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Faculty of Humanities Teaching & Learning Office

Blackboard organisations to support students at programme, discipline and academic community level

Case Study: [Programme level] HCRI MSc Global Health - fully online delivery

Cross-discipline, cross-Faculty Humanitarian and Conflict Resolution Institute, School of Arts, Languages and Cultures

Programme director: Tim Jacoby; Academic lead (Bb programme space): Paul Kailiponi; eLearning support: Will Moindrot

Key features: Thorough structuring and signposting, cross-linking to/from course units; spaces for different year intakes; handbook and administrative documentation, induction resources including video; core student netiquette activity; related resource links

Supporting students on the PGCert/PGDip/MSc levels in MSc Global Health

This is used as a common space, staying with students as a shared space as they join and progress through their units and study levels, allowing them to share common resources and interact with students from different cohorts. All units provide a URL at the base of course menu to the programme space, and the programme space is advised to be the starting area for new students. The vision was that the space was to be used for these purposes:

  1. A community space – identity on the course, networking opportunities with opportunities for students to interact with students from different levels and speak about their own work;
  2. Disseminating information that governs the course at a programme level, that students may require access to throughout their studies;
  3. Key Skills development – providing a space for tasks and activities that students undertake in order to adjust themselves to DL / PT / PG learning. Activities are situated outside of specific course units so that students can work and reflect upon them as the course/s progress;
  4. Reflection – a place within the programme space for students to record and reflect upon their learning as they progress through their learning, not just on individual units;
  5. Unit selection – initially we wanted to provide students with information about course unit options that they could use to inform their module selection or route of study. This facility for flexible selection of unit has not yet been realised and the systems may not afford this currently.

Current Features

Welcome page

As with all units on the Global Health programme, the programme space employs a common template. This defines the way the course is laid out, the way it looks, and the feel given to students. For example the first page that students see is a Welcome page with items that mirror the course menu on the left, but appended with content area descriptions and an icon set. The welcome page provides signposting and navigational aids, telling new students what they should do first.

Announcements tool

Used to provide students with information relevant across the entire programme, such as events taking place. This has not had a lot of use, as individual tutors tend to post announcements to their own unit spaces. This may be because of confusion over how emails are sent out to students – not wanting to overcomplicate things – but the more that students appreciate the programme space as a useful place to come to, the more academics can rely upon this as a good way of contacting all students. (Noting that email announcements can go directly to each student’s inbox)

Programme Information

Provides generic information about each year of study. Originally we wanted relevant information only to be provided to students based on their level of study, but this would have meant setting up groups to define student cohorts for a specific level. However enrolment of new students can take place at different times during the year and we wanted to have the information ready and available to students immediately on first access, so in the end we just made everything available. This is now structured by folders for each year, each containing a video by the programme director appropriate for that level.

Discussion Boards

Again we did toy with keeping different levels separated from each other, but ran into the same group problem. Also, Group Discussion boards would appear in the My Groups section, below the course menu, which was felt to be hidden away for students. There is a way of promoting individuals to be able to post or access the main discussion board but this involves a lot of manual work, and we were also in two minds about wanting to allow students to communicate across levels (there was initial fear by the programme team that this could be used for collusion from one year to the next.)

There are boards for early-bird discussion (students advised to use this one in advance of study commencement), technical support, queries about the course and general chit-chat. The chit-chat ends to be well used. The technical discussion area is also well used but there is some confusion as each of the units also have a technical support forum (technical problems may be specific to a unit or more general)– so in future we may say that anything of a technical nature should be reported to the one place. Also we don’t plan to clean out any discussion posts (although when students graduate and their accounts are deactivated then their content becomes anonymised), so to avoid the risk of displaying ‘archaeological layers’ of technical problems, regular forum cleanups will be important.


This is where activities are made available to deliver for specific purposes: to help build the community, or to provide key skills development opportunities, such as to adjust students to online distance learning. So far only one activity is present: the collaborative construction of a set of Ground Rules for the discussion boards. This is conducted via a Blackboard wiki, and students seem to really engage with this and to form a pact with each other (“Our diverse cultural background makes the most contribution to developing ground rules and this is "to my point of view" one of the core values of our program as its name 'GLOBAL health' indicates. In this regard, I would say we have to promote, encourage and respect diversity, contextual views”). Their enthusiasm must then transfer to individual course units!

IT Setup and Support

A selection of resources we have put together to support the DL students. These reference existing Knowledge Base articles but we have needed to include specific new resources and improve upon existing articles to make them more appropriate for these distance learners. Essentials here are around minimum PC requirements, and in guiding students through using institutional access to ejournal providers (have had to make several videos available here to demonstrate).

Study Skills and University Services

Much of this is taken from the SCS (the Standard Course Structure, the template for course units that includes sections on Study Skills and University Services), but specific resources relevant to DL students also collected and added to here as things progress.

Help with your studies and Staff Contacts

This section is deliberately made very visible to students.

Plans for future development

The programme is looking to employ a Distance Learning Support Officer role, someone who works between the academics and the administrators on behalf of the students. This person will also chiefly manage the programme space, helping to develop it and support the students within it.

More activities

Expanding the activities to encompass more tasks that leads students to develop key academic and communication skills at beginning of course, and throughout. Providing eLearning support to module tutors on ways to embed and refer to tasks (for example a task on critical writing, time management, etc.). Questions that need answering: how can we encourage students to do these if they are expected but not compulsory?

Student profiles/blogs

Students have asked for more opportunities to network and present their work to others for the purposes of networking. This could feed into the Activities section but this is an area we would like to develop.