Blackboard programme sites – guiding principles for organising your site

Please note! This post is from 2015 and is out of date.
Please refer to the 2017 guiding principles for Blackboard Programme sites instead.

Rationale for Blackboard programme sites and Programme Leaders' key responsibilities

A key objective of UWE’s Technology Enhanced Learning Strategy and Implementation Plan 2012-2017 (UWE Llogin required) is ‘to enhance the experiences of all UWE students wherever and however they engage in learning and assessment activities’ (p5).

The effective use of Blackboard programmes, used in conjunction with Blackboard module sites, can help to deliver an enhanced student experience, facilitating communication between the programme team and its students throughout the students’ entire programme of study at UWE.

In summary, FET Programme Leaders (PLs) are responsible for ensuring:

  • Blackboard programme sites contain well organised, quality content that is up to date and engaging (and does not duplicate information that exists elsewhere, e.g. Blackboard module sites).
  • They (PLs) take editorial responsibility for their programme (but can choose to delegate this responsibility to another member of their teaching team).
  • The sites are well structured so that students can navigate easily through the content (see examples below).
  • The site menu contains relevant tabs for the programme (see examples below).
  • The site is reviewed annually (which includes acting on student feedback) before the start of the next academic year.


Blackboard programme sites are being used widely across the Faculty, with the majority of these sites having developed over a number of years. There is a variety of formats, reflecting the level of study (certificate, foundation, undergraduate, postgraduate), modes of delivery (campus-based, work-based, blended learning, distance learning) and the needs of the students on a particular programme (field trips, accreditation by a professional body, placements). Menu lists range from the use of the short default Blackboard course (Home, Announcements, Course Materials and Study Skills) to long lists including items that are now part of the FET Blackboard Module Template for 2015/2016.

The Faculty’s Learning and Teaching Student Experience Committee (LTSEE) recognises that programme teams need the freedom to structure their own programme sites according to the needs of their programme, and so do not seek to impose a template for Faculty programmes.

These guiding principles are here to support PLs in setting up new programme sites or reviewing their existing programme, so that the Faculty can ensure its students have access to active, current, accessible and engaging programme sites.

Blackboard programme sites should be based on the following basic principles:

Guiding principles for Blackboard programme sites

Vibrancy and currency: Aim to create a site that is updated regularly, has relevant information and encourages students to return to it regularly (because it is dynamic and engaging).

Organisation and clarity: A programme site continues for the life of the programme, with students having access to the same site throughout their years of study, so a clear structure, easy navigation and meaningful labelling is essential for accessibility purposes.

Content: All sites should be populated with good quality resources. (Any materials used in a Blackboard site must also comply with copyright law.)

Management of the site

The recommendation is that all staff teaching on the programme should have access to their programme site, with the PL having overall editing responsibility (although the PL can delegate this responsibility).

  • PLs to contact FET SAT if any of the teaching team do not have access to the site. (Programme teams cannot currently be automatically added to a programme by FET SAT.)
  • PLs to agree with their teaching team the expectations around their involvement in the programme site:
    – Who will be able to edit the site?
    – How will content be monitored and updated?

There are different attachment types in ISIS (see Blackboard Support’s The feed from ISIS to Blackboard page) that allow different levels of access. A smaller number of staff with editing rights may avoid confusion, but more staff involvement may help with the development of a programme community.


  • As programme sites exist for as long as the programme exists, content is likely to accumulate over the years so keep the design simple to make the site manageable. A simple menu list, using sub-folders to classify information under a menu tab, is recommended.
  • Buttons or links for menu tabs? There are more benefits to using links – they can include longer titles because the text wraps, and section breaks can be added in to the menu list. [To switch between buttons and links, under the Control Panel on your Programme site click on Customisation > Teaching Style > 2. Select Style Menu. Then click the appropriate radio button for Text or Buttons.]
  • Consider setting up student groups, for example by year or level (or a grouping relevant to your programme) to help students find relevant information easily. (See Blackboard Support’s Groups page; or watch the Groups video tutorial (approx 4 mins).) Outline the function of the group, how the area will be used and the staff involved. (Currently, this cannot be done in ISIS by FET SAT so programme staff will have to set them up manually.)
  • Consider structuring students’ access to different parts of the site by using adaptive release. (See Blackboard Support’s Keeping Students on Track page for more information.)
  • Consider adding tabs for each module on the programme (and also link back to the programme from the module sites) to provide a more coherent student experience. [From your list of Blackboard courses, right click on the name of the module run you want to set up a link to. Then click on Properties on the drop down menu. Using the keyboard shortcut, Ctrl+c, copy the long URL address. On your Programme site, add a new Web Link to the left hand menu list by clicking the + sign above the menu, and selecting Web Link from the list. Use the keyboard shortcut, Ctrl+v, to paste in the long URL address, add in the module name and click on ‘Available to users’.]


Over time, some programme sites have developed a lengthy menu list. Consider where some of the tabs could be grouped together to reduce the amount of tabs on a menu or some tabs deleted altogether. For example:

  • Group together items relating to employment opportunities, further study, careers and include under a ‘Post degree’ tab (or similar), and then set up relevant sub-folders within that tab.
  • Group together items relating to programme-related websites, news items, items of interest, etc. under a ‘Resources’ tab (or similar) and set up relevant sub-folders within that tab.
  • Instead of including tabs for a Field Trip and/or Placement, post the information into the relevant module/s, if the modules are available. (If you have set up tabs for each module on the programme, students will have ‘one click’ access to the information.)
annotated screenshot of the menu headings in a basic programme site
Example 1: Basic Programme Site

A basic menu list (see Example 1 above) could usefully include (and remember, these are guidelines only as specific needs will vary according to the programme):

  • Announcements (to draw attention to new postings on the site, special events, news alerts, degree ceremonies) – make sure this section is kept up to date by deleting out of date information.
  • Programme introduction (then add sub-folders accordingly). Include an introduction to the programme (text or recorded, if recorded include a transcript for accessibility purposes), how the Blackboard site will be used, and, if applicable, induction materials, options information). [To make a recording from your desktop, you can use Kaltura which is available in Blackboard.]
  • Programme handbook – add a link to the programme handbook.
  • Resources, which might include sub-folders for study skills (UWE’s study skills, specialist study skills for the programme, and links directly to software applications in if this is relevant for your programme [see the Library’s Using a database provider’s link in Blackboard page on how to include these links in your programme site.] Alternatively, consider linking to a playlist of software tutorials that students might useful []. Other sub-folders might be for programme-related websites and items of interest. If your programme includes international students, it might be useful to include a sub-folder for this, and include a link to International student support.
  • Staff contacts (for all the teaching team include contact details and availability, and their roles on the programme; also consider including photographs and links to their staff profiles). Consider including support contacts such as Information Points (first point of contact for all student-related enquiries), Student Advisers and the Library (identifying Alistair or Emma as the contact according to your subject area).
  • Student representatives (who they are, how to contact them and how the system works).
  • For undergraduate programmes add a menu tab for Academic Personal Tutor, include a brief introduction and add a link to UWE’s Academic Personal Tutor programme page.
  • For postgraduate programmes, include a menu tab for PG Skills Workshops. [On your Programme site, add a new Web Link to the left hand menu list by clicking the + sign above the menu, and selecting Web Link from the list. Copy in this long URL address, add PG SKills Workshops for the title and click on ‘Available to users’.]
  • Professional body/institution tab (if relevant for the programme).
  • It is recommended that you add a tab to record your responses to student feedback, e.g. naming it Programme Enhancement (like the Module Enhancement tab). This may include, for example, acknowledgement of positive comments from students, a note of action taken in response to concerns raised through the Student Rep Staff Forum system, or changes made to the programme in response to the previous year’s review.

Example 2: Advanced programme site

annotated screenshot of advanced programme site
Example 2: Advanced programme site

A more comprehensive menu might be structured to include different year groups and include additional menu tabs (see Example 2), for example:

  • Frequently asked questions (over the years, there may have been regularly occurring questions and answers that could be posted under this tab).
  • Virtual classroom (if using Blackboard Collaborate for induction or student consultations, for example, use this tab for the orientation information, support contacts, links to any programme induction sessions and the recordings).
  • Special consideration needs to be given to including a tab for student interaction purposes (e.g. a student network/discussion forum/wiki) because students often don’t engage with these. For these to be successful , input from the programme leader and the rest of the teaching team is likely to be necessary. [See Blackboard Support’s pages for more information: Discussion boards;Wikis.] If you do choose to set up a discussion board or wiki, it is good practice to provide some ‘netiquette’ guidelines. As an example, you could use this YouTube video on Discussion Board Netiquette.

Annual review

  1. Ask students for feedback on their programme site, and factor this in to the review of your programme site.
  2. At the end of each academic year’s teaching, the LIU will contact all programme leaders, with some ‘housekeeping’ guidance for their programme sites (e.g. a reminder about deleting out of date content, renaming groups ready for the next intake).
  3. Consider making the programme site unavailable between academic years to review the content and restructure the site if necessary.
  4. At the start of the academic year, the LIU will contact all programme leaders, with a second reminder (which includes a reminder about setting up the new groups, if used).

Further information and support

Some of the above information is based on UWE’s Blackboard Support’s guidance on programme courses (requires UWE login). See their site for further information. LIU members (Caroline Graham and Oliver Haslam) can also be contacted for one-to-one support with setting up or rearranging an existing programme site.