“It’s Elementary, My Dear Watson” Removing the Mystery from Your Online Course Site

By , February 1, 2010 1:35 pm

Taking an online course shouldn’t be a mystery to your students.  A few simple considerations can make your course site easier to use and prevent frustration for both you and your students.  Use the tips below to make your course site user friendly, allowing your students to focus on your course content rather than your course website.


When navigating a course site, students should be focused on your course content, not on the technology.

  • Get rid of unused buttons. While it is fun to guess which briefcase holds the million dollars in Deal or No Deal, it isn’t as much fun to try to figure out which button holds your reading assignments.  Getting rid of unused buttons makes your course site more streamlined, less cluttered and easier to navigate. Use the Customize the Course Menu page of the Blackboard Support for Faculty site to learn how to get rid of buttons.
  • Pretty or practical? While some color combinations for the course navigation (buttons) or using a variety of colors for the item titles might be aesthetically pleasing, they may not be that easy to read.  Consider that your students may be accessing the course late at night, may be color blind or have vision problems, or may have an old or bad monitor.  Using a simple color scheme where the button color contrasts the text color will make the navigation easier to read.
  • It’s all in a name. Consider how your course is organized and what content the students will find when naming the buttons or folders in a course.


Once you have your course set up, communication is a key component to student success in an online course.  What are your expectations for the site? How are your students to use it?  How will they move through the site as the semester progresses?

  • How will they know? How will the students know how the course is set up?  You may want to create a short video giving an overview of the course site, or have a scavenger hunt as one of the first week’s assignments requiring the students to find key components of the course site.
  • Give ‘em a sneak preview. Just like watching a movie trailer provides a sneak preview of an upcoming film, or an abstract helps you know what to expect from a journal article, giving a short preview about a resource helps the students know what they will get when the link is clicked.  Don’t make the students guess what the links in your course site are for.  Let the students know what the links are with a couple of sentences in the description that state:
    • What it is (an article about…, a website that describes…)
    • What you expect them to do with it (read, skim, look for evidence of…, use as a project resource, etc.)
    • How their use of the resource will be evaluated (quiz in class, write a summary, apply what was learned by…, etc.)
    • When it needs to be completed
  • Up a creek without a paddle? Students in an online course can feel isolated when they need help. Give your students a paddle. Let them know what to do when they are having trouble in your course. How will they know what to do when they have questions?  Are they to email or call you or a T.A.?  When should they expect a response? What about technical questions?  Should they call you or the call center?  (See below for technical resources to provide for your students.)  When are you available to students and how will you interact with them (phone, Wimba, Pronto, etc.)?

If you have any questions or need help with your Blackboard course, contact Instructional Technology Services at 816.235.2000 or its@umkc.edu .

Resources for Your Students
General Support Available for UMKC Students
Blackboard Support Site for Students

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