It has been a crazy week here at Instructional Design and Technology. As I talked about last week in “Learning to Let Go,” we have been quickly adapting a bunch of Blackboard content for our new blog. We are all participating in our second “Stop the World” project, where everyone on the team clears their schedules and cancels their meetings to work together on one major project (except Caleb). We’ve been rapidly progressing through this content, and I couldn’t be happier with how this website is developing.
One of the most challenging aspects of developing the blog has been organizing all of the content. The navigation bar at the top of the screen has undergone so many variations at this point, it’s hard to remember where we began. This whole process has been a consistent reminder of how important organization is when designing an online course. So much of your course relies heavily on the organization decisions you make early in your design process, and adjusting organization as you develop can be a huge pain. Before I begin adding content to my own courses, I always develop an organizational strategy that guides the rest of my design decisions.
Here are some rules I always stick to when organizing an online course.
- Module Format: A module acts as a unit of your course content. Rather than dump all of your course content in one area, modules allow you to separate content by theme, idea, week, chapter, etc. For a seamless transition between semesters, I typically organize my course into eight modules. That way, the course can be easily transformed from a sixteen-week to eight-week course. My modules typically contain an introduction, readings, video or recorded lecture, self-assessment quiz, student journal, and a student discussion board. In modules four and eight, where mid-terms and finals occur, I might substitute small assignments for a larger exam or paper. All of my modules are organized into content folders. Here is an example of what my modules look like to my students:
- Clear Navigation Bars: This may seem intuitive, but it’s important to think hard about how your navigation bar will appear to students. I always take some time to clean up my navigation bar and remove all of the menu buttons that remain unused by me. Additionally, I will add new menu buttons that I find most helpful for students, like “My Grades” and “Student Support.” Here is an example of a menu from a course I recently designed.
- Limited Clicking: When you are designing a course for organization, it’s important to think about navigation within modules. As you are adding content and linking students to tools and resources, consider how often you are asking your students to leave the Blackboard LMS. I typically ask myself a few questions when designing for navigation including:- How many times have my students left the LMS? Are there other ways to include this content within the LMS without violating copyright policies?
– Are students required to download documents repeatedly? Have I made documents available in PDF form so the document is opened within Blackboard?
– Is my navigation bar easy to understand? Does it help students avoid selecting the wrong item to find information?
– Is my module content easy to navigate? Do I link directly to tools like Discussion Boards, journals, or groups?
- Circular Design & Directions: As Carolyn always says, “all roads should lead home” when designing a course with organization in mind. While the navigation bar that appears at the top of the screen is a helpful tool for student to track where they are in a course, it is important to create navigational cues for students to “lead them home.” For example, if you’d like a student to access a certain area of the course, use the “Course Link” option when creating content rather than expecting students to locate a course area on their own.
One of my goals with navigation is to always beat my students to the punch–I want to provide the answer to their navigation question before they can even ask it. Although I might repeat directions to the point of annoying my students, almost every area of my course contains some sort of course link with information on how to access the course area. Here is an example from my current ENGL 230 course:
When you begin creating your online courses, consider organization first. Your future self with definitely thank your past self as you begin loading content into your courses. Not only will good organization make you feel more in control of the content of your course, your students will thank you!