Thursday, May 31, 2007

Post Minimum Technology Skills Needed for your Course

Why? Students will enroll in your course with varied technical abilities. Good practice suggests providing information about the technical skills required to be successful in the course. Students deserve to know early in the course exactly what technology skills are necessary for the course so they can do a self-check on their ability to be successful. Some examples include, but are not limited to: 1. students need to know how to use attachments with email, 2. students need a word processing application to complete writing assignments, etc.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Post the Minimum Technology Requirements for your Course

Why? Students deserve, early in the course, some way to check to make sure they have sufficient technology to complete the course. Outline general requirements for Internet connectivity and active Blackboard accounts, as well as course specific technology requirements. Informing students early in the course exactly what technology is required will solve the issue of students stating they were not informed. TWU offers a list of technology specifications at: You may wish to link to this statement about minimum technology requirements so as technology requirements change, your information about the requirements is updated for you.

Friday, May 25, 2007

What About Giving a Practice Test on Tests?

Why? Students new to online courses may not understand the intricacies of taking a test within Blackboard. Although you carefully write instructions telling students that there is a time limit on the test and that they may only take the exam one time, you have no idea if students really understand the importance of these instructions. Consider developing a practice exam requiring students to use the testing features so they get some practice. Some instructors use these exams to gain information on existing knowledge and to provide practice on testing within Blackboard.

Have you Thought About a Test over your Syllabus?

Why? In the university environment, we place a tremendous amount of information in the syllabus for a particular course. In a F2F course, you have the opportunity to cover the content of the syllabus carefully while fielding student questions. In the online world, we often have little assurance that students read the entire syllabus. Some instructors require students to complete a test (Using Blackboard’s Test Manager) about the syllabus. If you create the test within Blackboard, students also get practice taking a test in the Blackboard environment and you can use this as a teaching opportunity to ensure that students are prepared for the technical aspects of any examinations in your course.

Have you Thought About a Scavenger Hunt to Orient Students to the Course?

Why? Some instructors create a scavenger hunt, or similar activity, to allow students to search for specific content within the online course. Scavenger Hunts and other “low-risk” activities allow students to explore the structure and the content of the course. We recommend providing extra credit or bonus points for the activity.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Importance of the Instructor Introduction

Why? Students want to know about you as an instructor and also about you as a person. Your introduction should present you professionally and personally to the students. Disclose areas of your professional work and personal life that you are comfortable sharing with all students. Telling something about your hobbies or interests can work to create a sense of connection with students. Although we are very proud of our academic achievements, many students also want to know that you care about them as a learner.

Did you Know? Using some method of personal disclosure appears to reduce the psychological distance between online learners and instructors. In the online world, you do have to plan to communicate your interests and passions. We often take this for granted in F2F communication, preferring spontaneous conversation and communication. You can still do this in the online class, but planning some of the efforts is one proactive approach that may make a difference in the tone of the course. These efforts are also the first steps toward establishing trust and are very important for the future direction of the course.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Importance of the Welcoming Statement to your Course

Why? The default Course Entry Point in Blackboard is the Announcements page and this is the first area of the course seen by students unless you intentionally change the entry point. Regardless of the Course Entry Point, it is good practice to create a, welcome to the course, statement for students. Students want to know about the course and they want to know about you as an instructor. We suggest you use the Welcome Statement to begin to establish the tone of the course. Outline your availability for support and assistance while conveying your enthusiasm for the content. Students also want to know a bit about the structure of the course and the structure of the learning activities. Take care to use your opening statement to also begin to define some of the expectations for the course.

Did you Know? Students establish their perception of the instructor and the course in the first fifteen minutes of a F2F course. Limited research has been conducted on when students establish their perception of an online course. Think about the adage, “You have one chance to make your first impression.” This also applies to the online course. Your welcome or opening statement is your chance for that first impression.

Friday, May 18, 2007

More about Navigation

Why? The easier navigation is for students, the quicker they get to the content and activities and experience less frustration. First, keep your navigation relatively simple. Second, keep it very consistent. Third, use visual clues to help the user. Fortunately, most online courses are organized into classes or modules so you already have an organizational structure. Within each of these sections, spend some time analyzing your materials to develop a consistent sub-set of folders to house all materials. If you use the same sub-set of folders within each class, students will begin to expect the similar materials to be housed in the same location throughout the course.

Did you Know? The best organized courses look so simple that anyone could navigate the course. This is exactly what you are seeking. Consistent organization (called internal standardization) assists users to anticipate where they should go next and what they will find when they get there. Using some visual indicator (usually an image with an alt tag so it can be read by a screen reader) helps users to quickly see the organizational categories.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Navigation Instructions

Why? It is helpful to students to explicitly state where materials are located and to explain what they need to do to navigate to the materials. Even though we may understand where everything in the course is located, don’t assume that students have the same depth of understanding. Providing a section explaining all major sections in the course in clear language helps students to get a feel for the structure of the course and eases some anxiety. Expanding this to let them know which regular feature they will find in each class is also helpful.

Did you Know? Careful explanation of the navigation should reduce the number of questions you answer throughout the semester on where to find activities or assignments. While we are on this subject, the most pressing thing most students want to know when they open your class is what to do next. One thing you can do is to create a “Start Here” button or icon. You don’t have to use the exact language but do consider creating something directing students what to do next after reading your opening announcement.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Why? Announcements are the most visible location in a course to place general information for all students in a course. Announcements work well to remind students about upcoming assignments and due dates, to announce that grades have been posted, and to provide an overview of upcoming topics. We encourage you to set a regular time to post announcements for the week to norm students to expect communication and information about the course on a regular schedule.

Did you Know? Permanent announcements always appear at the top of the announcements section and any new announcements that are non permanent will appear beneath the permanent announcements. We have heard of students missing these announcements and instructors wondering why their announcements do not go to the top of the page. We recommend that no announcements be created as permanent announcements. Announcements will come into Blackboard in the order you create them or when you schedule them using the Date function. Our strategy is to teach students that the View All tab allows them to see all announcements for a course (unless the instructor removes them).

Adjunct and TA Workshop - Save the Date!

Who: All new adjuncts, teaching and graduate assistants who will use online tools to teach and assist during the 2007-2008 academic year

What: Information on pedagogical reasons to use certain tools in Blackboard to manage and teach an online class

When: Friday, August 10 and Friday, August 24; 9 – 4
  • 9 a.m. – noon will feature trainings and presentations
  • 1 – 4 p.m. will be hands-on assistance with course designers

Where: TWU, Denton Campus

Monday, May 14, 2007

Online Educator's Symposium - Save the Date!

Who: All faculty members who will use online tools to teach during the upcoming 2007-2008 academic year

What: Online
Educator’s Symposium

The day will be broken down into three concurrent tracks:

  • Track one - “Dare to Share” - Learn from current TWU online faculty members. Presenters will select one element of their online coursework to share.
  • Track two - “Online Initiatives”- Get an update about online initiatives that are in development at TWU.
  • Track three - “Online Pedagogy” – Discover what’s new on teaching and learning in the online environment.

When: Thursday, August 23, 2007; 8:30 – 3:45

Where: TWU, Denton Campus, Faculty Center


  • Learn what your colleagues are doing in their online courses.
  • See a showcase of examples from TWU online courses.
  • Meet faculty who teach online.
  • Find out about other online initiatives at TWU.
  • Learn techniques to try in your own classes.

Are you interested in presenting your ideas? Submit a proposal for the “Dare to Share” track! Send your name, name of the presentation, and a one paragraph description to no later than June 15, 2007. You can expect to present your topic for about 20-25 minutes. Please allow some time for questions from the audience. This track is all about sharing what you do well!

Purpose of this blog

Distance Education Staff in the Office of Lifelong
From T-B, L-R: Julie Brown, Senior Administrative Assistant; Lynda Murphy, Director of Distance Education; Keith Restine, Manager of Instructional Design; Allison Mabry, Coordinator of DE Communications; Alli Peterson, Senior Instructional Design Specialists; and Mike Simmons, Assistant Vice President for the Office of Lifelong Learning.

The Office of Lifelong Learning at TWU is interested in assisting all online faculty members in a variety of ways. This blog is one way to send brief information about issues related to teaching and learning in the online environment. We will post tips, breaking news about online issues, information about free software, and announcements of interest to TWU online educators. We are piloting this format to allow you to bookmark the blog or subscribe to the blog so you can be informed when new information is posted. We want you to have control of how you access the information. If you are interested, we also encourage you to post comments about tips, tricks, and information pertinent for other TWU online educators.

The Office of Lifelong Learning provides leadership and support for online teaching and learning at TWU through leadership and policy. We are vested in developing appropriate structures, policies, and supports to advance the academic mission of the university through online education. We are here to answer your questions and to listen to your ideas about how to make your academic work more robust.

If you would like to subscribe to this blog, either fill out the email subscription form to your left, or subscribe via RSS. Whicheve way you choose, we hope you will find this blog relevant and useful.

We are happy to maintain this blog to help connect TWU online educators. Please provide us with information about issues and topics that you would like to see addressed on the blog. Contact Allison Mabry at with suggestions.