(For more resources related to this topic, see here.)
Courses in Blackboard Learn
The basic structure of any learning management system relies on the basic course, or course shell. A course shell holds all the information and communication that goes on within our course and is the central location for all activities between students and instructors.
Let's think about our course shell as a virtual house or apartment. A house or apartment is made up of different rooms where we put things that we use in our everyday life. These rooms such as the living room, kitchen, or bedrooms can be compared to content areas within our course shell. Within each of these content areas, there are items such as telephones, dishwashers, computers, or televisions that we use to interact, communicate, or complete tasks. These items would be called course tools within the course shell. These content areas and tools are available within our course shells and we can use them in the same ways. While as administrators, we won't take a deep dive into all these tools; we should know that they are available and instructors use them within their courses.
Blackboard Learn offers many different ways to create courses, but to help simplify our discussion, we will classify those ways in two categories, basic and advanced. This article will discuss the course creation options that we classify as basic.
Course names and course IDs
When we get ready to create a course in Blackboard Learn, the system requires a few items. It requires a course name and a course ID. The first one should be self-explanatory. If you are teaching a course on "Underwater Basket Weaving" (a hobby I highly recommend), you would simply place this information into the course name. Now the course ID is a bit trickier. Think of it like a barcode that you can find on your favorite cereal. That barcode is unique and tells the checkout scanner the item you have purchased. The course ID has a similar function in Blackboard Learn. It must be unique; so if you plan to have multiple courses on "Underwater Basket Weaving", you will need to figure out a way to express the differences in each course ID.
We just talked about how each course ID in Blackboard has to be unique. We as administrators will find that most Blackboard Learn instances we deal with have numerous course shells. Providing multiple courses to the users might become difficult. So we should consider creating a course ID naming convention if one isn't already in place. Our conversation will not tell you which naming convention will be best for your organization, but here are some helpful tips for us to start with:
- Use a symbol to separate words, acronyms, and numbers from one another. Some admins may use an underscore, period, or dash. However, whitespace, percent, ampersand, less than, greater than, equals, or plus characters are not accepted within course IDs.
- If you plan to collect reporting data from your instance, make sure to include the term or session and department in the course ID.
- Collect input from people and teams within your organization who will enroll and support users. Their feedback about a course's naming convention will help it be successful.
Many organizations use a student information system, (SIS), which manages the enrollment process.
Default course properties
The first item in our Course Settings area allows us to set up several of the default access options within our courses. The Default Course Properties page covers when and who has access to a course by default.
- Available by Default: This option gives us the ability to have a course available to enrolled students when it is created. Most administrators will have this set to No, since the instructor may not want to immediately give access to the course.
- Allow Guests by Default and Allow Observers by Default: The next options allow us to set guest and observer access to created courses by default. Most administrators normally set these to No because the guest access and observer role aren't used by their organizations.
- Default Enrollment Options: We can set default enrollment options to either allow the instructor or system administrator to enroll students or allow the student to self enroll. If we choose the former, we can give the student the ability to e-mail the instructor to request access. If we set Self Enrollment, we can set dates when this option is available and even set a default access code for students to use when they can self enroll. Now that we have these two options for default enrollment, most administrators would suggest setting the default course enrollment option to instructors or system administrators, which will allow instructors to set self enrollment within their own course.
- Default Duration: The Continuous option allows the course to run continuously with no start or end date set. Select Dates sets specific start and end dates for all courses. The last option called Days from the Date of Enrollment sets courses to run for a specific number of days after the student was enrolled within our Blackboard Learn environment. This is helpful if a student self enrolls in a self-paced course with a set number of days to complete it.
Pitfalls of setting start and end dates
When using the Start and End dates to control course duration, we may find that all users enrolled within the course will lose access.
Course themes and icons
If we are using the Blackboard 2012 theme, we have the ability to enable course themes within our Blackboard instance. These themes are created by Blackboard and can be applied to an instructor's course by clicking on the theme icon, seen in the following screenshot, in the upper-right corner of the content area while in a course. They have a wide variety of options, but currently administrators cannot create custom course themes.
We can also select which icon sets courses will use by default in our Blackboard instance. These icon themes are created by Blackboard and will appear beside different content items and tools within the course. In the following screenshot, we can see some of the icons that make up one of the sets. Unlike the course themes, these icons will be enforced across the entire instance.
The Course Tools area offers us the ability to set what tools and content items are available within courses by default. We can also control these settings along with organizations and system tools by clicking on the Tools link under the Tools and Utilities module. Let's review what tools are available and how to enable and disable them within our courses.
The options we use to set course tools are exactly same as those used in the Tools area we just mentioned. Use the information provided here to set tool availability with a page.
Let's take a more detailed look into the default availability setting within this page. We have four options for each tool. Every tool has the same options.
- Default On: A course automatically has this tool available to users, but an instructor or leader can disable the tool within it
- Default Off: Users in a course will not have access to this tool by default, but the instructor or leader can enable it
- Always On: Instructors or leaders are unable to turn this tool off in their course or organization
- Always Off: Users do not see this tool in a course or organization, nor can the instructor or leader turn it on within the course
Once we make the changes, we must click on the Submit button.
Quick Setup Guide
The Quick Setup Guide page was introduced into Blackboard 9.1 Service Pack 8. As seen in the following screenshot, it offers instructors the basic introduction into the course if they have never used Blackboard before. Most of the links are to the content from the On Demand area of the Blackboard website. We as administrators can disable this from appearing when an instructor enters the course. If we leave the guide enabled, we can add custom text to the guide, which can help educate instructors about changes, help, and support available from our organization.
We can continue to customize default look and feel of our course shells with images in the course entry point and at the top of the menu. We might use these images to spotlight that our organization has been honored with an award. Here we find an example of how these images would look.
Two images can be located at the bottom of the course entry page, which is the page we see after entering a course. Another image can be located at the top of the course menu. This area also allows us to make these images linkable to a website. Here's an example.
Default course size limits
We can also create a default course size limit for the course and the course export and archive packages within this area. Course Size Limits allows administrators to control storage space, which may be limited in some instances. When a course size limit is within 10 percent of being reached, the administrator and instructor get an e-mail notification. This notification is triggered by the disk usage task that runs once a day. After getting the notification, the instructor can remove content from the course, or the administrator can increase the course quota for that specific course.
- Maximum Course disk size: This option sets the amount of disk space a course shell can use for storage. This includes all course and student files within the course shell.
- Maximum Course Package Size: This sets the maximum amount of content from the Course Files area included in a course copy, export, or archive.
Grade Center settings
This area allows us to set default controls over the Grade History portion of the Grade Center. Grade history is exactly what it says. It keeps a history of the changes within the Grade Center. Most administrators recommend having grade history enabled by default because of the historical benefits. There may be a discussion within your organization to permit instructors to disable this feature within their course or clear the history altogether.
Course menu and structures
The course menu offers the main navigation for any course user. Our organization can create a default course menu layout for all new course shells created based on the input from instructional designers and pedagogical experts. As seen in the following screenshot, we simply edit the default menu that appears on this page.
As administrators, we should pay close attention when creating a default course menu. Any additions or removals to the default menu are automatically changed without clicking on the Submit or Cancel buttons, and are applied to any courses created from that point forward.
Blackboard recently introduced course structures. If enabled, these pre-built course menus are available to the instructor within their course's control panel. The course structures fall into a number of different course instruction scenarios. An example of the course structure selection interface is shown in the following screenshot:
Default notification settings
As administrators, this area gives us the ability to set up how notifications are sent out system wide. These notifications are based on course actions or due dates such as when a new assignment in the course is available or a test is nearing its due date for completion. These notifications can be sent to a user by an e-mail or text, or displayed in the users's dashboard module. The system defaults have every option turned on by default in the student's dashboard. We can make changes to these options as we see fit.
Default grading schema
Many institutions use different grading scales or schemas for their instructions. This area allows you to set a default schema that is available to all courses globally. So if we make a change to this schema, it will be applied to all courses created from that point forward, but not to courses already created. Any changes can greatly affect students' grades and instructor's grading options within current courses, which requires caution.
Creating a course catalog structure
Some organizations list and group their courses by departments or other internal structures. Sometimes, a possible student may want to look at the different courses our organization offers online with Blackboard Learn. He or she might even want to look within a course to see what makes up an online course. The Course Catalog tool allows us to create a structure similar to folders, which can contain courses. This is the primary way that the Blackboard Learn environment allows anyone without a username and password to look around and possibly see course content available to guests.
We can start by going into the Course Catalog area by clicking on its link within the Courses module. We then click on the Create Category button to open the following page.
Now, we will add a new category that will be displayed in our Course Catalog. We will put in our Category Name, which will be a broad topic; it might be the name of a school, department, or training topic within your organization. We will then put in a category ID, which will be internally used by our Blackboard instance. We also have the option to add a description that will be displayed with our category. We can force our category to be displayed in the top level of the catalog instead of having a user to search through sub-categories to find our course listing. We also have the ability to make this category unavailable system wide and can use institutional role permissions within our Blackboard instance to restrict or permit access to this category. If we want to create a sub-category, we would simply click on the name of the category we just created and use the same process to create it. Later in this article, we will learn how to put our courses into these categories. In the following screenshot, we can see the Widget Making course category is a sub-category of Engineering, which is a top-level category.
The Terms option offers the ability for administrators to group and control the availability of courses being offered. This is done by creating term identifiers based on a time frame. We can create terms in a way similar to the process of creating course categories. In our example, we will create two terms for our courses. Courses that are currently being taught and courses that were taught in the last term.
A term is a set time such as a semester, session, or academic year that courses within our Blackboard Learn instance are associated with. For example, spring, summer, fall, or winter terms at a college or university.
We must first give the term a name. This name will be displayed in the My Courses module to help aggregate courses by our term. Here we can also add a description for this term. Below the description, there are three lines of information.
The next options allow the term to have control over the availability and duration of courses. The following screenshot shows our first option to set the duration of the term. It can be continuous, based on a date range, or set on the days after the user's initial enrollment. Once our options are set, simply click on Submit. We will discuss how to associate our manually created courses later in this article.
Searching for courses in Blackboard
Now that we have reviewed all the course settings, we'll start with the Courses link. This link within the Courses module gives us the ability to find and search for any course within the system. It doesn't matter whether it's available to users or not, we can use multiple options to search for course shells within our Blackboard instance. We can search by:
- Course ID: A set of numbers, letters, and symbols that create a unique identifier to a course shell within Blackboard Learn
- Course Name: The name, such as "Underwater Basket Weaving", that a course shell is given within Blackboard Learn
- Description: A few sentences that describe the course to users
- Instructor: The user ID of the user or users who teach the course within Blackboard Learn
- Data Source Key: A set of numbers, letters, and symbols used in snapshot and SIS integrations
- Term: The time frame that a course maybe associated with
Our next search option allows the user to set how the search criteria will be used:
- Contains: The search term appears anywhere within the selected field
- Equal to: The search term matches the selected field
- Starts with: The search term appears at the start of the selected field
- Not blank: When selected and the search term is left blank, the search returns all courses in Blackboard Learn
We can also set what courses are returned in our search by setting the Date Created option. We have an option to select before or after a specific date.
Creating single courses in Blackboard
Now that we have reviewed how to search for courses, we need to create a course to search. This requires us to click on the Create Course button and select the New option as shown in the following screenshot:
We arrive at the page shown in the following screenshot. This page asks for a course ID (which we talked about earlier), a course name (this is the name users will see and click on in their My Courses and Course List modules to access the course), and an optional description. We also have the ability to select a subject area and discipline for the course that some long-term Blackboard environments might have customized, but may have been ignored by some organizations. We can also set the term for the course using the drop-down menu.
Courses also have to be made available for users to access them. These settings should mirror our default course settings we learned about earlier, but we can change them here as well. We can go ahead and make the course available when the course is created, if we wish. The duration of the course can also be set using the following options:
- Continuous: This duration allows the course to be available and not tied to any date
- Select Dates: This option will keep the course open to student users from the selected start and end dates
- Days from the Date of Enrollment: This allows student users to have course access for a specified number of days from their enrollment within the course. Courses can also give guest users access to review a course before enrolling by setting Guest Permitted to Yes. Our course can also be categorized using the course catalog that we created earlier. Here we can click on the category or categories we want our course to be associated with and then click on the button pointing to the right between the two columns to move the selected category or categories over.
The next option allows us to add a banner to our course. A banner is a graphic image that appears at the top of the announcements or homepage. The banner can give student users a visual clue telling them which course they are in; see an example of a banner in the following screenshot:
Next, we can insert a course cartridge download key. A course cartridge normally comes from a publisher and adds content to a course. The content can vary greatly from publisher to publisher, but it can include PowerPoint files, games, or simulations. Student users must have an access code that can be purchased separately or with their textbooks. Some instructors find this content valuable to students, however sometimes the content lacks the interactivity that many online users want. An excellent suggestion when discussing course cartridges with instructors is to create a temporary course shell where they can review what content will be added to the course. They can then make a decision on if that content will benefit their instructions and students. In the following screenshot, we can see how to add a banner and course cartridge key to our course creation process.
Our course can also select from two different options when it comes to enrollments. The first option is to have the instructor or system administrator to enroll student users into a course. This option is how the majority of enrollments are done. The other option, called Self Enrollment, requires users to go and search for the course. Users can do this by using the course catalog or the course search module. They then will have to click on the Enroll button to be enrolled in the course. We can add an additional requirement for this self-enrollment option by adding an access code.
The Language Pack option allows us to apply a language to our course. If we select a new language, this will only change the titles and instructions that the Blackboard application controls. We also have the ability to enforce the course language pack, which overrides the user's language pack and the system language pack. Many times instructors use this option when teaching courses in foreign languages. The following screenshot shows how the enrollment and language pack options appear on the webpage:
Now that we have dealt with many of the items, with the delivery of this course we can move onto the visual layout of our course menu. The course menu will show our instance's default style, however we can change the style to use either buttons or text and select the color or style of either option. When doing this, we must make sure that every student will be able to read the text clearly. So when using a dark colored background, we should use white- or light-colored text and those colors should be visible to color blind users.
The final option on our new course page is for setting the default content view. These options control how items in a course content area are displayed.
- Icon Only: This option will display just the icon and the title. If you have ever used WebCT, this option mimics the look of that application. If the users wants to read the description, they can simply click on the icon.
- Text Only: This option displays the same information as icon and text, but without the icon.
- Icon and Text: This is the default option. When selected, it displays the icon, text, and description in the content area.
Most instructors find the icon as a key visual cue to student users, so we would want to suggest using either the icon or icon and text. In the following screenshot, we can see how the menu style and content view options appear on the page:
Now that we have selected all our options, we can now click on the Submit button. The course has been created in our Blackboard instance. Our instance takes us back to the courses page and a green success bar appears letting us know the course has been created. We can see an example of this bar in the following screenshot:
Creating courses using the batch course creation tool
We have walked through the process to create a single course, however we as administrators normally need to create more than one course at a time. This situation requires the use of the batch course creation tool within Blackboard. Before we create our courses using this tool, we must create the file that lists these courses.
The file will be delimited using a comma, tab, or colon to separate the different fields within our file. Using our file, we can add information such as COURSE ID, course name, course description, button style/color, initial announcement, announcement title, and course category. Each of our courses may not require all this information and we can leave some of these items blank. The only items required by our instance are the course id and course name. Here is a sample of a batch course creation file that is comma delimited.
TEST-COURSE-001,Test Course A
TEST-COURSE-002,Test Course B,This is the course description
TEST-COURSE-003,Test Course C,This is the course
TEST-COURSE-004,Test Course - Marketing,This is the course description
,#CCCC00/#003300,Welcome to this course.,Course Welcome,
TEST-COURSE-005,Test Course - Marketing,This is the course
description, #CCCC00/#003300,Welcome to this course.,Course
The following screenshot shows the first options we have on our Batch Enrollment page. Here we should browse and select our file to create batch courses. Then we should select the delimiter type, or just leave it to Automatic.
Our next option, seen in the following screenshot, allows us to set the course menu style if one hasn't been set within the batch file. Now, we can click on Submit and the file will be processed.
The process then will display any errors that occurred. Note any issues that might have caused a course not to be created properly, and then click on OK. An example of the error is shown in the following screenshot:
We should address another option to create courses within our Blackboard instance. This option is called the course wizard. It offers a six-step process, which breaks up the options used when we created a single course earlier. Most administrators don't use this tool because it is easier to use the other processes we have as administrators, however we as Blackboard Learn admins can allow instructors to use Create Course Wizard.
Importing content into a new course
Now that we know how to create blank course shells, let's move on to learn how to add or include content that may come from a previously taught course. We can import content that has been exported from a previous course and saved in the common cartridge or Blackboard Learn formats. The common cartridge format was created to promote sharing across learning management systems by the IMS Global Learning Consortium. Either of these export formats from a previous course will work in the same manner when importing content into a new or existing course shell.
We can use Import Package to create a new course using the package content, or import the package content into an existing course. Our first option asks for Destination Course ID. If we are importing this information for a new course, we can put our new course ID in this box. If we want to import content into an existing course, we can simply type or paste it into the textbox or click on the Browse button where we get options similar to those in our course search area to find the course. After our search, simply click on the radio button beside the course ID and course name, and then click on Submit as shown in the following screenshot:
The next step requires us to select the .zip or .imscc file that contains our course content from a previously taught course that we exported. Simply click on the Choose File button and search your filesystem. Once selected, click on Open and the file will be displayed on the page. We should use caution when trying to import a very large course. If the file is larger than two gigabytes, the upload may fail. Files larger than this should use the command-line import tool.
After selecting the file, we must decide what imported content needs to come into the new Blackboard course. We simply select the items we want to add from our file. Most administrators use the Select All button to make sure all the content that the instructor wants will be there. Then the user can remove unwanted content.
Importing or copying content for disabled tools
If a tool, such as announcements, has been disabled within our Blackboard Learn environment, we will not see the option to import or copy that content into our instance.
Then click on Submit to start the process. The import process will then be put into a queue to run as a background task within Blackboard Learn. This allows our instance to control how much load is given to these tasks. Once our import finishes, our instance sends an e-mail to the task creator. This e-mail informs the creator that the import has finished and will include information about the import process. The process might have generated some errors; those errors will be listed in the e-mail for us to review and troubleshoot. When you enter our newly imported course, you will find an orange bar at the top of the content area; it gives the same information found in the e-mail along with an option to download the detailed log of the course import.
Copying content into a new or existing course
At times, we may want to copy some or all of the content from one course to another course. Blackboard offers the Copy Course tool for this situation. The copy course tool is available in the Courses area under the Courses module in our System Admin tab. We start the process by clicking on the Copy Course button at the top of the page beside the Import Package button.
Our first option in this process requires us to select the copy type. We can copy course content into a new course or existing one. These options will only copy selected content and configuration of tools from the source course to the destination one; we will learn how to select those items in a bit. The last option allows us to copy all content and configuration settings, including the student users and their content. Blackboard Learn calls this option an exact copy.
Once we select the copy type, our next option requires us to find the source and destination course ID. We have the same options found when we selected the course ID when we were importing content into a new course. Either we can type or paste the course ID into the source course ID and the destination course ID. If we don't know either of these, we can simply click on the Browse button and our Search window will open up. After selecting these two options, click on Submit to move on.
The next step in the copying process requires us to select what content, tools, and settings we want to copy from our source course into the destination course. Let's review what items we can copy over to our new course.
- Content Areas: When selecting this option, the process will copy course materials such as uploaded files, learning modules, and links. We have the ability to specify what content areas we want to copy over.
- Adaptive Release Rules for Content: This option allows us to copy adaptive release rules, however the rules that require user or assignment submissions will only work when the Grade Center is copied over as well.
- Announcements: The process will copy over all announcements from the source course.
- Tests, Surveys, and Pools: All tests and surveys are copied over from the source course including the questions and deployment options. Pools are all copied over as well.
- Calendar: All calendar items are copied to the destination course.
- Discussion Board: The forums are copied along with threads and replies within in each forum.
- Grade Center Items and Settings: This option copies items in the Grade Center along with the settings for each one.
- Group Settings: Group names, tools availability settings, and discussion board forum names are copied over when this option is selected.
- Contacts: All contacts are copied over to the destination course.
- Course Settings: These items are copied when selected: tools (both Blackboard and building block),content tools, course registry, and proxy tools. When copying into a new course, the course name and description will be copied over along with the items previously listed.
- Availability: This option copies the availability status and term association of the source course.
- Banner Image: The process will copy the course banner to our destination course.
- Course Guest Access: The course guest access settings from the source course will be copied over.
- Course Observer Access: The access settings for course observers will be copied to the destination course.
- Duration: The duration properties such as continuous, start and end dates, days from date of enrolment, and term association will be copied.
- Enrollment Options: The source options for enrollment in the source course will be applied to the destination course.
- Language Pack: The selected and enforced language pack settings are copied from the source course.
- Navigation Settings: This option copies the background and text colors along with the button types from the source course.
- Course Cartridge Materials: Content imported from a course cartridge will be copied from the source course. This option appears when the source course contains a course cartridge and the destination course does not.
We can simply select the items we want to copy over or click on the Select All button at the top of the list.
Now that we have selected what items we want to bring over in the copy process, we can calculate the size of the new course. This can be very helpful if course quotas are enforced. Sometimes a faculty member may have many items in the course filesystem and some of those files may no longer be needed. We can remove specific files from the copy by clicking on the Manage Package Contents button. This will open a new window that shows us the files within our source course. Here we can select what files and directories should be copied. When we check the box to the right of the Manage Package Contents button, any files within our source course that aren't linked within any course content area being copied will not be brought over.
Our final option, as shown in the following screenshot, gives us the ability to copy the users that are enrolled in our source course. This does not bring grades or other user content, however only an exact course copy is brought. We can now click on the Submit button and just as the course import, the copy goes into the queue of background tasks. We will be notified via an e-mail once the course copy completes.
The import and copy processes offer the administrator the ability to bring specific content into a new or existing course. However, there are a few items we should learn about that could affect our results and also the expectations of instructors.
- Copying a course time and time again can create corruption issues. We mentioned this issue in our New shells versus. recycling conversation. The more number of times an item is copied, the greater is a chance for this. As an administrator, we need to be careful of this issue.
- When user enrollments are not copied over, information posted within tools such as discussion boards and announcements will be shown as posted by the user who ran the course copy or import process or it will display anonymous in the name fields.
- Course copies and imports will copy over all due date and date restrictive information as well and will not change based on the course's start or end dates.
As we learned in this article, creating courses in our Blackboard Learn instance can require a lot of planning and configuring. As administrators, we need to create a standard naming convention for our courses to help us find and access them easily. Then courses require us to create default settings that dictate what tools are available and how the course appears to the student user. Once we are ready to make a course, we have several ways to do so. We also have the ability to move contents and settings from one course to another within Blackboard Learn or bring content from another Blackboard instance or other LMS using the common cartridge format.
Resources for Article:
- Blackboard Essentials for Teachers - Assignments for Students [Article]
- Setting Up Your Profile [Article]
- Adding Interactive Course Material in Moodle 1.9: Part 2 [Article]