First-Time Course Setup

CTEL recommends the following workflow to set up your courses for the first time in Blackboard. These steps will make your course less confusing and easier to navigate for your students, and ensure everything is ready for the start of the semester.
This guide is intended for part-time and full-time faculty who are:

  • Rapidly preparing an online course using Blackboard close to the beginning of a semester.
  • Fluent in the course design process, but need a refresher on the first few practical operations to perform in Blackboard.
  • Teaching a face-to-face course, but want to use Blackboard to store and distribute course materials and assignments.
NOTE
Completing the tasks outlined in this guide will help you prevent a number of common issues students encounter in the default Blackboard course template. However, it isn’t a replacement for a proper course design process. Contact CTEL if you need help designing or significantly modifying your course.

Before you Begin

Before you can make changes to your course, Edit Mode will need to be turned on.

  1. Click the Edit Mode button at the top-right corner of any page in your course. Options for adding content will now appear.
  2. Click the Edit Mode button again when you’re done making changes. This will allow you to see a less cluttered interface and focus on other tasks like grading, participating in discussions, etc.
Screenshot of the location of the Edit Mode button in Blackboard
Step 1: Locating the Edit Mode button in Blackboard

1. Change the Entry Point for your course to the Announcements page or your Syllabus

The Entry Point is the first page your students see upon entering your course. The default Entry Point, Home Page, is cluttered and confusing. Changing it to Announcements or your Syllabus (See Step 3) will put the most important information about your course front and center. Click the plus sign (+) below for specific instructions on how to change your course entry point.

Changing your Course's Entry Page

By default, Blackboard shows the home page as the first page students see when they enter your course, but you can change this by setting a new Entry Point for your course.

View Video
Blackboard’s How to Design your Course Entry Point video on YouTube covers these steps and more.
  1. Go to the Customization section in your course menu. If it isn’t visible,
    1. Click the Control Panel link to expand its menu (if it isn’t already visible), then
    2. Click the Customization link to view its menu.
  2. Click the Teaching Style link. A page with your course’s style settings options will be displayed.
  3. Scroll down until you see the Select Course Entry Point section.
  4. Click the Entry Point dropdown menu, then select a new entry point for your course, i.e., Announcements or another page.
  5. Click the blue Submit button in the lower-right of the page.

2. Clean up the Course Menu

The Course Menu is the primary way your students will navigate your course, so it’s important that there are no extraneous links and things are named appropriately. Here are some general instructions for setting up your course menu.

  1. Hovering the mouse over links in the course menu will make a small, grey, circular Option Menu button to appear next to each one. Clicking these buttons allow you to rename and delete links.
  2. At minimum, you should:
    • Rename Information to “Syllabus – Start Here.”
    • Rename Content to “Weekly Materials.”
    • Since you previously set the course’s Entry Point to Announcements, you can delete the Home Page link.

If you’d like more information on adding, reordering, and removing items from the course menu, click the plus signs (+) below.

Adding content areas to your course menu

“Content area” is Blackboard’s term for a link in your course’s left-hand menu under which you can organize all sorts of course content, including files, text, links, etc. They are also sometimes referred to as “content folders.”

To add a content area to your course,

  1. Click the + icon on the top-left side of your Blackboard course site. A dropdown menu will open.
  2. Select the Content Area option. The “Add Content Area” pop-up window will open.
  3. Enter a name for your new content area.
  4. Select the “Available to Users” checkbox if you want students to be able to see the content area right away; if you’d rather set up the content area before it’s visible to students, leave this box unchecked.
  5. Click the Submit button.

You’re all set! A link to your new content area will show up as the last item in your course menu. If you want to reorder it, follow the directions below.

Want to see this as a video? Check out University College’s version on YouTube.

Reordering links in your course menu
Blackboard displays most of your course’s content in lists—not only the course menu but also discussions, announcements, content areas, etc. You can re-order these lists in one of two ways:

  1. Up/down arrows: Most lists have an up/down-arrow button at their top. Clicking this button opens a pop-up window with a list of your items and up-arrow and down-arrow buttons. Simply click an item to select it, then move it up or down the list by clicking the arrow buttons.
  2. Drag & drop: List items can often be reorganized by dragging them. Simply hover over the item you want to move until a yellow vertical bar appears to the left of its name and your pointer changes to a directional arrow. You can then drag and drop the item to a new place in the list.
Removing links from your course menu
To delete a link from your course menu,

  1. Hover over the item you want to remove until a gray down dropdown arrow appears to the right of its name.
  2. Click the dropdown arrow, then select the Delete option on its menu. An “Are you Sure?” pop-up window will open.
  3. Click the Delete content link. A warning message will appear.
  4. Click the Delete button. The pop-up window will close, and the item will be removed from your course menu.
Screenshot showing the location of the Delete option for an item in the course menu
Step 2: Locating the Delete option for an item in the course menu

3. Add your Syllabus

Your syllabus is the first and most important document in your course, therefore it deserves to have its own link right in the course menu. Having your syllabus in Blackboard is particularly handy for face-to-face courses, as it gives student easy access to it even if they have misplaced their original paper copy. We recommend that you create your syllabus as a Google Doc; then, you can link to it directly from your course menu. (Click the plus sign (+) below for instructions.)
Also, if you have yet to write your course syllabus, take a look at our CTEL Syllabus Template. It sets up all of your syllabus’s formatting for you, provides prompts for what to include, and contains all of the policy sections required by the Provost’s office.

Linking to a web page (like a Google Doc) from your course menu

You can add a link to an external website or Google Suite file (like a Google Doc or Sheet) to your course menu, but be sure to follow steps 7 and 8 so that the link opens in a new window. Otherwise, some web browsers may prevent it from opening.

  1. Click the plus sign (+) at the top of your course menu on the left side of the screen. A dropdown menu will open.
  2. Click the Web Link option. The “Add Web Link” pop-up window will open.
  3. Type a name for the link as you’d like it to appear in the menu (e.g., “Syllabus” or “USM Library”).
  4. Type or paste the webpage’s address in the “URL” textbox (e.g., “https://usm.maine.edu”).
  5. Select the Available to Users checkbox (otherwise, the link will not be visible to students).
  6. Click Submit. The pop-up window will close, and the new link will appear as the last item in your course menu.
  7. Hover over your new link until a gray dropdown-arrow icon appears, then click this icon to open its menu.
  8. Click Set Link to Open in a New Window. The menu will close, and your link will now open in a new tab or window in your browser.
Illustration of steps 1 and 2.
Steps 1 & 2: Adding a web link option in the course menu
Illustration of steps 3 through 6.
Steps 3–6: Naming the web link and adding its address
Illustration of step 8.
Step 8: Setting the web link to open in a new window

4. Add the My Grades tool to your Course Menu

It is important that students are easily able to check their progress in their course. By adding the “My Grades” tool to your course menu, they will be able to find their scores for their work and read any feedback you’ve left them.

Adding the "My Grades" tool to your course menu

You can add links to various Blackboard Tools to the Course Menu such as Zoom or My Grades. Follow the steps below or watch Blackboards own, “How to Add a Tool Link to your Course” video to learn how.

Add a Tool Link to your course menu

In this example, we will add a link to the My Grades to tool so students can check their progress in your course.

  1. Hover over the + icon at the top-left side of your course menu until its dropdown menu opens, then click the Tool Link option.
  2. Enter a name for the link, such as “My Grades”.
  3. Click the “Type” dropdown menu, then select My Grades. It’s the very last option on a very long list.
  4. Check the “Available to Users” box.
  5. Click the Submit button. The link to My Grades will now appear as the last link in your course menu.
Screenshot showing the option for adding a tool link to a Blackboard course menu
Step 1: Locating the option for adding a tool link to your course menu
Adding My Grades Tool Link
Adding My Grades Tool Link

5. Structure Your Weekly Content

Students have an easier time finding things in Blackboard if everything they have to do for the week is located in one place. That’s what the “Weekly Materials” folder is for.

  1. Click the Weekly Materials content area we renamed earlier.
  2. Select Content Folder in the Build Content menu.
  3. Name the folder “Week 01” or something similar.
  4. Repeat for the number of weeks your course will run.
  5. Click the title text for “Week 01”. This will display an empty content area.
  6. Use the Build Content and Assessments menus to add information, resources, and assignments for that week. (Click the plus sign (+) below for instructions on adding files to a content area.)
  7. Repeat for subsequent weeks in your course.
Adding files to your course

“Content areas” and “content folders” are effectively the same thing in Blackboard. The main difference is that content areas appear as links in your course menu and are created in the course menu’s options, but content folders do not appear in the course menu are created within a content area. Yes, it’s silly. Blame Blackboard.

  1. Navigate to the content area or content folder in which you want to add your file.
  2. Hover over the (a) Build Content menu button so that its dropdown menu opens, then select (b) Item.
  3. Enter a name for the file you’re adding in the “Name” textbox, e.g., “Course Schedule.”
  4. Enter information about the file in the “Text” textbox. If your file doesn’t have more than a page of text, copy and paste it into this textbox. Although this might seem redundant since you’re also attaching the file itself, it allows students to simply read your file’s text directly in Blackboard without having to download the file.
  5. Click the Browse My Computer button in the “Attachments” section.
  6. Select the file on your computer.
  7. Click the Submit button.
NOTE
Avoid using the File option in the “Build Content” menu. It doesn’t allow you to enter a description, and your file will not be viewable on some students’ computers. The method presented here allows your file to be compatible and accessible for everyone.
Illustration of Step 2.
Step 2a & b: Options for creating a new “Item” within a content area

6. Preview Your Course as a Student

Blackboard has a Student Preview mode that lets you browse your course as if you were a student. Essentially, it lets you “bug test” your course before making it available to your students. You can even enter Student Preview mode an submit your own assignments, take your own tests, etc. It’s a crucial tool for locating problems in your course, allowing you to fix them before students encounter them. Do a walkthrough of your course in this mode before making it available. Click the plus sign (+) below for details on using Student Preview.

Viewing your course as a student
Blackboard’s Student Preview mode lets you see your course exactly as it appears to your students.

  1. Go to the course you want to preview as a student.
  2. Click the Student Preview icon on the top-right corner of the page. (It’s a circle with two arrows around it.) Student Preview mode will turn on, and you can view your course exactly as a student sees it.
  3. Click the Exit Preview button on the top-right corner of the page when you’re ready to close Student Preview mode.

7. Make Your Course Available to Students One Week Before Classes Start

All Blackboard courses start out as Unavailable with no students in them. Once you make your course available, MaineStreet will add your students to the course roughly 24 hours later. Once that has happened, they’ll see your course in the My Courses list in Blackboard.

We strongly urge instructors to make their courses available to students one week before the start of classes for the following reasons:

  • To allow enough time for MaineStreet to populate students into the course and to identify any issues with enrollments before the class starts.
  • To mitigate panic. Many students check Blackboard well in advance to make sure they can get into a course or read its syllabus. If you haven’t made your course available, it doesn’t show up in their My Courses list. When this happens, students sometimes panic and call IT, student registration, etc. thinking something is wrong.

Click the plus sign (+) below to learn how to make your course available to students.

Making your course available to students
By default, your Blackboard course starts as “unavailable” to students. There will also be no students in the enrollment list. This allows you time to set up your course before they can access it. MaineStreet will add students to your course automatically the day after it has been made available.

Try to make your course available at least one week before the start of the semester to allow enough time for the system to add your students to your course and to accommodate anxious/ambitious students who like to check in early.

View Video
Blackboard’s YouTube video, How to Make your Course Available to Students, covers these steps.
Once you’re ready to open your course for students, you’ll need to manually change its availability setting before they can access it. Here’s how:

  1. Go to the course you want to make available.
  2. Click the Customization link in the “Course Management” section of the left-hand menu to display its options. (If you don’t see the Customization link, click the Control Panel link to make sure all of its menu options are visible.)
  3. Click the Properties link. A page with your course’s properties options will be displayed; scroll down to find the “Set Availability” section.
  4. Select Yes for the option next to “Make Course Available.”
  5. Click the Submit button at the bottom-right corner of the page. Your course is now available, and students will be automatically enrolled in it from MaineStreet within 24 hours.
NOTE
If students officially drop your course in MaineStreet, they’ll be automatically dropped from your Blackboard course as well. Students who have dropped your course will still appear in its Grade Center, and any work they submitted will be saved in Blackboard, but they’ll no longer have access to the course site.
Screenshot showing where a link to a course's properties is located in Blackboard
Steps 2 & 3: Navigating to your course’s properties options in Blackboard
Screenshot showing the location of a course's availability settings on its properties page
Step 4: Changing a course’s availability settings on its properties page

Conclusion

Building a course in Blackboard can be tedious. Fortunately, you only have to do it once for brand-new courses. Blackboard’s Course Copy feature allows you to copy the work you’ve done into the next semester’s course “shell.”

Copying your course
Generally, it’s easier to copy an entire course and delete any content that you don’t want after the copy is complete than it is to copy parts of a course. (See the note below for more information.)

  1. Go to the older course, i.e., the one that has material you want to copy into a new course.
  2. Click the Packages and Utilities link in the Course Management section of the left-hand menu to display its options. (If you don’t see the Packages and Utilities link, click the Control Panel link to make sure all of its menu options are visible.)
  3. Click the Course Copy link. The Copy Course page will open.
  4. Click the Browse button next to the “Destination Course ID” textbox to select the course you’ll be copying content into. A pop-up window that displays a list of your courses will open.
  5. Click the course to select it.
  6. Click the Submit button at the bottom-right side of the window. The pop-up window will close, and the code for the course into which you’re copying content will now appear in the “Destination Course ID” textbox.
  7. Select checkboxes for the specific types of content that you want to copy. We recommend that you click the Select All button, then deselect checkboxes for content that might be outdated, like announcements. (See the note below if you’re copying discussions, assignments, and/or test and surveys.)
  8. Select the Copy links and copies of content (include entire course home folder) option in the File Attachments section. This will ensure that you retain copies of the course’s files long term; if you only link to them, they’ll be deleted after two years.
  9. Click the Submit button on the bottom-right side of the page. You’ll see a confirmation message that your course copy has started.

The copy process might take several minutes; you’ll receive an email once it’s fully complete. New content that you’ve copied will be listed at the bottom of your course’s menu.

Screenshot showing the location of the Course Copy link in the Packages and Utilities menu's options
Steps 2 & 3: Locating the Course Copy link under the Packages and Utilities menu
Screenshot showing the locations of the Browse and Select All buttons on the Copy Course page
Step 4: Browsing for the course you want to copy content into; and Step 7: The Select All button, our recommended option for selecting content to copy
Screenshot showing the location of the correct option in the File Attachments section
Step 8: Selecting the “Copy links and copies of the content (include entire course home folder)” option in the File Attachments section
NOTE
Copying certain types of content can be tricky. Here are some considerations:

  • Discussions: To remove threads and replies and include only the original forum when you copy discussions from one course to another, select the Include only the forums, with no starter posts option. Otherwise, students in your new course will see posts made by students in your old one.
  • Assignments: Be sure to select both Grade Center Columns & Settings and the Content Area an assignment is in. Otherwise, it won’t copy properly.
  • Tests or Surveys: Be sure to select 3 items: Grade Center Columns & Settings, Tests, Surveys, and Pools, and the Content Area the test or survey is in. Otherwise, it won’t copy properly.
Feedback
css.php