Just like navigating a new campus, students need to learn how to navigate your course within the Brightspace learning environment. Think of online modules as different hallways within the campus and the various content pages as books on a shelf. On campus, we have various systems for organizing these things and we need to create these systems in our digital environments as well. If students can’t find what they’re looking for easily, they might become confused, frustrated and disengaged which can be compounded by the fact that they’re often looking at multiple Brightspace course sites a day! Organizing your course in a clear and consistent manner are key factors in helping your students spend more of their time and energy on learning.
Here are our top tips for structuring your course site in a student-centred way:
1. Organize your Course Modules by Week or Topic
The simplest way to organize your course site is to set up your modules by week or by topic (that may span several weeks). Modules are like menu items on a website: if you have too many menu items, the working memory has trouble holding that information which makes it difficult to process choices. In general, aim to have no more than 10-12 items in a menu and if you have more than this, consider if there is a logical way to group similar content together. It’s not recommended to organize your course by content type (lectures, readings, assignments, quizzes, etc.) as Brightspace already offers those groupings from within the Course Tools menu in the navigation bar.
2. Consistently Structure Content in your Modules
Structure your content within modules in a consistent way so that students know what to expect with each new topic. For example, each module could have:
- An introduction page explaining what the module is about, what the learning outcomes are and what will happen during the week
- Content and activities and assignments, such as video lectures, a content page with resources, and a discussion forum and a quiz. Pay attention to workload when deciding what to include during a week.
- A Zoom link to any live sessions that week (e.g. office hours or live session)
3. Use Consistent Naming Conventions
Create naming conventions for modules, content and file names that are consistent, simple and descriptive. For example: Video 1: Creating and Contesting Canada; Video 2: Preserving and Protecting Canada.
4. Start the course with an Introduction Module.
This module should include key course information including schedule, syllabus, contact information, guidelines for community and conduct, campus supports etc. Grouping the key pieces of course information together in a prominent location helps students return to it when needed. A useful way to go about this is by creating a course introduction module. See SUNY’s rubric for key elements to include in your online course.
6. Provide Concise and Clear Instructions
Pay close attention to your instructions and edit for clarity. Remember that students can’t ask you follow-up questions and receive an immediate answer as they might do at the end of an in-person class. They are receiving a lot of written instructions from their courses and they may become overwhelmed when trying to read through wordy paragraphs. Learn more about the importance of clear instructions
7. Use Hyperlinks to Link Content
Use hyperlinks within content pages to direct students to web resources or documents such as worksheets rather than adding each one of these as a stand-alone item within a module. As a list of items in a module, these can quickly lose context and become hard for students to keep track of. You can also use hyperlinks to direct students to other pieces of content within your course to reinforce specific content connections – but this shouldn’t replace an organized and easy-to-navigate table of contents! Learn more about good approaches to using hyperlinks.
8. Make use of Weekly Checklists
Provide a weekly checklist to help keep your students on track. Try to post this at the same time each week either in the announcements, or in a dedicated location within your course. This video gives an overview of checklists and instructions on how to set one up in Brightspace.
9 Set up Zoom directly in Brightspace
Use the Zoom tool (from the Course Tools menu in the navigation bar) to schedule or import your Zoom meetings for live classes. Direct your students to this area as a consistent location for them to find their Zoom link for each class. Even better– set up a reoccurring Zoom link so that students can bookmark it for the whole semester! Check out this page for more information on using Zoom, including how to set up a session from directly within Brightspace.
As you are developing your course, these resources might be helpful:
- Fully customizable course templates for Brightspace
- Course Navigation Guide – more suggestions for making your course well-organized so students can easily navigate in Brightspace