Features of the LMS

e-learningIt is possible to teach online without an LMS but the University has invested in Blackboard to standardize the look and feel of our online environment to make it easier for students to navigate.  The use of Blackboard should also streamline the process of constructing and maintaining courses for faculty.

Each feature of the LMS you plan to use requires some setup before your course can go live, but each subsequent semester, the setup gets easier giving you time to develop new material or try new features. Some of the basic features of Blackboard are:

  • Announcements
  • Syllabus
  • Lessons
  • Discussion Forums
  • Assignments
  • Blogs
  • Journals
  • Self and Peer Assessment
  • Wikis
  • Synchronous Collaboration tools
  • Quizzes/Tests
  • Gradebook

But there are more options available through building blocks and LTIs:

Think about how you can exploit some of the benefits of online learning, things that you could not easily accomplish in a f2f setting.  The online environment allows for more types of active learning, which requires students to participate rather than just listen and receive information.

  • You can include brief questions-and-answers in a video,
  • You could send students a survey the night before you meet either f2f or synchronously online, to gauge their experience with a certain topic,
  • You can integrate discussion forums about specified lecture topics,
  • You could use a Journal and require reflective writing.

Always set clear expectations and develop strategies to offer feedback for these activities.

Remember — technology is only effective with good content and pedagogical approaches used to share knowledge!

Familiar Principles of Teaching and Learning

professorBlackboard tools allow you to perform many familiar tasks, but your experience and knowledge as a professor are also invaluable when teaching online; if you do not think a topic or activity will work in a traditional classroom, you can be confident it will not work online either.

Other familiar principles of teaching and learning hold true in an online course:

  • Expectations must be clear for learners.
  • Ongoing, frequent, and open communication is vital.
  • What students do with content is more important than the content itself.
  • The ability to motivate students is as important as the instructor’s knowledge.
  • Quality teaching considers the student as an individual, not just the class as a collective.
  • Solid planning is rewarded.
  • Showing students you care makes all the difference.

10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching are outlined In a Faculty Focus Special Report – https://www.mnsu.edu/cetl/teachingwithtechnology/tech_resources_pdf/Ten%20Principles%20of%20Effective%20Online%20Teaching.pdf

If you have questions or would like more information on teaching online using Blackboard, contact us at blackboard@vcu.edu

Creating an Environment for Learning


Technology becomes your classroom in the online environment. You do not have to be a technician but it is important to be able to help students through some of the basic functions of your course so the interface becomes transparent.

Make sure you are comfortable with all the functions of your course before students are invited to log-in.  Point students to the proper technical resources here at VCU, so they are armed and ready should they have a problem. Try starting the course with a “warm-up” activity that gives students the opportunity to try the different areas in the course that they will need to be familiar with. I use a scavenger hunt project that sends them through all the different areas in the course to collect items or participate in different activities.

It is difficult when you cannot see what the students are struggling with because you cannot see their screen.  Consider offering online office hours with a synchronous tool like Zoom so you can see what they are doing and how they are doing it.  There are many variables that students are dealing with when accessing the online course: internet provider, mobile vs desktop, bandwidth, etc.  Be patient at the beginning but be sure to have students test all the functionality of the course in the first week so technical issues can be resolved before you get into the meat of your course.


The Social Aspect of the Online Environment

istock_85828659_medium-e1469130351472It is important to help students feel more relaxed in the online environment; this can be achieved by mentoring and coaching students and by promoting personal interaction and group cohesiveness. Students are more likely to contribute online if they feel comfortable and as their contributions increase so does their opportunity to learn.


  • Quickly develop your online presence, so students know you are there and ready to help
  • Create and maintain a collaborative environment
  • Provide reinforcement with timely feedback so students don’t feel isolated
  • Create assignments and activities that improve critical thinking, problem-solving, adaptability, integration, and communication.

Things to remember

  • You and the student are unable to read body language in online messages so misunderstandings can occur.
  • It is important to make students feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and experiences, right away
  • You may need to find creative ways to get some students to participate
  • Create a non-threatening environment; whether students agree with one another or not everyone should respect each other’s opinions
  • Group work is not always met with enthusiasm; it is important to be creative and encourage collaborative learning.

Meaningful Interaction in Online Courses https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/higher-ed-beta/meaningful-interaction-online-courses