Friday, April 20, 2012

Guest Post: Building DE Courses

Last time in this section, we talked about how to design and plan your course offline, outside of Blackboard, using a Learning Guide that mirrors exactly the components of each module in your course. For more on the process, features, and benefits of using this approach to course planning, visit the Health Studies Milestones and Meditations Blog at: This time we’re going to talk about actually Building DE Courses.

This part of the TWU ID site is indexed into seven (7) sections covering, among other topics, the Course Menu, Module Creation, Technical Skills, and Third Party Tools for Teaching & Learning. We won’t cover them in detail in this section, but we will briefly address the Course Menu, personalizing the distance education course, and Web 2.0 tools.

There’s really no mystery to building distance education courses if you follow just a few simple guidelines. As with any communication project, you will typically start with an outline of what you want to write about, or talk about. In distance education, this outline is represented by the Course Menu. Get the course menu in order, and the rest of your course will come together much more easily.

When Blackboard shells become available for a new course, they typically come preloaded with some links already in the course menu. A bare-bones new course shell includes links for announcements, instructor information, a syllabus, and discussion board. All of these areas are empty, of course, until you, the instructor, populates them.

Once you have determined the elements you want to include in your course, you are ready to start populating the Course Menu and arranging the elements in the order you want them to appear. If you are using a course from a previous semester that you or someone else has taught, you will see all the links that were used by that instructor. You may want to rename, delete, or even hide these links from your students. Or you may choose to rearrange them so that the flow makes more sense to you. This short video shows you how to add and rearrange course menu items:

However, there’s a lot more to building DE courses than the course menu. There is the personalization of the courses, which is where you, as the Instructor, can assert your personality and presence in the course. This aspect of course construction is the fun part and allows you to play with clipart, banners, photographs, and Word Art text. It’s important to remember that the World Wide Web – where our Blackboard courses live – is a visual medium. Reading line-after-line of text – no matter how relevant the information, is . . . well, boring. Breaking up blocks of text with white space or images, or even indented paragraphs and bullets is critical to successful communication.

All of our instructors have the software and tools to give their courses a jolt of their personality and to brand their courses in such a way that students will instantly identify the course with the textbook, subject matter, content and instructor. A picture really is worth a thousand words.

A typical banner, like the one shown to the left, is 6.5 to 7 inches wide and about 1 inch high. This banner was made in Microsoft Publisher using Word Art for the text and a photograph provided by the faculty member. I typically include the name of the course, the instructor’s name, and the course ID along with an image – sometimes provided by the Instructor but not always. Publisher is a component of the Microsoft Office Suite, but the banner can also be created using Microsoft Word, or even PowerPoint. Here is a YouTube video that demonstrates using PowerPoint to create a banner: (You may also want to check out some of the other videos on this page, since it contains several informative videos on using many aspects of Blackboard that may be helpful for you and your student.)

The final section in Building DE Courses, Third Party Tools for Teaching and Learning, is an introduction to Web 2.0 tools where even more functionality and fun is available. Many of these you already know about and use in your classes: Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to name just a few. However, there are many other Web 2.0 tools that help extend the reach and collaborative aspects of Blackboard to your students.

By now you are probably thinking, “easy for you to say.” Well, yes, that’s true. But, it’s also true that knowledge of rocket science is not required to resize photographs, or convert PowerPoint presentations  to .pdf files. And, the best news of all is that TWU’s Instructional Design team has done all the research for you and posted it to TWU ID and YouTube. Additionally, our department’s course support team is available to help you with any Blackboard elements you would like to include in your courses.

This post contributed by Margaret Cortez.

Margaret Cortez is the Course Support Specialist for the TWU Department of Health Studies.

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