Now that final grades are submitted for the Fall 2020 semester, we can all breathe a little easier … and everyone should take some time to relax, breathe, and enjoy a well-deserved break!
But if you’re already thinking about your spring courses and ways to improve on the great work I know you have been doing, here’s my #1 suggestion: put some serious thought into how best to organize your content … and your Blackboard site (or whatever LMS you are using).
The #1 comment I heard from my students this semester was that they appreciated how I’d organized everything to make it quick and easy for them to find what they needed. All of this represents a BIG change from how I used to organize everything for F2F classes – but I think I will continue to use much of what I’ve outlined below, even when we’re all back to “normal.”
Now, of course every class is different; this is what worked for me and for my ENGL 405 students – feel free to adapt any of this in a way that works for you!
(nb: you can click on any of the images below to see a larger version)
main course menu
I gave my course menu a lot of thought. Rather than just using the default Bb categories (most of which, let’s face it, are actually not super-helpful), I broke things up. The syllabus, college COVID policies, etc., went into “Policies & Expectations.” All the nuts-and-bolts info is in the “How to…” section (including everything from simple stuff like how to login to our weekly Zoom meeting, or add a profile picture to Bb or Zoom, to assignment-related stuff like how to post to Flipgrid or how to write an excellent essay).
I won’t go through each area in detail, but let’s look at “Planning your week” next.
The absolute best thing I did for my class was choose a regular weekly schedule in advance and stick to it the entire semester. Students always knew what time every week their materials would be available, when their reflections and assignments were due, and when we were meeting for synchronous classes. Y’all, I CANNOT EMPHASIZE ENOUGH how important this was. Were there weeks when I did not have a reflection and/or assignment due? Yes. Did I give loads of extensions? You betcha! But making this schedule and sticking to it every week gave my students a feeling of normalcy and routine, and made sure I always had my sh*t together to post materials when they were expecting them.
(and yes, I also made a visual timeline of the week for them in Canva to make it easy to get a sense of this – and I even color-coded it for my first-year students – but that is 100% optional!)
schedule, readings, & assignments
The other section I want to dig into here is the main content area of my Bb site, which I called “Schedule, readings, & assignments.” This section started off with an overview of the topics for each week:
In my FYS, this overview also listed out the Sunday assignments for each week, but for the 400-level students in this class, I was less concerned about them keeping up with their work. 😉
Above this overview, I added a folder for each week, with the most recent info at the top to eliminate extra scrolling:
These folders followed the same formula every week:
- details for each day
- a subfolder with everything students needed to read / watch / do that particular week
- a link to their Wednesday reflection (I did these on either Padlet or Flipgrid)
- a link to submit their Sunday assignment
The contents of the “To read & do” folder changed significantly every week based on what we were doing – it’s where I listed readings from our course texts, uploaded PDFs, embedded YouTube or course videos, posted links to other materials, etc. But keeping that material in its own subfolder made it easy for students to come back to the main weekly folder and submit their assignments without having to scroll past all of the materials they had (hopefully!) already read and watched during the week.
Overall, I was really happy with this system, and based on the feedback I got, my students were pleased with it too. I know I’ll have to make some modifications for next semester, but I feel good about building on this foundation.
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