As of Summer 2013, all online and hybrid courses taught at UNM will use the Blackboard Learn virtual learning environment. Because students and faculty will naturally use it in different ways, two user guides are available, suited to the different ways in which students and faculty must interact with the Learn environment. What follows is intended as a guided tour of the interfaces, features, tools, and options that are available to instructors within UNM Learn. For a similar guide geared toward the student role, see UNM Blackboard Learn for Students. If you have questions about Blackboard Learn that are not addressed in this introductory guide, please refer to the software developer’s comprehensive Blackboard Help for Instructors.
For PDF versions of our complete instructor Learn support, please visit the UNM Learn Tutorials page.
Before creating a course, it is important to consider the structure of that course within UNM Learn. It should be student-friendly and easy to navigate. For any given week, students must be able to find all information, assignments, and quizzes in a single area. The alternative – a setup that is not intuitive and/or consistent with familiar precedents – runs the risk that students will overlook an assignment or lecture. This document describes best practices for online course design using UNM Learn. We recommend that your course be arranged as similarly as possible to the following example.
Every course needs a Home Page. This is the landing area that students see every time they log into your course. We recommend a content-based Home Page that includes the course content, such as weekly modules containing assignments, readings, and assessments. Whatever format you choose for your Home Page, be sure to name it in an unambiguous way (e.g. “Home Page” or “Course Information”) that makes clear it is the course starting point. See Course Dashboard Page and Course Information Page below for guidelines on setting up each style of Home Page.
The Course Dashboard is a module page that features course-specific versions of the modules discussed earlier that appear on the in the contains premade course modules. This page should be configured to draw students’ attention to new announcements and help them locate upcoming assignments and quizzes. Choose course modules for this page depending on what UNM Learn features (e.g. Calendar, To-Do, etc.) you use and want students to use. The course dashboard page should contain at least the following course modules: Announcements, Messages, and What’s New (displays new assignments, announcements, and assessments that have been posted). These course modules will help students to see what new assignments, announcements, and assessments have been created recently, and when they will be due. Additional modules, such as Calendar, and To-Do can provide students with useful updates, but only if the instructor uses the underlying features. Take some time to explore the various modules to learn how they will work best in your course.
Please note that when using the Calendar course module, calendar events must be added manually. The calendar does not update automatically when new announcements, quizzes, or assignments are created.
The Course Information page should be the primary reference for students to access details and resources relevant to the course. The Course Information page should begin with an Item featuring contact information for the instructor(s) (e.g. name, preferred email, phone number, and office hours) and any other important references, followed by links to the current course syllabus and schedule, and any course content (e.g. orientation Video, Learning Modules, etc.).
Example Layout of Course Information Page:>>Instructor Information
The following guidelines will aid in customizing a Learn course:
When selecting a course theme, choose something with limited color. The Default Theme is ideal, as it is optimized for readability. The Steel Theme is also readable. However, most of the other themes make reading information and navigating the course site difficult for students. If in doubt, use the Default.
When selecting a course theme, use the shortcut at the top of any page. There is a small fanned out paint palette icon just to the left of the Edit Mode button. Clicking on the paint palette icon will open a list of all available themes. Selecting a theme from here will set the site theme.
When customizing the home page (Customize Page button near top right of the home page), be sure to use a color scheme that is clearly visible. The UNM and Default Palettes are ideal. They can be found in the Palette Library, which is displayed when the Custom Page button is selected. The Winter Palette is also acceptable.
Whenever an option appears that allows a text color to be set (ex. when creating an item, the color of the name can be set, etc.), be sure that the color is readable. Darker colors such as black, navy blue, dark gray, etc. are ideal.
Always preview anything that is posted to ensure that all content can be easily read, that it is formatted correctly, and that it is coherent. This will avoid questions from students about content.
It is important to present items in the course menu in a logical order for ease of navigation. There are two ways to reorder items in the sidebar. They can be found in the “Quick References” portion of the UNM Learn User Guide. The course Home Page will always be the top-most item. If you have both a course information-oriented content area page and a dashboard-style module page, place the one you want students to see most often at the top. A Course Dashboard filled with time-sensitive course modules (e.g. Announcements, What’s New, etc.) is a logical choice for the Home Page because it must be seen at every login in order to be useful. A Course Information content area page is a good choice for the second link because it provides convenient access to information that will be referenced for the duration of the course.
Example Left-Hand Menu:Course Dashboard (a module page with Announcements, Messages, To-Do, etc.)
This layout can be changed to include other relevant links. As long as the course menu is of a manageable length (i.e. can be viewed on one page without scrolling) and logically organized, it should be easy for students to navigate. Use dividers to separate course information into sections by category and break the menu up visually (three or four sections is ideal). Avoid inadvertently burying frequently accessed items by placing them low on the list or grouping with links of limited relevance.
It is a good idea to include a link to the Learn support page managed by UNM New Media & Extended Learning: http://online.unm.edu/help/learn/support/. This is where students can obtain technical support for Learn direct from the UNM staff behind UNM’s online and distance education technologies. This link can be added to the left-hand menu or to the Course Information page.
It is recommended to use the Common Course Syllabus Template with your specific course information appended to it. This template was specifically designed to make the syllabus easier to read and navigate. An example syllabus can be viewed in the Syllabus Best Practices Document. The syllabus template is available for download on myASM Distance Learning Shared Documents Folder SharePoint Page.
Please see the UNM Learn Syllabus Best Practices document for an example of how to properly fill in and format a syllabus for a course.
Every UNM Learn course should include an instructor orientation video. This video should introduce the instructor(s) teaching the course, go over the syllabus and course schedule, make note of what needs to be accomplished the first week of courses, and make clear what will be required of students in order to succeed in the class. Recording the video is also a good opportunity to explain the use of specific resources, familiarize students with the instructor’s way of doing things, and provide a brief “tour” of the course as it is laid out in UNM Learn. The orientation video is a critical starting point for distance learning courses and helps set the pace for the class.
Each week of class should have its own Learning Module (not to be confused with the Course Modules mentioned above). The learning module contains all information students will need for the week’s lesson(s), including filmed lectures, notes, PowerPoint slides, assignments, quizzes, and other relevant links. Centralizing this information ensures students have all of the learning resources they need in one convenient area. The Learning Modules can be designed so that students must work through the content sequentially, although it is more student-friendly to allow the students to work through the content at their own pace and in the order of their choice. See “Creating Learning Modules” in the UNM Learn User Guide for details.
The collected Learning Modules should be featured prominently in the course layout for easy access by students. They can be created and housed directly on a Course Information page or on a dedicated – and conspicuously titled (e.g. “Course Content”) — content area page. Wherever the Learning Modules are housed, keep in mind that these can be linked from other areas of the course, including the Course Information page and the left-hand sidebar.
Example Learning Module Setup:>> “Course Information” or “Course Content” page
If the Course Information page is particularly full, browsing a list of Learning Modules at the bottom of such a page may require excessive scrolling. In this case, Learning Modules can be placed inside a conspicuously labeled (e.g. “Weekly Lessons”) Content Folder on the homepage. See “Creating Content Folders” within the UNM Learn User Guide for more information. Wherever Learning Modules are stored, make sure their location is obvious to all students from day one.
Example Learning Module Setup (within a Content Folder):>>Course Information (or Home Page)
Learning modules may be created ahead of time for a course, and hidden via the visibility option within the individual Learning Modules. The Learning Module can then be set to be visible to students when the corresponding week of class arrives.
Please see the UNM Learn Assessments Best Practices document for more information about setting up and formatting assessments.