Designing Quality Courses in Blackboard with Cheryl Kautz

kautzcSit back, relax, and watch as Cheryl Kautz, Affiliate Instructor, in the School of Computing and Information Systems at GVSU guides you through her CIS 231 course in Blackboard.



As a previous “Blackboard Exemplary Course Award” and “Most Inclusive Classroom Award” recipient, Cheryl focuses on using quality course design methods including key tools in Blackboard such as Blackboard Ally for accessibility (eg. Syllabus, course content etc. includes alternative formats such as audio only), Panopto for video with popup formative quizzes, and tips for improving navigation including using course links to keep students on track and to provide easier navigation.

Highlighted in Cheryl’s course tour are the following design principles in using Blackboard to delivery quality instruction at GVSU.

Streamlined Course Menu

Customizing the course menu provides students with a simple and easy way to navigate the areas of her course. When designing your menu, aim to keep your navigation areas as clean, short and simple as possible. Use headings and dividers to break up the menu into chunks.


Course Links

Course Links assists students with navigating and jumping from section to section in a course site. Using Blackboard Course Links ensures students can easily navigate to other areas of your course quickly.


Checking for Accessibility with Blackboard Ally

Cheryl has dedicated time for inclusive learning by ensuring the content uploaded is accessible with Blackboard Ally. A GREEN indicator indicates that the file has a good rating. Yellow or red indicators appear when a file has low or poor levels of web accessibility.


Students benefit from using Blackboard Ally by accessing alternative file formats such as audio only.


Getting Started

Establish a “Getting Started” content area to help students “get started”. This area of Cheryl’s course provides:

  • links to “Are you ready for online learning at GVSU”
  • encouraging students to upload a Blackboard profile picture for increased engagement
  • an introductory Blackboard blog post for student to student interaction
  • a course link directing students to begin the “week 1 tasks”

Weekly Folders

Each weekly folder uses a consistent design and includes key dates and reminders such as midterm, spring break, final exams, and most importantly the objectives to be covered. The objectives are connected to the learning activities and assessments to inform students clearly about what they are expected to accomplish throughout the week which is good instructional design.


Inside of each weekly folder, students are presented with a “To Do” instruction list, practice assignments, video lectures, discussions, projects, quizzes, audio PowerPoints, and homework help.


Panopto Videos with Quizzes

Cheryl uses Panopto to present video based instruction with quizzes to check for students’ understanding and to provide formative feedback.



eLearning and Emerging Technologies Team offers Course Design and Development Support

As you build courses in Blackboard, please feel free to reach out to the eLearning and Emerging Technologies team for assistance in most effectively leveraging the use of Blackboard in your teaching at GVSU. We’re here to help!

10 Tips for Quality Online and Hybrid Teaching

This post comes to you from Kim Kenward, Instructional Designer, and the IDeL Team.


TIP 1: Be Present & Visible Online
Research and end of term evaluations show that faculty who regularly update their announcements, send email reminders and provide detailed and consistent grading feedback develop a stronger online learning community.  

  • Meet Live
    Set up regular times when you can meet in a Blackboard Collaborate Ultra live office hour time, respond quickly to email and voicemail – these connections can be invaluable to students.  
  • Turn on your Webcam
    Don’t be afraid to turn on that web camera and record a few of your video lectures/announcements with yourself on camera.  Students appreciate “seeing” their instructor and knowing there is a “real” person teaching their course.
  • Create a Welcome Video with Panopto
    Consider making and  posting a video introduction about yourself, your interests and upcoming highlights for your specific course. Should you need help getting started with video creation or exploring additional ideas for creating instructor presence, don’t hesitate to reach out to our instructional designers, digital media developers and eLearning specialists.

TIP 2: Build a Supportive Online Course Community
If you have participated in our GVSU  Foundations of Online & Hybrid Course Development training, you will have learned about the Community of Inquiry Model and the importance of designing your course so that there are equal opportunities for faculty to student interaction, student to student interaction and student to content interaction.  

  • Faculty to student interaction can include things like video announcements, weekly reminders, audio podcasts, and detailed grading feedback.
  • Student to student interaction includes opportunities for personal introductions, discussion board forums for casual dialogue and posting of course questions, as well as small/large group discussion and opportunities for peer review and feedback.

TIP 3: Share Communication and Course Expectations
Ensure you and your students are on the same page. Be sure to inform your students about: 1) how you will communicate with them and 2) how much time students should be expected to be working on the course each week.  Include on your Blackboard course site and within your syllabus a set of expectations for how students can communicate you and have dialogue with other students online.

  • Be clear as to how much effort and time will be required on a weekly basis keeps surprises to a minimum. Include recommendations for regular check-ins to the course and the number of times they should expect to be “online”.   
  • Ask your students to communicate regularly with you if they are experiencing issues or have questions about course content, assignments and requirements.  
  • At the start of the course, ask students to review the GVSU Online Website and complete the Online Learning Student Readiness Quiz.  
  • During your first week, provide students with an orientation for your course, create a syllabus quiz and award points for completion.

TIP 4:  Use a Course Design Standard but Include Variety
Carefully review your course content a standard course design and weekly format is helpful to encourage students to develop a routine and easily navigate your Blackboard site to find materials. Also, use a variety of large group, small group, and individual work experiences. Learning works best when there are a variety of activities and experiences. Equally so, online courses can be more enjoyable and effective when students have the opportunity to brainstorm and work through concepts and assignments with peers.  

  • Consider using Open Educational Resources in your course for content. OER resources are no or low cost, allow you to remix and share, and give valuable options for flexibility. In addition, OER resources are available to students electronically and remove barriers of access.
  • Carefully consider which assignments might lend themselves to group or peer experiences and don’t hesitate to ask for assistance from the GVSU instructional designers about pedagogical approaches and appropriate technology to support groupwork.

TIP 5:  Be Regular and Substantive – Using both Synchronous and Asynchronous Activities
Online and hybrid courses at GVSU are not self-paced “correspondence courses”, and federal regulations in fact require “regular and substantive” faculty and student interactions. Regular asynchronous learning activities and communication through group work and discussion boards keep students engaged. In addition, there is nothing better than “live” office hours, interactive brainstorming, and discussion. Although it may not always be possible to schedule a required synchronous activity, you might find your students appreciate having Blackboard Collaborate Ultra available for groupwork and individual faculty consultations.

  • Regular and substantive interaction between a student and an instructor is an integral part of the educational process. Faculty-initiated and student-initiated interaction provide help to ensure students are engaging with academic activities (quiz, test, paper, or online discussion).

Tip 6:  Early in the Semester – Ask for Feedback
Midterm surveys or just informal discussions asking students to provide feedback on what is working well in a course can provide critical insight on what’s really happening and what changes can be made to the course before it’s too late.

  • Use Blackboard anonymous surveys or Google surveys to collect information.  Don’t hesitate to ask for assistance from the GVSU instructional designers in regard to sample survey questions and technical assistance.
  • Sample questions: It was easy for me to navigate through course content., I felt that content was presented using a variety of media (e.g., text, visual, audio) that were appropriate to the learning goals and subject., I found that the instructional strategies (course activities, types of content presented, etc.) helped me reach course goals and objectives., It was clear to me how I was to use course content to achieve the stated learning outcomes., The tools available within Blackboard were used in ways that enhanced my learning., My instructor took an active role in facilitating and moderating discussions, including providing feedback to students. See “Getting Feedback from your Students” on the IDeL website for example questions from the Blackboard Exemplary Course Program.

TIP 7:  Prepare Discussion Posts that Invite Questions, Discussions, Reflections and Responses
When designing your Blackboard discussion board postings, be sure to create open-ended questions that learners can explore and apply the concepts that they are learning.  Make sure to also stagger due dates of the responses and consider mid-point summary and /or encouraging comments.

  • Within your syllabus, provide guidelines and instruction on what you “expect” when responding to other students. For example, suggest a two-part response: (A) what you liked or agreed with or what resonated with you, and (B) a follow-up question such as what you are wondering about or curious about, etc.
  • Share a rubric with your students as to how they will be assessed on their assignment and discussion board activities.

TIP 8:  Integrate Current Events and Examples into your Course
Students enjoy seeing the “real-world” relevance and application of what they are learning and how that links to current real world application and events.

  • When possible, build in opportunities throughout your online discussions and provide links to current events in your weekly announcements.  
  • Enlist student assistance in identifying content that is available online and posting those resources in the discussion board to be used in future semesters.   
  • Don’t forget to ask your GVSU library liaison to help you identify new resources, including streaming videos, that can supplement your course readings and existing web resources.

TIP 9:  Encourage Student-Centered Learning
Discussion board forums, Bb Blogs, Bb Journals and group work are all excellent strategies for engaging learners in clarifying, identifying and application of course concepts with real-world experiences.  In addition, find opportunities for students to explore and expand their own learning capabilities.

  • Provide opportunities for students to reflect on what they are learning and how they are learning it.
  • Give students voice and choice about which assignments they complete – and how. This is a good principle of Universal Design for Learning. This might even include allowing students to create course content, classroom policies, establish assignment deadlines within a given time window, and opportunities to create assessment criteria.

TIP 10:  Plan a Closing and Wrap-up Activity for your Course

Starting the course on a positive note and ending the semester strong are equally important.  We all know that online students are juggling academics, their personal life, and work obligations. So, by the end of the semester they are often tired, stressed, and sometimes overwhelmed.  

  • Take the time to share five things you’ll remember about your course and one thing about teaching you’ve learned from these students, and be sure to share those positive reflections with your students. Post as an Announcement or send as Email to the students to share with them your reflections.  
  • Ask your students to reflect upon their learning throughout the semester in an anonymous Blackboard survey or Google form.   
  • While it’s still fresh in your mind, make notes on things you will change next time your teach the course. You can even create a folder or items in your Blackboard site that are hidden from students as reminders for yourself.  
  • Ask yourself… How did your relationship with your course begin, evolve and end? What was new, different and exciting about the content? Did you teach well? Did students learn what you set out for them to learn? If you could change one thing about your teaching and their learning next semester, what would it be?

@GVSU Professors receive @Blackboard Catalyst Award

ECP_WinnerCongratulations to Grand Valley State University’s professors Szymon Machajewski and Cheryl Kautz! These GVSU professors recently earned recognition from education technology company Blackboard Inc. as recipients of the “Exemplary Course Award” through the Blackboard Catalyst Award program. The winners will be recognized during the BbWorld 2017 conference to be held July 25-27 in New Orleans.


Szymon Machajewski, Affiliate Instructor, in the School of Computing and Information Systems at GVSU received a 2017 Blackboard Exemplary Course Award for his CIS150 – Introduction to Computing Course.  The award also recognized Brad Brege, CIS150 course coordinator, as a course collaborator and contributor.




Cheryl Kautz, Affiliate Instructor, in the School of Computing and Information Systems at GVSU received a 2017 Blackboard Exemplary Course Award for her CIS 238 – Internet Media and Programming Course.



The eLearning and Emerging Technologies department offers our congratulations to Cheryl Kautz and Szymon Machajewski in their hard work to support student success through excellence in course design and teaching!

The Blackboard Catalyst Exemplary Course Award recognizes faculty and course designers from schools, colleges and universities around the world who develop exciting and innovative courses that represent the very best in technology and learning.

The award highlights technologically rich, engaging, well designed, and pedagogically sound courses that showcase best practices for the user community. Submissions were judged by peers and by experts on the following components:

  • course design;
  • interaction and collaboration;
  • assessment; and
  • learner support

About the Blackboard Catalyst Exemplary Course Award:


Exemplary Course Award – This award recognizes faculty and course designers who develop exciting and innovative courses that represent the very best in technology and learning.

Congratulations to GVSU faculty Szymon Machajewski and Cheryl Kautz, along with all of the 2017 award winners:

  • Hawaii Pacific University: Dr. Han Nee Chong
  • Algonquin College, Ontario, Canada: Dr. Albert Dudley
  • Grand Valley State University, Michigan: Cheryl Kautz
  • Grand Valley State University, Michigan: Szymon Machajewski
  • Columbia Southern University, Alabama: Jacqueline Pica and Dr. Christine Whitaker
  • Ohio University: Kyle Rosenberger
  • Kent State University, Ohio: Dr. John Staley

For more information about the 2017 award program, please visit the Blackboard Catalyst Award Community Site.

“Blackboard is proud to recognize this year’s Catalyst Award winners for their commitment to leveraging technology to improve the education experience,” said Bill Ballhaus, Chairman, CEO and President of Blackboard. “We look forward to continuing to work with these educators and institutions to support learner success, and to share best practices widely for the benefit of the education community.”