In the new version of Blackboard Learn (SP11) there’s a new tool called ‘Teaching Style’ located in the ‘Customization’ section of the ‘Control Panel’ that has some new options for customizing the organizational structure of your Blackboard (Bb) course. The purpose of that tool is to provide the instructor with a quick method for “jump-starting” the course design process, which includes automatic changes to course structure, menu style and layout, and content appearance and organization.
After selecting the ‘Teaching Style’ tool from the ‘Control Panel’ the instructor has seven options to consider. The first and certainly most influential is the ‘Course Structure’ option, which consists of a list of configuration templates designed to focus on specific teaching agendas, such as, activities, communication, or content. Basically, these templates are just different combinations of menu items, content items, folder hierarchy, and module content organization layouts configured to present a specific agenda.
The second and third options ‘Course Entry Point’ and ‘Course Theme’, respectively, are also important to the course design process and will be discussed briefly. The remaining four options are customization features that were available in previous version of Bb and will not be discussed. The primary focus of this article is to evaluate the potential impacts of using the tool, and in particular, the implications of applying a ‘Course Structure’ template to your course.
Clearly, the usefulness of the ‘Course Structure’ template to the course design process will vary considerably depending on the your proficiency in using Bb and understanding of instructional design. To understand what this means, consider the following scenarios:
Scenario 1: You are assigned to teach online, but have never taught online before. After requesting a new course in Blackboard you have three options: 1) Leave as is (default structure) and just add content; 2) Use the ‘Teaching Style’ tool to change the ‘Course Structure’ of the course, then add content; 3) Ask an Instructional Designer (ID) at CIRT for assistance in creating a custom template so you have logical places to add content.
So, you’re probably thinking that option-2 is perfectly suited for this type of instructor. After all, the purpose of the tool is to “jump-start” the design process, and for the most part that’s a neat idea. In fact, CIRT has created several course templates specifically for that purpose. However, the problem with Bb’s version of course templates is they come with a whole lot of additional baggage that the instructor has to deal with. This puts the new online instructor in a difficult situation because they have to make strategic decisions about what to keep and what to discard. And typically, if they could already make those decisions, there would little need for the templates in the first place. Also, the new instructor might spend a lot of time adding content into the new ‘Course Structure’ then realize it’s just not working out and want to start over from scratch, but at this point the content is dispersed in the template and will now require an additional effort to move it into some new organizational structure. The best option for a new instructor is to start with option-1, then at some point consider option-3.
Scenario 2: You have taught online before or have taught online for many years.
In most cases, instructors that have taught at least once will have already spent some time developing an organizational structure and would prefer not to toss those efforts for a new venture into a completely new course structure. These types of instructors are more likely to choose option-1, which involves leaving their course as it has been, then arranging to meet with an ID at CIRT for assistance in modifying/upgrading what is already in place.
Still, there is some usefulness in the tool for these types of instructors, but the implementation process is slightly different. Instead of scratching their existing course structure and applying Bb’s ‘Teaching Style’ to an existing course, they might consider creating a DEV course where they explore the different ‘Course Structure’ templates then decide whether to use them or not. In this process, instructors are using the tool to educate themselves on the possibilities rather than implementing them first and dealing with the issue later. Through this process the instructor might find bits and pieces of the template that are useful and would simply copy those pieces into their existing course structure.
Scenario 3: Instructor is a Master Certified Online Instructor or very experienced online instructor.
These instructors will be very proficient in using Bb, have an advanced understanding of instructional design, and be able to utilize all three options interchangeably. They will typically leave their courses as is, review Bb’s ‘Course Structure’ options, adapt new ideas from them, then consult an ID for new methods of implementation. Ultimately, these instructors will be proficient enough to offer their own versions of ‘Course Structure’ templates for others to use.
Now, a few points about the second and third options ‘Course Entry Point’ and ‘Course Theme’, respectively. Perhaps the logic behind having options to choose a ‘Course Entry Point’ is a bit ambiguous. For clarification, the ‘Entry Point’ is the first page a student sees when they enter your Bb course. As a best practice, that point should simply be the page connected to the first link in your navigation menu located in the left-sidebar of your course. Not some ambiguous page you select from the ‘Course Entry Point’ dropdown menu. For example, if ‘Home’ is the first link in your menu, then that should be the entry point. You wouldn’t want to change the entry point to something like ‘Announcements’ or ‘Learning Modules’ because that complicates the navigation process. If you change the ‘Course Entry Point’ to ‘Announcements’ then you should also configure the first link in the menu to point to the ‘Announcement’ tool. In general, the two best, and clearly most common entry points for courses in Bb are ‘Announcements’ or ‘Home’ and sometimes ‘Learning Modules’ if that satisfies some purpose.
The third option ‘Course Theme’ is just a visual theme that changes the background color, adds background designs, and applies some other artistic components to the course. You might enjoy the effects of this option, but before you decide to drastically change the appearance of your course, you might consider how this will impact the accessibility of course content for visual learners. Also, the visual oriented content you add to your course, such as, images, videos, animations, and avatars, might add additional levels of contrast that negatively impacting the visual appearance and accessibility of the course.
In conclusion, the main factors to consider when deciding whether or not to use the ‘Teaching Style’ tool is the amount of time you have to devote toward course design versus content development, your proficiency in using Bb, and your understanding of instructional design.
For more information about using the ‘Teaching Style’ tool in your course contact email@example.com.