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Instructional Design

Due Dates –

As you work on your courses and consider when to make items due, you might consider the fact that SE does NOT have 24 hour technical support.

It is common to make items due at midnight, which is not bad UNLESS there is a problem. As the instructor, you can make items due at any time on any day you choose, and as long as you are consistent, your students will meet those deadlines.  With this in mind, you might consider two things: first, when there are problems, we use nights and weekends to correct those problems. So if the system is going to shut down for any reason, it will probably shut down in the middle of the night. Second, whether it is  a system problem or an individual technical problem, there is no one to call at midnight. So rather than making assignments due at midnight, you might consider making them due at 9:00 a.m. the next week day, or by 4:00 p.m., for example.

If you really like your midnight deadlines, you might consider another option. In your syllabus you might make a statement to this effect: “In the case of technical errors, assignments will not be counted late until 10:00 a.m. the next business day. In order for this to apply, you must take a screen shot or video of the error and immediately email it to your instructor to provide demonstration, verification, error codes, and a time stamp. If this email documentation is not provided, the extended deadline will not apply.” As you receive such emails, you are welcome to forward them on to me to resolve any problems. This required verification will eliminate many instances when students claim to have errors when they really just didn’t do the work.

Early Syllabus

Once students are in Bb, you can send out emails to everyone even if the course has not been made available yet. Some teachers like to email the syllabus up to a week before classes begin. That week is usually full of anticipation and excitement, and many students WANT to get as much information about their courses as possible. Teachers who have done this have reported that it has cut down on the number of students who drop during the first week of class and that students are more likely to have their books or other materials when the class begins.

Video Your Screen

In a face-to-face class, you might pull up a website on the projector and demonstrate to your students what they are expected to do. Do you provide your online students the same service? A free program called Jing will allow you video what is on your screen for up to 5 minutes. Click HERE to watch a video (4:12), and I will show you where to get it and how to use it.

Course Development 

Consider this video your pep talk! Hopefully it will help you re-focus and get you ready to jump into course designing! ???? In the video, I will remind you of the basics of course design as well as show you how to use BlackBoard to build pre-requisite materials into a course. I will also mention some considerations regarding online courses(Also, today’s video might give you some good ideas of things that Camtasia is capable of in case you are interested in learning to use it and creating some videos for your own classes.)
Remember, that every course, including face-to-face courses, can use BlackBoard, and I am here to help if you would like to implement any creative ideas!

I have also attached Course Planning Worksheets. The first page is just a think sheet (if you are interested) to help you effectively plan your course. It accompanies today’s video. The second, third, and fourth pages are tables for class schedules with columns for the class date and assignments. The dates for Fall 2014 are already filled in, with the dates for holidays, assessment day, and fall break already omitted. Page two is for Tuesday/Thursday classes. Page three is for Monday/Wednesday/Friday classes. Page 4 for is Online classes. You can use these tables to make planning notes just for yourself, or you could fill them in and attach them to your syllabus.

I hope this makes planning your courses a little easier! Let me know if there is anything I can help you with!


Wordle is a FUN tool you can use in many ways in your class! Students can convert their notes into a wordle and quickly recognize key points. A teacher can make a wordle form a story students will read and ask them to make predictions about the story based on the most frequently used words. If you require students to free write as a form of pre-writing, they can copy their free writing into wordle to quickly see some focus areas they could then use in their writing. Too see a demonstration of wordle, click HERE! To see a pre-writing activity assignment that incorporates Wordle (and MindMup), click HERE!


Students tend to wait until the last minute to do their work (so do most of us…). It’s a common problem we call procrastination. The problem is compounded when what we thought was “the last minute” was actually a minute too late. Below are a few ideas that might help the students and instructors better communicate expectations – which will hopefully result in a higher success rate among students.

    1. DEFINE the “last minute.” In other words, as part of your assignment instructions, you could tell them approximately how long the assignment should take to complete. This could be done on individual assignments, content folders, or as a general rule in the syllabus. If you have warned the students that a project should take about 5 hours to complete, they are likely to start 4 hours earlier than they would have. If you state in the syllabus that they should expect to spend 3-5 hours (or more, or less) each week completing work outside the classroom, they will plan that from the beginning and budget their time accordingly.
    2. Be consistent. If you begin the semester with no homework and end the semester with 5 hours a night, your students will get behind because they did not budget that time from the beginning. That doesn’t mean that you need to overwhelm them with hours of work from the beginning, but it does mean that if you tell them to expect 3 hours of work each week and then they have none for the first month, they will change their expectations and make other plans to fill that time.Your actions speak louder than your syllabus. 
    3. Address procrastination directly. Below are some links to resources you might share with your class. You might consider asking your students to read a handout or article and then write an anti-procrastination commitment the first week of class.


In a face-to-face class, how much time do you spend repeating yourself? The very format of a single class is repetitive as we state the objective of the class, then cover the topic, and then review. If there is an assignment due, I might tell them at the beginning, refer to it often, explain it directly, and then remind them at the end of class as well as other class days after that. We also repeat concepts often. *I can’t tell you how often I review the comma rules!

Often our online classes miss out on that repetition. We post the due date in one place: the syllabus. We give instructions once. We present concepts once. This approach is more like compiling a book than teaching a class. As teachers, we need to guide the students through the learning process. Look for multiple strategies to teach concepts and multiple locations to place important information. (Announcements are a great tool because students can receive them in 4 different places.)

The more often they see and the easier it is to find information, the better your students will do. Keep this as mind as you consider the organization of your course and design your lessons!

What do we NEED to Remember?

In a session of BlackBoard World 2014 called “Successfully Leveraging Training on Demand” by Alex McDaniel from MSU Denver, we were asked to remember when we remembered every phone number that we used on a regular basis. The speaker then asked how many of us know all those numbers now. How many phone numbers did you have memorized once upon a time? How many do you have memorized now? Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
Now that we can store those numbers in our phones and access them so easily, we don’t NEED to have them memorized. The context of this particular presentation was intended for Bb Administrators and Instructional Designers to have patience with you, the faculty, for not remembering how to do things in Bb. ???? His recommendation was to make short video tutorials for easy access, like the ones I have sent (which are also available on the CIDT website now). The reality is that there are a lot of things we don’t NEED to remember. Instead, we just need easy access to the information – to have it when we do need it.

The same principle is true for our students. There are some things they NEED to remember. There are some things they just need easy access to. WE need to figure out which category each piece of information falls under and make it clear to them what their expectations are. 

If I were to assess you on your skills using a phone, you probably hope I don’t quiz you on specific phone numbers. Instead, what do you think would REALLY tell me whether you are competent or not? Consider this with your assessments. Are your assessments just a scare tactic, something to pressure them into “cramming”? Or do they gather quality data – qualitative and quantitative? Do the assessments reinforce in the students’ minds what is most important – what NEEDS to be remembered? Keep this in mind as you plan your course!

If you are in the mood for a laugh, watch the video used to introduce Alex McDaniel’s presentation at Bb World: “Kids React to Rotary Phones.”

Online Mind Mapping

Have you ever asked your students to make “mind maps” or “webs”? You have probably done such activities for your face-to-face classes, but students can also create these online using a free  Click HERE to watch a short tutorial and see what you can do with this easy tool!


Many interesting tools were discussed at BlackBoard World 2014. Some tools connect directly to Bb. Others were outside tools used and shared by instructors attending the conference. One interesting tool mentioned was Teachers use this FREE tool to take quick polls in the classroom. It is not connected directly to Bb.
Socrativ is great for face-to-face classes. Students can take a poll using their phones or tablets. The teacher would get instant results. This could be used to group students for an in-class activity, to get a starting point for the day’s lecture, etc. They have a great video overview that is only 1 minute, 32 seconds. I think many of you could find creative ways to incorporate this tool into your classroom!

Attention Span

Short attention spans are only a problem for children, right? Hmmm… Then why do I feel the need to keep everything I offer even you under 5 minutes?? Let’s face it, adults don’t have a long attention span either! That isn’t because we CAN’T pay attention… It’s because… we CAN’T pay attention! In other words, it’s not a physical disability, but there are so many other things going on that we just don’t have the time to spend on things – because we are BUSY! But if we can get little bite size portions and eat on the run, eventually, we can eat a whole meal…
Your students are adults (most by denotation and some by connotation too…) They are busy. They have lives. Many of the most motivated students are the most time limited as well. This is something to consider in your course design.

There are some things in your courses that they need to spend a lot of quality time with. But there may be some things they can do on the run too. Let them know what things they might be able to do in smaller chunks of time. This will help them progress more quickly and consistently in your class even with limited time, and it will help the topics of your class stay on their mind more as well, which will ultimately result in the kind of learning that sticks in the long term memory.


Perfectionism is a funny terrible thing. Some of us are perfectionists. Some of our students are perfectionists. I have learned that while perfectionism paints a nice pretty picture of a learner, in truth it is the ENEMY of education. A perfectionist is reluctant to try anything new – to let him/herself grow and learn – because of the fear of failure. So, it is important to realize that

Now that does not mean that it is okay to fail a class, but it does mean that often the first time we try something, we will not succeed, and THAT is okay.

e WANT our students to try new things, to learn and grow in new ways, to get out of their comfort zones. But sometimes we put the wrong kind of pressure in the wrong places and leave students feeling like they have to succeed the first time. As teachers, we have to recognize the difference between the learning process and the assessment process.

(If students already know it all and are already capable of doing it all…. why bother going to college? Well… Because they DON’T know it, and they know they don’t know it… but they get scared that other people might find out that they don’t know it… Yeah… they do need HELP!) 

As a teacher, be an example! Try new things! (Of course new things in Blackboard/Course design would be a nice place to start… but any new things will do.) ???? If things don’t go as planned the first time, it is OKAY! Regardless of the outcome, you will have learned something new!

Weekly Announcements

Most teachers use Bb’s Announcement feature, even if they don’t use much else. The announcements are great because the students are able to see them in 4 different places, so they should always get them. Since this is such a great tool, make the most of it!

Many teachers use announcements as a consistent part of the class to give holistic feedback and a weekly preview. Every Monday (or whichever day of the week they choose), they create an announcement that discusses areas where students did well the week before, what they struggled with as a whole, and what to expect in the upcoming week. (This is especially great when be done in a video using the video everywhere feature.) It does not need to be long, but it will help students feel more connected to the class as a whole and to the teacher. It may also assist them in keeping up with the work. The teacher can take that opportunity to offer personalized tips for the class or to let them know if he/she will be unavailable certain times, etc.

Sometimes teachers feel a little less accountable to their online students because they don’t see them in person and have to answer to them as much if they get behind, etc. This weekly announcement may help you as the instructor to get that same sense of accountability to your students in your online class that you have for your face-to-face classes as well.

The Goal

What is the goal for going to college? At BlackBoard World 2014, Joi Ito from MIT spoke about this topic. He suggested that for most, the goal for being in college is to get out of college…. He didn’t like that attitude, and neither do I! Instead, he said that the goal for his students is to love being in college so much that the reason we give them a degree is to kick them out. Otherwise, they’d stay forever!

How can we work toward that goal in every class? How can you help your students LOVE being students?
Ito’s approach is that students need to be MAKERS / CREATORS / LEADERS. How much time do we spend convincing them that other people are smarter than they are instead of convincing them that they are able to contribute in a meaningful way?

The purpose for research is to give a springboard to your own ideas. Are we getting our students to find and reveal their ideas? Or are we stopping with just finding out what other people say? Both parts are so important. When they realize that they are part of the world of academia and not just a pawn in someone else’s game, they raise to the occasion.

Help our students reach their potential! Help them LOVE being here, not just look forward to getting out.

Office Hours

Have you noticed that “office hours” don’t always work? The hours we “post” are not the best times for many students. In reality, very few students even consider scheduled hours when they have so many forms of instant communication available. Because of this, it important for instructors to clearly communicate how and when they are available to students. In your syllabus (as well as announcements and other communication), specify what forms of communication you are willing to engage in with students (email, text, twitter, skype, etc.).

Not only should you tell them in your syllabus when you ARE available, but you should also tell them when you are NOT available. As long as you are clear about when you are and are not available, you are in control. If you are vague or give no specification, the students will assume they can set the expectations. It is then that you will have students trying to contact you in the middle of the night and complaining when they do not receive an instant response.

We hope that you are accessible to your students and provide easy, productive forms of quick communication, but we do not expect you to be “on call” 24/7. As the syllabus is a contract between the instructor and the student, you should feel obligated to uphold the specifications you set for yourself there just as you expect the students to uphold the expectations you set for them. To do so, you should be as realistic as possible and communicate your limitations regarding times you are available to them.

These strategies are intended to promote constructive communication and limit frustration and complaints.

Study Guide Wiki

Do you give your students study guides for their tests? Consider using aWiki in BlackBoard and having the class create a study guide instead! After each lecture, they can compile their notes in the Wiki. As the teacher, you can monitor the progress and see when they have misunderstood something or maybe missed something important completely. In this 3 minute video, I will show you the idea and how to do it! Click HERE to view the video!

17. Reading Assignments

How can I get my students to complete the assigned reading before class?

Make them accountablebefore class! Instead of waiting until class time to find out whether they did their homework, require them to complete a discussion question, take a quiz, or complete some other type of assessment that would require them to have read their homework.

Especially at the beginning of the semester, be strict! If you require a discussion question or quiz, make them unavailable after class. Whether or not you use assessments before class, don’t be afraid to enforce consequences in class for those who did not complete the reading.

When you weight grades, consider making one category for week 1 (or for the first few weeks). Make the category worth only 1%. Don’t be afraid to give 0s for incomplete work. In the long run, those zeros won’t affect their grade very much, but in the beginning, when those are their ONLY grades, they mean everything! They will show the students that you mean business, and they will know they really are required to complete the assigned reading.

We do want to be flexible and accommodating, but we also want students to get the most out of their educational experience. It is our job to ensure they get the most – and that means they have to do the reading!

Organization of Materials

Imagine a class where the teacher provides a lecture in one room and then says, “Now go down the hall to discuss this.” After discussing, the teacher says, “Now please proceed to the room across the hall to receive instructions for your assignment.” Once you get those instructions, you are told, “Before we end, let’s go downstairs to one last room to take a quiz.” Would you be thinking, “Why can’t we do all this in one room?” Well… you can. And, you do…. as long as you are meeting face-to-face. But we often send online students on a scavenger hunt through our courses to complete one day’s worth of work.

Please consider how many places you are sending your students in a single day. In fact, try counting the clicks it takes to complete a lesson and ask whether that could be reduced. Rather than having separate tabs or folders for lectures, discussion boards, assignments, and quizzes, have one folder for “Day 4” or “Week 4.” Think of your folders more like rooms. Your students come to one room, hear the lecture, discuss, complete an assignment, and take a quiz, all without having to go find another location to do the next class segment. Remember that every minute spent navigating your course is a minute not spent learning your content, and the commotion of the shuffle from place to place may reduce the retention of the information provided in the previous location.

Course Planning

It is important to base all the design of your course around your objectives. This takes careful planning, but it helps students see that they are always on a certain path, not just completing busy work. The design of your course can make a huge difference in how students perceive your course and its usefulness to them.

Let me roughly compare a good course design to an itinerary. You see, the course should define the “Point of Departure,” the “Pit Stops and Layovers,” and the “Destination.” If you want your students to see this path, you have to see it first. Try asking yourself each of the following questions:

  1. What is my “Point of Departure?” In other words, what knowledge and skills are students expected to have before beginning your course? This should be clearly stated, and a place for this is provided in the new “Start Here” section template. This section should be modified to best fit your course and let students know exactly what you expect.
  1. What stops will you make along your journey? In other words, at what points should you stop and assess the students to ensure they are still on the same path with you. These stops should mirror the objectives you provide in your syllabus. Ideally, you should state the objective being assessed with the assessment’s instructions. You might consider designing “modules” or “units” around those “stops.” Imagine driving across the country. Each day, how far will you get? (Or, what content will be covered?) What sights will you see along the way? (What extra activities will you include in the course?) Where will you stop to refuel? (When will you determine whether your students are keeping up and meeting the goals of the course?) Make your plans clear by directly stating them throughout the course. Always let your students know that they are not only moving forward, but where they are going.
  1. What is your “Destination?”No, the name of the course does not make that obvious. By the end of the course, what will your students be expected to know and do? Make this clear all along the way. They are not going on a blind journey with you to see where they happen to end up. Clarify the ultimate goal often, and in the end, make sure you know whether everyone arrived with you!