Center for Technology Enhanced Learning

Blackboard Design Strategies

by Scott Kimball, Instructional Media & Support Specialist


Blackboard is often a lifeline between you and your students – especially in a course that is delivered primarily online.  Good site design will help your students as they progress through your course.  Provide a logical structure, clear objectives and a selection of document formats to improve accessibility.  Provide some “extras” in an online course – to make up for all those asides that students experience in a live course.  This may take a bit of extra effort on your part, but it will be worth it in the long run.

Especially for an online course, provide a welcome document, introducing yourself and providing guidance on how the site is set up, what the objectives and expectations are for the course, etc.  While this can be part of your syllabus, you may consider also placing it prominently in a “Welcome” area on the site.

Consider adding some media content to your class.  Images which illustrate a point, audio clips, Powerpoint presentations (and narrated PPTs), and even some short videos can break the monotony of a text-only site.  It doesn’t take much – a little media goes a long way.

Basic course layout and design

Break the defaults.  Make Blackboard work for you.  Don’t constrain your course by what a software engineer thought looked good.

  • Change the button style and color scheme to suit your needs

  • Change button names to suit your needs

  • Remove unused buttons – streamline your site

  • Put interface elements where you need them

  • Use hyperlinks wherever  you like – to other course content or to outside links

    • link directly from your content page to an illustrative web site

    • link directly from your content page to a discussion thread

  • Place new items at the top of a page

  • Consider linear vs. non-linear design

Document Design

Studies have shown that people read differently online than they do from paper. They tend to skim and scan, rather than read critically.  There are some things you can do.

  • Chunking

  • Create “Scannable” documents
      • Use bold face and color to denote sections
      • Avoid narrative form in lists
      • Use bullets

Avoid blockages by providing alternate routes to information

  • Provide documents in “open” formats – HTML, TXT, RTF, PDF / JPG, GIF

  • Provide documents in more than one format.  Consider a “printable” format for long documents

  • When proprietary formats must be used, provide a link to required software

  • Be aware of file sizes – not everyone has broadband access

Customize and Individualize

Use the adaptive release function

  • To control progression through a course by setting criteria for advancement

  • To provide alternate course tracks

  • Use your imagination!