Consistency + Predictability = Improved Student Engagement

February 17, 2012 in Discovery Fridays, Distance Learning, Faculty

Each semester, I conduct Blackboard orientation sessions with hundreds of new students. These students are often new to WCC, new to distance learning, maybe even new to computers and anxious about EVERYTHING! Then, here I come to tell them that Blackboard is a web application and has nothing to do with chalk or banging erasers. It’s often amazing to me how these students brave so much of the unknown and perservere to the first day of classes.

One of the most popular questions during Bb orientation is “What will my distance learning course look like?” or “How do I get started in my distance learning course?” These are tough questions to answer because our distance learning courses all look different and each instructor approaches their Bb course shell design based on different pedagogy and personal preferences. I typically provide students some general advice about finding the course syllabus, searching for directions and contacting the instructor. I also give examples of how different courses may be set up.

The solution to this problem, is to create some consistency and predictability in our distance learning courses. At the same time… we want to preserve the academic freedom and individuality that makes our courses and faculty stand out.

There are three things we can do in Bb to easily create consistency and predictability… while helping students engage in our distance learning courses more easily:

An image of buttons in Blackboard

  1. Create a “Start Here” section
    The “Start Here” section would provide a course introduction from the instructor, course tour and step-by-step instructions for starting the class and completing the first assignment.
  2. Create a “Syllabus” section
    The syllabus section would hold the syllabus and possibly an assignment schedule with all the course due dates.
  3. Create a “Faculty Information” section
    The “Faculty Information” section would provide all of the faculty member’s contact information, office hours, bio and maybe even a photo.

Many of you are providing this information already throughout different areas of your Bb course. However, the key is for all of us to set these sections up as the first three links/buttons in our Bb course, following the “Announcement” link.

Using this standard format, students would quickly and intuitively learn how to proceed as easy as 1-2-3.

Plans are now in place, to require this format in all distance learning courses, beginning with the Summer Semester 2012.

Here are a couple of tutorials to help you get started:

If you have any questions about how to create an effective Start Here, Syllabus, or Faculty Information section in your Bb courses… contact us in the distance learning department.

We are are here to help.


Ken Fairbanks
Director of Distance & Distributed Learning
Wytheville Community College