities and mechanisms for students to give feedback regarding course design and content while they’re taking the course and before the semester ends. The mechanism whereby this can be accomplished anonymously, might lead to increased response rate.

Teaching and Learning Technologies

University of Kansas Medical Center
Teaching and Learning Technologies
Mail Stop 3034
3901 Rainbow Boulevard
Kansas City, KS 66160
TLT-EdTech: 913-588-7107, tlt@kumc.edu
TLT-Media: 913-588-7326, tlt-media@kumc.edu
TLT-Testing Services: 913-588-1471, tdoughty@kumc.edu