Lesson 14: Making it Look Good



Drafting is a good metaphor for the detail orientation that well-crafted courses require. Yes, it is time consuming (remember ALOTA work!)...but it is worth it in dividends satisfied and successful students.

This lesson will look at layout, navigation, and stylistic considerations for presenting material to students in your online class.

Learning Outcomes

Upon completion of this lesson's material, Faculty will be able to:

  • Describe best practice related to layout, navigation, and style in online learning.
  • Develop clear navigation elements and instructions in a sample course.
  • Develop clear organization of materials, lessons, assessments, and communication tools within a sample course.


The most common complaints (aside from issues in communication) we see in online courses is the inability for students to FIND things that they need.

Any trip needs a map, and you need to label the landscape in consistent ways that are in line with the map. While this might be very detail oriented, it goes a long way to help your students find the material that you want then to find.

The list below is MY list of things that I do in my classes. Ultimately you can pick and choose what you want to do, but this practice has resulted in very good reviews and very few technical issues in my online classes. Nearly ALL of these elements are in THIS course that you are experiencing right now.

Mark's Tips for Navigation and Organization

Entry Page

The entry page for the course is a "Content Folder" not the default "Module Page" that comes with Bb. This folder presents a number of important things to the student and remains the first thing they see when they enter the class. Minimum contents of this entry page include:

    • An graphic or title naming the class
    • An announcement item (I edit this each week) that informs the students where we are up to in the course (this is NOT in this class because this is more asynchronous...in place of this I have the "How this class works..." item)
    • A link to a document titled "Course Navigator" which includes an outline (usually a calendar) of how we will progress through the course, every assignment, every expectations, and every due date...all in one document.
    • A link to a document titled "How I use Blackboard"
    • A link to another folder called "Course Information"...this folder contains:
      • About your Instructor
      • Syllabus
      • Other documents as needed
All other content in the course is organized in the Menu

Communication Menu

    • Messages (the internal email for Bb)
    • Discussions
    • Announcements
    • My Grades

Course Content Menu

    • Link to a folder called "Lessons"
      • I organize ALL the content for each Lesson into sub-folders so all the material that a student needs to complete that lesson is organized together
      • This coincides with the structure of my syllabus, the Course Navigator, and my grading procedures.
    • Project or Special Assignment Folders
      • If my course has papers or special assignments separate from the Lessons, each of these gets their own folder.
      • For example: in my PSY 101 class there is a link in the menu for "Special Assignments", in that folder there are links to my Research Paper, Service-Learning, Problem-Solving, and Quantitative Analysis assignments.
      • Again, for each of these Special Assignments all the information they need to complete them are organized together.

Your course will require variation on this type of organization, and your teaching style will lead you to different ways as well. The key is that you need to make sure students can find your material.

Aesthetic Considerations

One of the other factors that comes into play is the attractiveness of your course. While it might seem to be a surface quality, many web developers spend hours on tiny details that make their websites more attractive. I spend a LOT of time working on small details of my classes, and my lesson plans, to keep them attractive.

Again, I'm going to list MY tips on how to approach making your class more attractive based on my own research and experience. Your particular approach may be different.

Mark's Tips on Aesthetics

Attention to Detail

  • Design your class with the same attention you would design your Resume if you were applying for a dream job! Pay attention to detail, spelling, color, fonts, etc.

Colors and Fonts

  • Pay attention to text type, size, and, color. Across your materials use them in the same way.
    • Note that all the documents in this class are in the same type font, size, and use of color.
  • Pay attention to the colors of your backgrounds in your course. You want relatively high contrast between background and foreground text or images...this is not aesthetic, it is part of universal access standards.
    • Control Panels > Customization > Teaching Style...play around with "Course Themes"

File Names

  • Keep your file names consistent...to the detail.
    • For instance, if you have notes that you post on each Chapter in your textbook...title them all consistently...
      • Chapter 1 Notes, Chapter 2 Notes, Chapter 3 Notes,...etc.
    • I've seen instances such as this:
      • Ch1Notes, ChapterTwoClassNotes, Chapter3NotesSpring2012,...etc...YUCK!
  • Keep your file names short...long names will not appear correctly.
  • Particularly if you end up using the Learning Module...long titles of documents will not display well in the Learning Module menu.

Images and Media

  • Use IMAGES and other MEDIA elements SPARINGLY and APPROPRIATELY...make the images relevant to learning, not just decoration.
  • Delete unused links and materials from your class...this is very distracting and not very professional.
  • PRIORITIZE a consistent look and feel across all your courses...students will get to know your "style" and will welcome the consistency.

Templates and Attitudes

  • Consider developing a TEMPLATE course for your Department. You are experiencing the Social Science Department template course in this class...ALL the Social Science courses look pretty much the same as this one. Students have taken notice and it helps both with identifying the class they are in and in navigation.
  • SIMPLE is BETTER...I know sometimes there is a lot to put up there, but try hard to keep it simple. My effort in this area is realized in the use of HTML documents to hold all my content...video, images, text, etc...are all in ONE document...the only other documents you are likely to see in my Lesson Plan folders are the Assessment links (Discussions, Tests, Assignments).



Lesson 14 Discussion

Use this discussion to ask questions about this lesson and to discuss the content.

Lesson 14 Assignment

Add the following elements to your course in a way that enhances the presentation, aesthetics, and navigability of your course.

  • Entry Page materials
    • Welcome message
    • Syllabus
    • Calendar or a document that outlines course expectations and due dates
    • A document explaining your use of Blackboard tools and expectations
  • Organization of Content of Course (for at least two units of instruction)
    • Lessons, Units, Chapters, etc. content organization
    • Organization of Assessments/Projects

This assignment will vary from individual to individual. Evaluation of the organization of your class will be based on presentation (presence of key documents), aesthetics (attractive and inviting quality of your content), and navigability (can students find things easily).

Email me when you have completed this assignment.