How to Make Blackboard User Friendly

Introduction: How to Make Blackboard User Friendly

Like many educators, I am experimenting with how to write curriculum and develop an online course using Blackboard.  According to its website, Blackboard is an online content management system that is “designed to enable educational innovations everywhere by connecting people and technology.”  Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Blackboard is a threat to the nation’s future in education.  I say this because it has stifled innovation in the education field with it’s terrible user interface, clunky WYSIWYG editor, and sloth-like performance.  It is so frustrating to use, for both educators and students, that many have just abandoned the concept of leveraging the power of the Internet for educational purposes.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Blackboard, consider yourself lucky.  Blackboard is an online educational platform that has entrenched itself in several school districts and universities across the country.  Now that it has established itself as the status quo, school bureaucracies have been slow to look for and implement an alternative.

And if you don’t believe me, simply do a google search for, “I hate blackboard.”  Two million websites cannot be wrong.  And if you still doubt the severity of the issue, just google,"I * hate blackboard” and you will be amazed that so much creative language can be used to describe an educational platform that is supposed to be helping our students.

Like many educators, I am unfortunately stuck with it.  My school’s administration has adopted it.  Most of my students already use it.  Many of my colleagues use it.  And it is, in fact, a relatively secure method of distributing grades.

So I have come up with a way to improve the ease of use of the program.  This video shows some simple ways of using hyperlinked Google Documents to manage the class assignments in Blackboard.  More importantly, the user-interface for the students can be greatly improved by placing an entire semester’s curriculum on one page.  The advantage (or “learning outcome”) of creating a one-page hyperlinked curriculum map on Blackboard is that teachers will be able to:

Create, update, and edit class assignments on Blackboard without having to log into Blackboard and suffer through its terrible user interface.

And students will be able to:

Analyze an entire semester’s worth of curriculum without having to navigate through Blackboard’s confusing folder structure.

So far, my students like the simple interface.  They can find their assignments quickly and have not complained about navigating through Blackboard.  As a teacher, I love this set up.  I can make last minute changes to my lesson plans, on Google Docs, before printing them and I don’t have to worry about them being updated on Blackboard; it just happens automatically.  The face-to-face and online components of my class are seamlessly integrated.  Any and all handouts are automatically updated online!

I hope that you find this video to be informative.  This system has made my online teaching and media curriculum run a lot smoother.  If anyone has any additional ideas on how to write curriculum for Blackboard, please let me know!  I’d like to make additional Blackboard tutorials and curriculum mapping videos.

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    How To Make Blackboard User Friendly: switch to Ginkgotree! Seriously, I think you'll like what we've put together. We're a small edtech startup, and we listen. You can email me (Lida) from the bottom of the landing page with questions / comments.

    My university just switched to Moodle (yay!!), but when we were using Blackboard, I told my students to do their writing in a word processor and upload it to the discussion board, since Blackboard has a habit of sending half-finished posts into the Never Never Land of cyber space.

    I also used the html feature in text blocks for the following (yes I know the html is awkward--it was my first major venture in html--but it worked).

    style="font-family: arial; color: rgb(125, 25, 35); font-size: large;">

    Welcome to Educational Psychology

    Below this welcome is a little web page that will help you explore your options as you begin this class and that will support your finishing unit 1. To get

    started with it, look at the question below the picture that says "Welcome. The key is under the mat."

    This class is divided into fourteen units (7% each), a pretest that is worth zero% and a final that is worth 2% of your grade. I want you to complete about 1

    unit per week or faster, if you like. When you stay on a reasonable schedule, I can help you understand the material better if that is necessary. I

    understand that life happens, so if something (including procrastination, which I also understand) is getting in the way of doing about 1 unit per week,

    please contact me via email: [email] or call me/text me at [phone number]. My desire is for you to complete this course with flying colors and if you contact

    me when something is going wrong, I can help you through the rough spots. Go to "Course Documents" and you will find a folder with some tools (which you

    don't have to look at unless you want to)and one folder for each of the 14 units. Open Unit 1 and read the agenda, which is the first file in the folder. The

    agenda will tell you what needs to be accomplished to complete unit 1. Every unit also entails posting on the Discussion Board. When you click on that

    button, you will see a forum for each of the 14 units. There are lots of things you get to choose in this course and one of them is due dates. I would like

    one unit per week, but you can decide what your due date for turning things in based on the other things in your life. For example, you could turn things in

    every Friday, every Saturday, every Sunday. As long as I see you working steadily on this material, the due date is up to you.

    title="By alborzshawn (Welcome) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons"
    href=""> alt="Welcome mat"

    What are you going to do

    Email instructor saying, I have no idea what
    to do

    Find the course in Blackboard and look around
    at it

    Find someone else who is in the class and
    together figure it out

    title="By Infrogmation of New Orleans (Photo by Infrogmation) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (

    sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons"
    href=""> alt="TwoRoundGlassesBifocals"

    Have you looked at the course before
    emailing the instructor?

    Yes but I still didn't know how to get started

    No because I'm totally intimidated by the
    whole thing

    title="By Drawing: Leyla Dilmen (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via

    Wikimedia Commons"
    href=""> alt="Blackboard 04143"

    You found the course in Blackboard.
    What happens next?

    You find the instructions and begin to follow

    You have major technical issues

    title="By Jon Stammers (Flickr [1]) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons"
    href=""> alt="MankanyaGirls"

    Finding someone to work with will
    help both of you enormously across the semester. Now, together,

    Find the course in Blackboard

    title="By EJavanainen (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons"
    href=""> alt="Arobaze"

    Email the instructor
    (contact info), or call or text her at phone number.

    Also find a friend

    When you have the information you need, find
    the course in Blackboard

    title="By EJavanainen (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons"
    href=""> alt="Arobaze"
    Email the instructor
    (contact info), or call or text her at phone number.

    Also find a friend

    When you have the information you need, [find the course in Blackboard]

    title="By The people from the Tango! project (The Tango! Desktop Project) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons"
    href=""> alt="Folder"

    Go to Course Documents. From there,
    select the folder that says Unit 1.
    Open that folder and select the file that says "Agenda." Follow the
    instructions on that page.

    Got it!


    title="By Technicalcomputers (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons"
    href=""> alt="TCs"

    Contact IT (university IT) if the problem is related to getting on the internet or
    logging into Blackboard

    Email the instructor (contact info), or call or text her at
    phone number if the problem involves glitches in Blackboard or your
    concerns about how to proceed.

    Also find a friend

    When you have the information and support you need, find
    the course in Blackboard

    title="By Sodanakin (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons"
    href=""> alt="Avatar 2795"

    Complete first unit:

    Email to instructor about goals and values Yes

    Post to Discussion Board on Blackboard Yes

    Practice Praxis if you will be taking the Praxis II Principles of
    Learning and Teaching test for licensure (THIS PRETEST WILL NOT BE PART


    Do I have to take Praxis II PLT?

    I don't have to take Praxis II PLT

    I took it and passed it already

    Plan for next week Yes

    Got all of Unit 1 done! Yes

    title="By Ramesh NG (Flickr: Smileyes) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons"
    href=""> alt="Smileyes"

    Great! You're making progress!

    Keep working.

    title="By Bjørn Smestad according to this archived page of submitted logos from Nupedia site - as is seen in that page at the bottom "Logo ideas posted

    with permission of their designers. Click on a logo to go to its designer's website." Image link in that page is pointing to this archived page:

    "Assistant Professor Bjørn Smestad". previously attributed to Stephen Gilbert. Actually, User Stephen Gilbert is not the author of the logo, as he

    himself stated on 17 July 2007 (see statement) (*)[see page for license], via Wikimedia Commons"
    href=""> alt="Wiki logo Nupedia"

    Discussion Board???

    Where is that?

    How do I do that?

    title="By The people from the Tango! project, modifications by User:Father Goose. [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (], via Wikimedia

    href=""> alt="Text-x-generic with pencil"

    If you want to be licensed as a
    teacher, you need to take the appropriate level of the PLT (Principles
    of Learning and Teaching) Praxis Test (Praxis II as opposed to Praxis
    I). Any questions? Contact your advisor.

    Back to Unit 1

    title="By Lirion (Lirion) [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0

    (], via Wikimedia Commons"
    href=""> alt="Smile Lirion"

    You don't have to take the Praxis.
    Whew!! You are excused from the pre-test and your final will be a
    reflection by you on what you have learned in the course and how it
    will be useful in whatever you are doing professionally and/or
    personally. This can take the format of an email to the instructor

    Back to Unit 1

    title="By Jaksmata at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons"
    href=""> alt="WorldCalendar"

    Please make plans each week for the
    next unit that are realistic to your life. If you have any questions or
    concerns about your plans or how this course fits into your life,
    please contact the instructor (contact info ).

    But the instructor will hate me or be mean
    to me

    It's no good--I can never get caught up, now

    title="By Tpa2067 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons"
    href=""> alt="Applau"

    You completed something that was
    very challenging--you began learning in an online course by introducing
    the subject matter to yourself and carrying out activities
    independently (or with someone else in the class--either way is great).
    You are off to a great start in the class. Congratulations on a job
    well done!

    Start over

    title="By Al-Idrisi (Bibliotheque nationale de France (MSO Arabe 2221)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons"
    href=""> alt="TabulaRogeriana"

    The Discussion Board is located
    within the Blackboard for the class. Look on the left hand side of your
    page for "Discussion Board" in the link buttons.

    Take me back


    class="field" colspan="2"> alt="" style="border: medium none ; display: block ! important;"
    height="1" width="1">


    *Save Your
    Work!!!* *Save Your
    Work!!!* *Save Your
    Work!!!* *Save Your
    Work!!!* *Save Your
    Work!!!* *Save Your
    Work!!!* *Save Your
    Work!!!* *Save Your
    Work!!!* *Save Your
    Work!!!* *Save Your
    Work!!!* *Save Your
    Work!!!* *Save Your


    class="field" colspan="2"> alt="" style="border: medium none ; display: block ! important;"
    height="1" width="1">

    alt="" class="corner" height="8" width="8"> alt="" class="corner" height="8" width="8">
    src="/i/c.gif" alt="" height="10" width="1">
    src="/i/bBL.gif" alt="" class="corner" height="8"
    src="/i/bBR.gif" alt="" class="corner" height="8"

    Within the Discussion Board, you
    will see a place for discussions related to each Unit. Choose Unit 1.
    Within that, hit the button "Begin New Thread" and paste in your post.
    Write your post in a word processor because there are few things more
    frustrating than having created a brilliant response which Blackboard
    sent into unknown parts of cyberspace. Feel free to respond to what
    others have to say.

    Take me back

    title="Dave Croker [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons"
    href=""> alt="Rock climbing on Wharncliffe crag - - 689155"

    Taking an online course is really
    challenging. You have challenging material to learn in a challenging
    format, so if you don't make a mistake somewhere down the line, that
    would be a pleasant surprise. One goal of this course is for you to
    succeed in learning through an online format, so you will be forgiven
    and also given a chance to get back on track. Please contact your
    instructor (contact info here), who is the one who put
    the "pro" in "procrastination."

    Back to Unit 1

    title="By Adrian Pingstone [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons"
    href=""> alt="Pavehawk.750pix"

    Your instructor is open to
    providing you with major alternatives including, dropping the class
    (and you would be welcome to take it again at a later time), doubling
    up on your units, taking a planned break from the course, and getting a
    course extension at the end of the semester. This is a challenging
    course in a challenging format and all students are going to be in need
    of some kind of support from the instructor. Don't deny yourself this
    support. Email: Phone:.

    Back to Unit 1


    All I can say, as a college student, is that Blackboard has indeed been the most glitchy web app that I have had the displeasure of using.

    I took a year of online courses through it, and I am surprised that I am not in a long-sleeved jacket in a rubber room somewhere.

    I hope some of my professors take some of your suggestions to heart.