Anatomy of an Online Course

There is no “official” course layout for online courses developed with the Global Campus. There is no set form of assessment or other directive beyond those established by your department. However, there are several conventions that all courses should maintain. These conventions provide the skeleton or framework that holds your course together and makes it easy for students to find what they need to complete their work. Whether you are designing a new course or teaching a course designed by someone else, each of these ideas are essential:  


This is a fundamental concept for all good online courses. Establish a method for course organization and stick with it to the end. This consistency reduces frustration for students who are not scavenging for materials and assignments. The consistency reduces frustration for you as well because students will not be emailing you every hour asking where to find this assignment or that file.

Most courses are developed around a central series of units. There isn’t a set format for this either, but there are some things to consider. The typical fall/spring semester is 15 weeks. Many instructors find this pattern to be the easiest approach. Some instructors will create units that last over a period of weeks. The important thing to remember here is to maintain a clear organizational structure for your units so that students don’t get lost from one week to the next.

In many online classes, weekly folders are organized in reverse order with the first week at the bottom of the page and the last week at the top. At a prescheduled time, each week, a new folder is released. The most recent folder is at the top of the list, so you (and the students) don’t have to scroll down the page to find the newest information.

We always recommend that you provide a low-stakes activity to encourage students to familiarize themselves with the syllabus and other course materials. A common approach is the Syllabus Quiz. It’s an attractive option for two reasons. First, it helps to make the students accountable for what’s in the syllabus, and second, it gives the students what may be their first attempt at taking a test in Blackboard. It’s never too early to practice since some students are anxious test-takers.

Sample Syllabus Quiz Questions:

  • The total number of points available for this course is:   a) 2000, b) 1200, c) 1000, d) 1500
  • The final exam for this course is cumulative and covers all of the chapters.   True/False
  • Unless it is the weekend, the longest you should have to wait for Dr. Professor-Name to reply to an email you send her is usually:   a) 12 hours, b) 48 hours, c) 3 days, d) 1 week
  • Dr. Professor-Name usually responds quickly to end-of-semester emails asking for extra credit.   True/False

Believe it or not, your students are interested in you. They want to know you’re a real human, and many instructors find that sharing personal details related to the course subject or field can help strengthen their connection with students and hopefully encourage students to ask questions when necessary. You don’t have to get into granular detail, but a photo and a few tidbits can be helpful.

One of the best practices that you can do to set your course up for success is to create a course introduction video. In this video, you do a screen recording as you explain the various parts of the course and give students an overview of what they will find and what they can expect. This doesn’t have to be long. In fact, it shouldn’t be long because that lessens the chance students will view it. A 3-5 minutes should be plenty of time to explain the basics of getting started.  We have helpful technical information for getting started with video.

Resist the urge to create too many menu items in the Blackboard course menu (on the left side of the page).  Organizing the menu into sections may be helpful. The typical arrangement is for the first section of the menu to contain the basic course information such as syllabus, calendar, textbook information, instructor information, announcements. The next section typically contains links to the weekly lesson/folder/unit/module. Other links commonly found here may include Zoom or Collaborate meeting links, additional course materials, publisher links and so forth. Finally, at the bottom of the menu include tools that students will be using in the course such as email, discussion board, grade book, etc.

Resist the temptation to bury material within sub-folders. Within a weekly lesson or unit, you may create one or two sub-folders but don’t create folders any deeper than that. What do I mean by deeper? Don’t put folders in those folders!

This is a Quality Matters™ requirement and an easy way to get students’ attention the first time they visit the course. This is a good place for you to place your course introduction video. It’s also a good place to create a list of the first steps that the students need to get started with the course. This folder is also a good location for some of the standard information required by QM. This would include technology requirements, accessibility statement, how to get technical support, etc.  Learn more about Quality Matters™.




Module 01


Module 03