Best Practices for Teaching in Blackboard Ultra 

Organize Your Course in Modules

  • Organizing your course into discrete sections, like modules, can make it easier for students to navigate your course and find the readings, resources, activities, and assessments.
  • This reduces "cognitive load" for students and allows them to focus on learning the content of your course instead of how to navigate it.
  • Learning modules can be organized around a topic by building up a collection of content items.
  • A Learning Module can consist of any content items such as Files and Documents with text and media. Interactive items such as tests and discussion boards can also be added within the Learning Module learning design. 

Use Reverse Chronological Order for Modules

  • If you plan to release your content over time (e.g., set modules to open on the first day of each week), then consider putting them in reverse chronological order.
  • Reverse chronological order puts the current module/folder at the top and makes it easier for students to access!

Writing for the Web

  • Present information in chunks.
  • Use bulleted lists to further break up content.
  • Use brief sentences.
  • Avoid ALL CAPS, which is difficult to read.
  • Avoid underlining. Students may assume underlined text is a link.
  • Use clean and simple pages. Use plenty of white space to separate paragraphs, images, and other page elements to avoid overwhelming readers.
  • Use headings. Chunk information and make your pages easier to scan.
  • Use a consistent color scheme. Use no more than five colors. When in doubt, use black on white.

Keep Titles Short

  • Keep titles short for modules, folders, content, and assessments because longer titles can be cut off when students access your course from a mobile device.
  • Alternatively, place the most important information first in the title.

Use the Heading Styles Menu in the Text Editor

  • When you create content using the Text Editor in Ultra Course View, such as for Ultra Documents, Assignments, or Discussions, use the Text Style menu at the far left of the text editor toolbar to create headings and subheadings.
  • This structure makes your content more accessible to students using screenreaders and increases your overall accessibility score in Blackboard Ally.

Add a Profile Image

  • Add a profile image for yourself in your Blackboard Profile so that students feel more connected to you.
  • Your profile image appears in the Instructor list to the left of your course in the Ultra Course View.

Add a Course Banner

  • The course banner is often cropped at different screen sizes, so the edges of the image may not always be visible (particularly on mobile devices).
  • Choose an image that has the important content in the center of the image.
  • If you add text, keep it in the center and add the text as alternative text when you upload the banner.

Focus on Accessibility

Keep in mind that students have diverse needs. You can follow a few simple guidelines and provide the same level of instruction to everyone.

Make sure your information design is solid and logical.

  • Keep the layout clean and simple. Use the same layout for as many pages as possible to help build predictability.
  • Choose high contrast color combinations for text, backgrounds, and graphics.
  • Keep backgrounds simple. White works best with a dark color for textual content.
  • Add alternative text that describes images for people who use screen readers or visit web pages with images turned off.
  • Create links that are significant without their surrounding content. Avoid links with vague text, such as "click here."

Create Well-Structured Paragraphs

  • Present one idea per paragraph. Limit paragraphs to two to four sentences.
  • Put the most important information in the first sentence, followed by details.
  • Use 50% fewer words than you use in print
  • If a page is longer than two or three screens, break it up into several shorter pages.
  • Use color, bold text, italic, or typeface variations in moderation.

Using Graphics

  • Use the right format. Save your pictures in a web-ready format. In general, use the PNG format for simple graphics, such as logos, charts, and drawings. Use JPG format for photos and images with shadings or gradients. Select the best format for better image quality and smaller file size.
  • Watch the file size. Large and numerous images may look great on your page, but they'll frustrate users who must wait for images to load.
  • Crop your images. Smaller image sizes maximize impact and decrease download time.
  • Avoid background images. Use a white or pale solid background with dark text instead of background images. High contrast between text and background is easier to read.

Reduce Your Course Size

  • Be mindful of the sizes of the courses you create. You can minimize the uploaded file sizes as you create content to stay within the limit for the entire term. Before you upload files, try to reduce the size of these:
  • Microsoft Office files: Use the tools available in Microsoft Office to reduce file size for slide presentations and Word files. The Reduce File Size option is located in the File menu.
  • Save files as PDFs before you upload them, which often makes smaller, read-only versions of the files.
  • Images: Use a graphics program to resize images for screen viewing before you upload them. You can also use an online service such as TinyPng or picresize®

Use HTML written to W3C specifications.

  • Check your pages against W3C standards. You can use online accessibility tools such as: 
  • The WAVE Accessibility Tool is a free, web-based tool that allows you to quickly and effectively evaluate the accessibility of your web content.

Best Practices for Adding Files
Whether adding files from Cloud Storage or uploading directly from your personal computer, consider the following recommendations.

  • Edit the file name once it has been added to the course content outline.
  • Add descriptions to detail what you would like users to do with the file.
  • When adding an image, consider the size of the file; too large of a file will take users a long time to upload and too small a file will be hard to view.
  • Use drag and drop to upload files more quickly.
  • Make sure you are providing files in formats that students are able to view.

Best Practices for Adding Links

Adding links to a course is a way to expand the course content. Remember to consider these best practices when adding links to a course.

  • Ensure that the link content is relevant to the course material.
  • Test links regularly to see if the content is still available.
  • Set whether you want the link to open in a new window or not using the link panel.
  • Request that learners return to the course to complete an activity, as they can be easily distracted when navigating out of Blackboard Learn.
  • Use the description field to inform learners what you would like them to do once they access the link.
  • Learning Modules that have the force sequence setting enabled cannot have course links associated to the content within them.

Best Practices for Folders and Learning Modules

Keep these best practices in mind as you work with folders and learning modules.

  • Determine the structure of the course before beginning to create them in your course.
  • Use them to organize content into concise groupings that are easy to navigate for both teachers and learners.
  • Apply large bucket names to the main folders (e.g., Week 1, Module 1, Unit 1, March 5-11).
  • Use a standard naming convention inside them to group content and activities.
  • Folders and learning modules can be made available automatically on a specific date. Therefore, if you want to restrict the availability of materials to learners until a certain date, you will need to select the visibility status as show/hide on date and set the date desired for its release.

Best Practices for Documents

When you are building documents, following these best practices:

  • Be consistent with how you format documents throughout your course.
  • Add alternative text to describe any image or mark the checkbox under image type to indicate it is decorative.
  • Use headings to create sections within your document.
  • If a learner is using a screen reader then using headings will make it easier for that learner to navigate through the document.
  • Headings also provide visual breaks within the document that will assist all users in navigating the page.

Best Practices for Discussions

Follow these best practices when creating discussions:

  • Have learners start with a non-academic discussion as a warm-up.
  • Create one discussion per topic or concept.
  • Discussion questions need to be open-ended to promote critical thinking. Research indicates that the quality of the first post in a thread influences the thought level of subsequent posts. Therefore, a carefully worded starter question is perhaps the most important factor for more productive discussions.
  • Organize discussions into folders within the participation panel if you have a lot of them.
  • Use concise titles for the discussions that are easy to scan.
  • State your expectations and learning objectives in the description.
  • Create discussions in advance and make them hidden until they are needed.
  • Use the post first feature to promote originality of thought in course discussions.
  • Define requirements for participation. You need reasonable expectations about what you and your learners can accomplish in an online discussion. Due to the asynchronous nature of the discussion board, allow more time for well-articulated points to emerge than during a discussion in your face-to-face classroom.
  • Include a few carefully crafted and selected questions that learners can fully explore rather than having more questions. Then you can evaluate a finite number of discussions without becoming overwhelmed.

Best Practices For Journals
To get the best out Journal activities for yourself and your learners, consider the following:

  • Determine what you want your learners to get out of the journal exercise and tailor how they journal to match.
  • Model for students how you want them to journal. Sometimes learners need to build their confidence in how to journal successfully.
  • Establish a prompt or guidelines for the journals which are open-ended and designed to engage with learners. When a prompt is too open-ended learners may not know what to write about and if the prompt is too narrowly tailored, learners will revert back to write short answer responses they feel are ‘correct’ rather than investigating their thoughts, feelings, and understandings about a topic.
  • Focus on their insights and knowledge growth and not on grammatical or punctuational errors.
  • Use journaling as a method to set your class expectations, so learners gain confidence in doing the process regularly and you create a process for how you run your class, so learners know what to expect.
  • Create a rubric to use when you grade and only read the journals for specific components. Additionally consider a quick feedback response, because learners will feel more engaged if they feel like their writing is receiving a response.