Quality Online Course Series: 7 Online Workshops with Tips for Designing Quality Online Courses

Quality Online Course SeriesIn Spring 2015, Northern Illinois University Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center developed and offered for the first time a series of 7 online workshops sharing principles, best practices, and tips for designing and developing quality online courses. The workshops were archived and available for on-demand viewing below or directly within the series playlist on YouTube. Kudos to my NIU colleagues, Stephanie Richter and Tracy Miller, for developing and offering the series!


Ensuring Quality in Your Online Course

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How do you know if your online course is good? More importantly, how do you make it better? In this archived workshop offered 1/23/15, you will learn about why quality is important and how to create more student-centered online courses by using the Quality Matters rubric (a nationally-recognized benchmark for online course design based on research-supported best practices). After viewing this archived online workshop, you will be prepared to develop or improve an online course that is designed to promote student learning. View archived workshop »


Learning Objectives and Assessments

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Once you have established objectives and the assessments to measure them, the next step is to create and/or curate course content and instructional materials to support the learning objectives. It is also important to clearly explain the purpose, source, and alignment of instructional materials. In this archived online workshop offered 2/13/15, you will learn about creating and curating course content from quality sources as well as communicating them to your students. View archived workshop »


Course Content & Instructional Materials

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Once you have established objectives and the assessments to measure them, the next step is to create and/or curate course content and instructional materials to support the learning objectives. It is also important to clearly explain the purpose, source, and alignment of instructional materials. In this archived online workshop offered 2/27/15, you will learn about creating and curating course content from quality sources as well as communicating them to your students. View archived workshop »


Course Activities & Student Engagement

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How do you encourage students to be fully engaged in an online course? By designing engaging and active, which foster interaction with you, the other students, and the content. In this archived online workshop offered 1/27/16, you will be introduced to some strategies to build learning activities which connect to your course objectives, as well as engage students in their own learning. View archived workshop »


Promoting Learning with Technology

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In an online course, technology is necessary for connecting with students, engaging them in learning, and assessing their knowledge. It’s important to choose the right tools that support the learning objectives but are also obtainable and suitable for student use. In this online workshop offered 3/20/15, you will learn how to ensure technology in an online course supports learning and discover some tools you can incorporate into an online course. View archived workshop »


Accessibility, Usability, & Student Support

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Online students can feel isolated, but they don’t have to be. In this online workshop offered 4/10/2015, you will explore how usability and accessibility can set students up for success. You will also learn how to connect students with valuable support services. View archived workshop »


Getting Students Started

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Now that you have designed a high quality online course based on the other standards, you are ready to introduce it to your students. Set the right tone and support student success by helping them get started with a welcome message, a course tour, or a navigation guide. In this online workshop offered 4/24/2015 we will explore best practices for introducing course structure to your students and building community View archived workshop »

Twitter Resource Sharing Instructions – Spring 2016

Twitter Resource Sharing

For students of my spring 2016 course, ETT 570: IT Leadership, I’m sharing the following instructions regarding our Twitter Resource Sharing activities.

In addition to engaging in discussion with classmates via the discussion board in Blackboard, you will share resources and engage with the broader educational community regarding current trends and instructional technology leadership on Twitter. In doing so, you will continue to expand your perspective beyond the “walls of our course” on the issues we’ll be exploring together, while continuing to build your personal learning network. If you haven’t already setup a free Twitter account in a previous class, please do so and be prepared to “tweet” using it throughout the course. For more information on getting started with Twitter, see https://sites.google.com/site/twitterinedu

Each week, you are expected to post a minimum of 5 tweets per week using both hashtags #ett570 and #itleadership (only tweets that include both hashtags will be considered as intended for this class resource sharing activity via Twitter). Your tweets in your Twitter account need to be public in order to receive credit for participating in this weekly activity.

  • At least one tweet must have a link to an online resource regarding current module topic related to IT leadership that hasn’t already been shared by your instructor or classmates thus far in the course
  • At least one tweet must have a link to an online resource related to the topic(s) from the required reading(s) for the module that hasn’t already been shared by your instructor or classmates thus far in the course.
  • At least one tweet must be a public reply to a fellow classmate (beginning your tweet @username of the Twitter user you are responding to).
  • At least one tweet must be a public reply or mention to someone else not a member of the class (including somewhere in your tweet @username of the Twitter user you are responding to or mentioning).
  • One tweet may be a retweet (RT) of someone else

Using your preferred Twitter client, save searches of hashtags #ett570 and #itleadership and follow the streams for each hashtag throughout the course.

Also, make an effort to follow at least one new educator and/or IT leader on Twitter each week.

There will be a discussion forum in Blackboard where you can post your Twitter username to share with your classmates and begin following your instructor and fellow classmates on Twitter as you like.

DUE: end of each Module (1-12) at 11:59 pm

How to Setup a Custom Course Entry Home Page in Blackboard

For several years, I have been customizing the entry point / home page in my online courses that I’ve designed and taught in Blackboard Learn. In some courses, I’ve setup a course communication dashboard home page where I’ve aggregated various course communications and information items into a singular location. Most recently, I’ve shifted to utilizing a course welcome – start here page that provides my students with general overview information about the course, instructor contact information, and helpful tips for getting off to a strong start in the course.

Sample customized course home page

For those interested in developing their own customized course entry home page in Blackboard, I’ve recorded this video tutorial overview of the course entry home page template that I use in my Blackboard Learn courses, with step-by-step instructions for how to setup in your own course. The template home page HTML code is available in HTML or TXT formats.

If you’d like to experience the custom course home page referenced in the tutorial within a course, the Blackboard course that I demonstrated is available for self-enrollment or to download as an OER package, more details here.

If you found this information helpful, or if you have developed your own custom course home page template, I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment and let’s connect.

#BbWorld15 Blackboard – Inspire the World to Learn

My Initial Thoughts on Blackboard’s Ultra New Learning Experience LMS

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Over the next several days at BbWorld 2015, Blackboard is announcing and featuring through various venues its overhauled learning management system platform, referred to as Blackboard “Ultra”. While I don’t blog as often as I’d like, I felt this an important opportunity to share my initial thoughts on Ultra, also referred to as the Blackboard “New Learning Experience.”

As a Blackboard MVP and someone who’s both designed and taught award-winning online courses as well as supported Blackboard at my institution for almost 15 years, I feel I have a very well-informed position to offer my perspective. I was privileged to have been invited to participate in the Blackboard Learn Ultra and Blackboard Collaborate Ultra Tech Preview programs over the past few months and not only gained firsthand experience of Ultra by using it in a sandbox environment but also had opportunity to provide weekly feedback to developers throughout the latest development stages. It is from this informed position both of the current faculty and student use of the current “Learn” system as well as hands-on use of the new “Ultra” “New Learning Experience” (NLE) that I offer the following reflections.

Sleek, Mobile-First New User Interface

The Ultra user interface is a complete redesign and certainly offers a fresh, easy-to-use user experience. The Bb Learn user interface has seen little change over the past decade and Ultra updates the user experience to be on par with other current web and mobile applications that today’s users are accustomed to.

Simplified Workflows

It is becoming infinitely simpler for faculty to quickly add content to a course and setup discussions. In designing Ultra, Bb focused on some of the most common tasks that lightweight faculty users just getting started using an LMS would seek to include (uploading content files, adding simple discussions, grading student work). For faculty who are using Bb primarily for a digital filing cabinet for their course materials and having basic discussion communications with students, they should find the tools they need and the associated workflows simpler than before.

Loss of Course Structure Choice

The more advanced faculty users who are accustomed to having more control of their course design and tailoring the student experience for their course will be frustrated in loosing control. The New Learning Experience embraces a newsfeed metaphor for displaying content and communications and doesn’t permit any deviation from how information is presented. Course structure is restricted to a Course Content Outline view where folders for each week/module/unit can be created with sub-folders for content and activities. Online courses that utilize a course home page, include in-line HTML content, or use any sort of customized course navigation options will need to be completely redesigned and will not function as currently designed in a migration from Learn 9.1 to Ultra. This loss of choice feels in many ways likeBlackboard taking a page from Apple’s playbook in restricting choice in an attempt to provide what it deems is the best experience for the user.

A Work in Progress, With a Long Way to Go

Many missing features at launch, including groups, blogs/wikis/journals, rubrics, tests/surveys/pools, to name a few. While there may be a few institutions who are already in the SaaS hosting environment and/or using just basic functionality in Learn with no customizations and may be eager to move to Ultra, I suspect that the majority of Blackboard customers will need to wait until many of the currently missing features in Ultra are developed. The good news is with Blackboard’s new continuous delivery cycle new features can potentially be rolled-out much quicker. It still remains to be see at what pace Blackboard will be able to include new features in the new model moving forward.

Requires SaaS Cloud Hosting

This perhaps is the least publicized, yet most significant consideration and requirement for institutions moving forward…to migrate to Blackboard’s Software as a Service (Saas) cloud hosting infrastructure. Many institutions, like mine, have opted to stay with a self-hosted deployment strategy in order to save costs and leverage our own internal IT expertise and retain more control on the timing and release of new features in order to be able to offer the needed faculty training and support. As a result of this approach, my institution has achieved an impressive 92% of faculty and 96% of students using Blackboard. We’ve opted to not be on the “bleeding edge” of Blackboard and are always at least 1 release behind purposely to avoid many of the system bugs that early adopters experience. Our Blackboard system is stable, reliable, and mission-critical. Transitioning to a new deployment model is not something our institution will take lightly and will most certainly result in increased costs.

Learn 9.1 Remains, But for How Long?

Blackboard CEO Jay Bhatt was very clear during his keynote presentation at BbWorld 2015 to state the Blackboard Learn 9.1 will continue on and be supported into the future. While I want to believe Jay and take him at his word, the undeniable fact is that Blackboard development can only be spread so thin and at some point, resources will likely be devoted to advancing Ultra at the detriment of Learn 9.1. I hope this isn’t the case, but I am a realist.

Many Unanswered Questions

I have many, MANY unanswered questions at this point with more surfacing the more I ponder the prospect of moving to Ultra, a few of which include:

  • What features will be added to Ultra in the future and in what timeframe?
  • What about tools such as Portfolios, Content System eReserves, Outcomes Assessment, etc.? For institutions just rolling these tools out now, what is their shelf-life and will they ever be included in Ultra?
  • What current Learn 9.1 features and tools likely will never make it into Ultra?
  • What is involved (cost, development time, institutional re-integration) in a migration from self-hosted to SaaS cloud hosting?
  • How will the many, MANY feature-rich, fully online courses that faculty have designed over the years translate into the Ultra environment?
  • How would a faculty setting out today to design and build a course following Blackboard’s Exemplary Course Program Rubric do so within the constraints of Ultra?
  • What about faculty and institutions that have adopted the Quality Matters rubric for online course quality? How would QM-certified courses be built out in Ultra?

Cautiously Optimistic

It’s hard for me at this point to be overly excited about Ultra, given that it will clearly be several years before my institution is even ready to seriously consider a move to Ultra. Little has been shared up to this point (hopefully we’ll hear more at BbWorld in the coming days) on what a move to the SaaS cloud hosting environment will take for self-hosted clients and what the cost increases would be required of institutions to make this transition.

As a client who’s institution is committed to Blackboard for the next 3 years but will likely be engaging in an LMS review in the coming year, I have a number of concerns at this point that stem from the many unanswered questions above that I hope over time and with more information will dissipate. It is my hope that Blackboard will make a major effort to begin reaching out to all self-hosted clients to communicate what the SaaS migration options and associated costs will be so that self-hosted clients can begin to chart a path moving forward.

I encourage you to check-out the Bb Ultra New Learning Experience for yourself by registering for free Blackboard Learn Ultra trial at try.blackboard.com

What are your thoughts on the Ultra New Learning Experience thus far?