Core Features

There are a number of things you need to consider when planning to deliver a module that has an eLearning/online component. The following guidelines have been geared towards using Blackboard, but many of the aspects are common whatever delivery media is being considered.  When considering designing your online module it is essential to understand the tools and features available to you so that you can make an informed choice of what you can use and is suitable to support your teaching and delivery in the online environment.  


Consider the following areas:

1.  Instructional Design​

2.  Getting your Module Onli​ne

Thinking through the following issues will help you to plan your module effectively:


What information do you want to use to describe the module?

Describe the purpose of the module and what the module is to cover, as well as its learning and assessment strategy. Let your students know why they should use the site, to show how it fits in with the broader delivery of your module. Either create a “Read this first” button, or post a welcome Announcement to explain the purpose of the site. Do not make the assumption that students will know what to do, outline some guidance from the onset if possible.


Course Structure

Think about the learning journey of those who will be using your online site and how this complements any face to face teaching that you do. Is your site easy to navigate with a clear course menu so that students can find what they are looking for? Have clear meaningful labels for your course menu, folder structure and any items you upload.


What supporting documents will you use?

Module handouts, lecture notes, or other visual aids may be used to guide students through the module. How will these be created? You can use existing file formats to upload your learning materials. Some collaboration tools will be more apt for engaging students, for example blogs or wikis.


Are there assignments that students are to complete?

Are there assignments that students are to complete? If so what are they and when should they be available? Blackboard allows you to time/date release some learning materials and you can also set contents in a content area to have conditions based on criteria set.


Are there Web sites or other external links?

You can use the External Links page to organise content and external links for students to view.


Do you want to use the Discussion Board?

The Discussion Board is useful for posting information for all students to view. The Discussion Board is also useful in facilitating on going discussions about various topics. Are there topics that could be facilitated by a Discussion Board? If so what are they?


Do you want to use the virtual classroom option?

Perhaps you want students to have the ability to go on­line at the same time to discuss a topic or you wish to have online office hours. The Virtual Classroom tool in Blackboard may be useful.


What type of assessments do you want students to complete online?

Quizzes and tests are just a few assessments that can be completed and graded on­line.


Do you want students to complete a survey of the module?

Students can be organised into smaller project or study groups. The instructor has the option of giving the group Discussion Board functions, virtual classroom functions, group file exchange functions, and group email functions. Do you want to organise students into groups?

You should also think about the following questions when planning and implementing your site:

  • Who will manage your day-­to­-day use of Blackboard?
  • Which team members need access?
  • What will the structure of your Blackboard site be?
  • How does this structure mirror your day-­to­-day processes?
  • What content areas do you need?
  • What Blackboard tools, like the Discussion Board, do you need to use?
  • What content do you need to share?
  • Who will build this content?

The following checklist may be useful when developing materials within Blackboard:


It is important that you think about the questions in the previous section in light of the events that prompt the necessary conditions for learning to occur. These instructional events can help you determine the most effective ways for your students to structure their learning.

1. Gain Attention

The purpose of this event is simply to arouse your student’s curiosity. You might ask leading questions, create scenarios, run on-line demonstrations, or point to external Web sites that promote curiosity and exploratory learning.


2. Inform The Learner Of The Learning Outcomes

Learning outcomes are the pivot for the scope and meaning of the module and should be discussed with the students from the start, in light of your module learning, teaching and assessment strategy.


3. Stimulate The Recall Of Prior Knowledge

“Scaffolding” or building upon prior knowledge and experience is a crucial teaching method. You may begin the module with some review of prior materials, create self assessment tests covering materials from required pre­-requisite materials, establish parallels to common knowledge, and/or provide hypertext links to basic background materials. You can then make links to new materials.


4. Present Effective Learning Materials

Provide students with the materials to be learned or the means by which they can actively discover them. You can create short audio/video lectures, PowerPoint presentations, text examples, links to the Web, projects, and experiments that ask students to search out materials and then present these materials to the class.


5. Provide Learning Guidance

Rather than “telling” students everything they need to know via a lecture or discussion, consider creating opportunities for self-­learning or group collaborative learning through discussion questions, listings of resources for study and exploration, and the creation of small, progressive assignments that allow for ongoing evaluation and assistance in individual student understanding. Given the autonomous nature of the online environment and the added demands in managing an online class, providing opportunities for student­-led learning can be especially important. 


6. Provide Feedback

Prompt and consistent feedback is essential in any environment, whether it consists of threaded discussion responses, email comments on papers and assignments, or seminar work. Feedback can be both individual and general to the group.


7.  Assess Performance

In this event you must decide whether the “performance” truly indicates that real learning has occurred. Assessing performance can include exams, projects, papers, threaded discussion messages, or laboratory or field experiments performed at a distance.


8.  Enhance Retention and Progression

Ask students to apply their newly acquired knowledge to other learning situations. Create module-long projects that are culminations of overall learning in the module, or require end­-of-­module portfolios that show progress in the module through items such as essays, discussion board interaction and self­-evaluation.

Steps 1 to 6 are what needs to be done before working on populating/building your Blackboard course site. Step 7 onwards assumes that you have some knowledge of how to populate a Blackboard course site and areable to start work on this.


1. Prepare Yourself

Preparation is worth all the time that is spent on it, as it can save time in the long run; but it does require an initial, upfront commitment of time. Discuss your ideas with your colleagues who teach other modules, or units of your module to your students – this helps you and them to sort out ideas and keep up to date with developments of other modules and units which should affect what you decide to do with yours. Attend Blackboard workshops; talk to EDC; look at other Blackboard sites; explore the software. You don't have to use all the features of a web­-based on­line learning environment to begin with – it depends on how much time you have, how confident you are with certain features such as on­line formative assessment, wikis, etc.. You can build in more features next session. If your site is a passive one in the first year, the requirement being to front load students with key knowledge/information, you may well need to make make it more interactive in subsequent years and provide spaces in which the students are freer to explore information and knowledge sources in a more independent mode of study.


2. The Students' Perspective

Try and put yourself in the position of a student:

  • Will they be very confident in their use of IT?
  • Will they have used an online learning environment before?
  • Will they have done electronic submission of essays and/or used Turnitin?
  • Will they have used a blog or a wiki or taken part in an online discussion?

3. Build A Module Skeleton

Create the organisational structure for your module – create a set of clearly labelled folders to hold module materials; plan a folder for every element of your outline including the assessment strategies and other items of module management. If you haven't created a structure of this kind before we suggest you have to hand plenty of sheets of paper on which you can create a template for your module structure.


4. Make An Outline

Match module components with dates and materials – this is crucial. Are you having formative assessment? If so, when? If not, why not? Make the outline in collaboration with colleagues who also teach your students – this is very important.


5. Prepare Your Materials

  • Gather the materials you need: handouts, slides, assessments, lecture notes
  • Get an idea of how much exists in digital format
  • If the development is as part of a team, work on your materails, learning outcomes and assessment criteria collaboratively
  • Book some consultancy time with an Instructional Designer. Plan to create folders that correspond with the main topics or sections of your module, and plan sub­folders as necessary (for instance, Week 1, Week 2 etc.). 

6. An Interesting Site

Why should students keep visiting the site? New and interesting things posted regularly alongside integration of the site into the Learning, Teaching and Assessment process will engage your learners. If you don’t bother, why should they?


7. How are you going to deliver the materials?

What is online and what isn’t? Decide whether you are going to use the Web to communicate with your students, or whether some part (or all of it) is actually going to involve learning on the Web. You might decide to supplement tutorials with online sessions; you might decide to offer the students formative assessment opportunities, delivered via Blackboard, that do not count towards the final mark.


8. Create A Blackboard Course

Visit Introduction to Blackboard & New Features to find out how.


9. Add Content & Information

Start putting the content/information in the appropriate folders; include a short description for each item, saying what it is and what relevance it has – spell it out for the students.


10. Add Staff Information

Get some information in about yourself, and anyone else associated with the module. You may want to add photos of the teaching staff members (this is not mandatory, but this is highly encouraged).


11. Incorporate Technology With Other Module Componenets

Post an introductory assignment – do it as a sort of digital icebreaker, ask them why they picked this unit, make it a requirement that they read each other's efforts (maybe not all of them). Creating an on­line community, such as a discussion board or wiki can often work very well. But be sure to make absolutely clear to students at the outset what your commitments as a tutor are regarding eLearning – such as the extent to which you will be participating in these online communities. Don't raise expectations that cannot be met. We need to use the technology to enhance communication but this does not mean increasing the tutor work load. Seek advice if you are new to this sort of thing. You might plan on adding one new topic to the discussion board on a regular basis – think it through, make sure it has legs, encourage students to follow up threads. Have some good quality external links already set up, get the students to find, evaluate and share sites by posting the appropriate details.


12. Create An Introductory Announcement

Post a welcome message, direct them to the areas they need to visit first such as the module outline, direct them to the location of the first assignment. Navigation to materials shoud be 'intuitive'.


13. Final Test

View the course site from a student's perspective – what use is it? Why should I revisit the site? And how often? Check that all of your links to external websites/material are working, you may want to ask a colleague to 'proof view' the course site. 


14. Implementation

Plan the implementation and introduction to students. Where will this be done? Will you need help? Is this the first time your students will have used Blackboard? Do you need to be in a computer room? Give students the URL and sort out their logins and passwords. Make the use of the site integral to the unit/module – if its use is purely optional few students will engage with it.


15. Review, Evaluate And Revise

You may want to include an online survey in your Blackboard course site for students to complete, whereby they offer feedback on the course site.


16. Back-Up Your Work

At the very least, you should have a printout of key pages so you know what is there. We recommend that you maintain a mirror (duplicate) file and folder structure of your site on your computer hard­drive or network storage space.