At UMBC, courses are created in Blackboard about four weeks before a new semester begins, providing time for faculty to transition instructional materials and assessments into a new site for students. All course shells are unavailable, however, requiring faculty to make sure students can see their courses and access content by the time classes start. Some instructors choose to open a course earlier, by days or weeks, to give students access to materials for preparation for a busy term.
While the semester might start on a specific date, here are five reasons why to consider opening your Blackboard course early.
1. Introduce Students to Class
Opening the class earlier gives you and your students time to start getting to know the course requirements, required course materials, and common questions or other logistics via a course FAQ. Orientations also allow you to find and fix unexpected issues with course content, including hidden files or broken links.
- Clarify expectations for how your course will be facilitated, especially if it’s fully online or hybrid, and what learners will achieve on their journey (Quality Matters, 2018).
- Provide a course tour so students can explore the structure of the course and find their way around the content and organization without the pressure of due dates.
2. Refresh Prior Knowledge
If your course has prerequisites or is part of a multi-part course, course materials and resources might include references to materials from prior courses or review materials. Opening your course early helps students to assess and refresh their knowledge before new content is introduced.
- Consider Panopto videos, reading material, interactive exercises, or self-check quizzes to refresh knowledge.
- Support potential remediation with early access to materials and activities.
- Include review materials for test preparation, especially for cumulative or certification exams.
3. Complete Early Course Content
Some courses require that students complete practice problems, homework exercises, and other prerequisite activities to meet comprehensive curricular needs and learning objectives. As with refreshing prior knowledge, early content requirements may include non-assessment resources such as videos and reading materials, which can be valuable to student success (Weiss, 2019).
- Inform students about prerequisite requirements well ahead of due dates.
- Allow ample time for students to complete any scaffolded assignments and come to classes prepared to learn new material.
4. Encourage Student & Instructor Engagement
Opening your course early welcomes students into your virtual classroom and fosters greater interaction between you and your class. Early course access allows students to review the syllabus and complete introductory assignments, like a syllabus quiz or Quiz 0. Students can engage with course messages and announcements.
- Connect students with each other through an introductory discussion, FAQ discussion, or VoiceThread.
- Add your own welcome video for a personalized touch and post your instructor introduction to help build trust and community with your students (Bain, 2004).
- Send regular messages and update course announcements to establish essential instructor presence (Garrison, Anderson, and Archer, 2000).
5. Support Student Success
Getting started early helps students start the semester on the right track with access to course materials, digital resources and textbooks. Early access to a course helps with student awareness of the course schedule and their own performance. Knowing when due dates occur and how they're doing, thanks to frequent and timely feedback, can help students become more successful in your courses.
- Create opportunities for students to practice with course tools, such as a low-stakes, zero-points quiz with Respondus Lockdown Browser. This can reduce stress ahead of required exams.
- Ensure students know they can leverage Ally’s alternative file format to support their learning preferences. This step aligns with the guiding principles of Universal Design for Learning and empowers their learning process (CAST, 2018).
By default, the starting date for all Blackboard courses are set to 2 weeks before the semester begins, allowing you to open the course any time during that period. If you’d like to open a course earlier than 2 weeks before the semester starts, you can change the date for an Original course using this FAQ, but Ultra courses will require a ticket for support.
As always, if you have any questions about teaching, learning, and technology at UMBC, please consider the following options:
- PIVOT | Academic Continuity | Keep On Teaching | Student Technology Resources
- Check our extensive FAQ collection
- Open a ticket via RT
- Follow the Instructional Technology & DoIT myUMBC groups
- Request a consult with instructional technology staff
Bain, K. (2004). Chapter 6: How do they treat their students? From What the best college teachers do. Boston: Harvard Press.
CAST (2018). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.2. Retrieved from http://udlguidelines.cast.org
Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2/3), 87-105.
Quality Matters Rubric, Sixth Edition (2018).
Weiss, H. L. (2019). Work in progress: Using videos for improvement in knowledge of prerequisite material. 126th Annual Conference & Exposition. American Society for Engineering Education.