Using Course Tools

There are a number of tools in blackboard that you can use to communicate with your students and to generate student-to-student communication in your course. This session focuses on the creation and maintenance of four distinct tools:

  • Discussion boards
  • Journals
  • Blogs
  • Wikis

At their root, all of these tools serve essentially the same purpose - connecting students to you and to each other outside of the classroom. However, their design facilitates certain types of activities and exercise types and you can select any one based on the specifics of the assignment that you would like your students to complete.

Discussion Boards
Discussion boards are useful for generating debate, and are very useful in most social and behavioral science fields. For example, students in a government or political science course could spend a lot of time online analyzing and commenting on the clauses of Alabama HB 56, the Beason-Hammon Act. In an economics course, students could be tasked with discussing the impact and merits of the stimulus, and the impact of the political process on implementing its programs.

Blogs and Journals
Blogs and journal are essentially the same, the difference is in the default setting: blogs are public by nature, journals private (Although they can be made public). these tools are particularly useful for courses in which a student might record field observations, in biology for example. They are also effective in documenting attitude changes and development in critical thinking throughout a semester. For example, students in a difficult dialogues project course could be asked to maintain a blog or journal on their attitudes towards gays in the military over the course of a semester. Biology students in a study away program can post observations from the field to a blog directly from a smart phone or other mobile device. Students in public health that might do clinical observation can maintain a journal to record these observations over the course of the observation period.

Wikis are most useful for group work. Each student in a group can contribute, edit and comment on all the work posted. For example, students in a human geography course might be assigned to examine the reasons why settlements developed in specific locations. One student will examine flora and fauna, another terrain and climate, another water resources, and a fourth might examine geopolitics. The exercise can be continually reviewed, revised, and commented on as they proceed through the semester, and all changes to the wiki posts can be tracked and evaluated. The students collaborate, construct their own knowledge base, and learn a little about virtual team participation as they go.

These tools take a little time to learn, set up, and implement, but it can be very worthwhile if your goal is to generate dialog among your students.

Create a discussion board

Course Tools

You can set tool availability for your course in the control panel:

A large portion of, but not all, tools are available by default under the Tools link in your course. (This is link is part of the default template and appears in all unmodified courses). Any available tool can hidden from /shown to users. To hide a tool, click on the Tools link in the course menu:




Tool Types

Session Description

The Blackboard Basic workshop introduces you a number of course tools that you can use to engage students within the class and outside of the classroom. You will also learn how to create assignments and the basic structure for an objective test.

Session Learning Objectives
Upon session completion, you will be able to:

  • Create, add, organize, and present tool-related content in your course
  • Make course tools available/unavailable for students to access
  • Distinguish between discussion boards, blogs, journals, and wikis
  • Create a discussion board forum
  • Create, edit, and reply to a discussion thread
  • Create a blog
  • Create, edit, comment on, and grade blog entries
  • Create a journal
  • Create, edit, comment on, and grade journal entries
  • Create a wiki
  • Create, edit, comment on, and grade wiki entries
  • Create, edit, and grade an assignment
  • Create a test and set test options
  • Create test a question

Move on to Set tool availability

Communicating with Students - Basic Tools

There are a number of interactive tools through which you can connect with students and that can also facilitate student-to-student communication. In this section we will discuss three basic forms of communication:

Each of these components can be accessed under the Course Tools menu. Students can access these elements through the default Tools course menu link, or through a link you create in the course menu.


Announcements will appear in the Announcements module on your institution home page and on the course home page (if the default home page is retained). You can also designate announcements as the home page if you so desire. You can also opt to email announcements to each individual in the course. This option uses the email address imported in the course roster.



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Messages are an alternate method of communication contained entirely within the course. You and your students must access the course, then access the messages tool, to determine if there are any messages sitting in the inbox. As noted above, you must retain the default Tools menu item or create a link to the Messages tool if you want to use this component in your course.



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The email tool sends an email to designated class participants from your account to the participants’ accounts. The message does not reside in blackboard, it is sent from Outlook or other email client, and responses to that email will come into your email client inbox.

If you use this feature, you may want to create a folder for you course in your email client and set up a rule to drop email from course members into that folder. This will help you organize emails from several different courses. You can select from the following lists or select individual users





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Customizing Elements of Your Course

The system allows for limited customization of your course view, including:

  • The color palette of the default home page
  • The menu font and background color
  • Content view
  • Course entry point
  • Course banner

Customize the Default Home Page

You can customize the color palette of the default course home page (module page) as follows:

The remaining elements can be customized using the Customization menu on the Control Panel:

Menu Display

You can opt for either a list or folder view:

Default Content View


Select Course Entry Point and Select Banner

You can select any course menu link as the default entry point for your course. Once change, you and all of your students will see the selected page when you click on the course link from the MY Courses List on the My Institution tab. For example, you could link to your syllabus for the first week of class, then switch the course home page to announcements to ensure that students see any announcements you post during the term:

Basic communication with students

Adding Content Elements to a Content Area

This section contains details on adding the following elements to a content area:

Item cc Course Link
File Content Folder
Image, audio or video file cc Blank Page
Learning Module

Adding Items to Content Areas

  1. In Edit Mode, access the Content Area from the Course Menu.
  2. Click on Build Content, then select Create > Item.
  3. On the Create Item page, enter the item’s Name and description or content if desired.
  4. To attach a file, click Browse to locate the file. Add multiple files using the Text Editor’s Attach File function.
  5. Under Options, Yes for Permit Users to View the Content Item is selected by default.
  6. Click Submit.

An item can contain text, a file, images, and other types of content. If text is entered, it can be formatted using the Text Editor.


The additional options in #3 above allow you to track the number of views and set release date and time restrictions (The basic building block of Adaptive Release). You should note that Track Number of Views enables recording and tracking of views of the content area, and not the individual item.

Edit an Item's Name or Availability

Select the Action menu immediately to the left of the item title:



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Add a File Link

You can add a file to the content frame by selecting File under the Build Content menu. This takes you to the following screen:


The title of the file and file icon now shows in teh content area. Students will see the pdf file when they click on the title.


Add an Image, Audio, or Video File

Images, audio, and video files are added to the content frame in much the same way. Here we will go through the steps for adding an image and then detail the different options that are available for each file type.

In the Build Content menu, select image:



You will upload audio and video files in much the same way: selecting the file, naming it, and using the same standard options. The individual file options will allow you to do the following:


You can also add these files to other content items using the text editor.


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Add a Module

A learning module is a specific structure in which you can organize content related to a specific week, text chapter or chapter set, major course theme, etc. A content area functions in much the same way as a module, so this structure is unnecessary unless you prefer students to view content in a specific sequence. The module is created similarly to other content – when you click on Learning Module under the Build Content tab, you will be prompted to enter a name, then a description in the text editor. The primary difference is in the settings that you can apply to a learning module:



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Add a Link to Another Element in your Course

To create a link to any other element in your course, select Course Link under the Build Content menu, then:



Create a Folder to House Content

You may want to create a folder within content area to store specific items such as articles, supplemental readings, or an assignment set. To create a folder, select Content Folder under the Build Content menu:



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Create a Blank Page

A blank page displays content similar to a web link. You can also attach files to a blank page. Select Blank Page under the Build Content menu, then:



Adding Content to Your Course

There are a number of ways that you can add content to your course, and how you structure that content can vary depending on your subject matter, assessment methods, and teaching style.

Some instructors primarily use course menu links to create content, while others use content areas, or both. Further you can build content using the control panel and link to this content when structuring your course.

Add Content using a Content Area


The Content Area is the most flexible component that Bb Learn provides for building content in your course. You can also create assessments and tool links in a content area, and you can also display text book information for your course.

The content area mimics a folder or a learning module in that you can add several items in a content area (including a learning module or a content folder) and arrange those items in a form that is digestible for students. If you want to force students to view content in a sequence, it is more convenient to use the learning module tool than a content area.

Build Content

The build content menu allows you to add any of the following content types:

• Items, which can contain text, files, and images

• Assignments

• Individual tool links

• External Links

• Multimedia (audio, video, slide presentations)

• Course Links

• Folders

• Module Pages

• Tests and surveys


The Create Assignment and Add Interactive Tools Menus


Content Types

Add Files to the Course Content Collection Area

You can add files or folders to the content collection area in two ways:

  1. Via the Upload dropdown menu
  2. By dragging and dropping files from your desktop or documents folder.


You can add additional files or remove a file you have selected any time prior to hitting the Submit button. You can also select from a number of file options:



Add content to your course

The Content Collection Area

Online course materials and activities can be organized in a number of different ways. The framework and structure will vary depending upon the educational goals and instructional preferences of the instructor. Some major organizational categories include:

  • Chronologically by week.
  • By chapters in the textbook being used.
  • By units or modules based upon subject-specific concepts or theories
  • By complexity of the content or ideas being introduced.
  • By some combination of the preceding approaches

The identification of a framework will allow you to organize a course map. Once you've done this, the next step is to create a folder and sub-folder structure on your computer that mirrors the organizing framework you have identified in your course map. The prep work building the course map will help you save time when building your course.

This folder structure will make it easier for you to find and keep track of your content. You can mirror this folder structure in Blackboard Learn's Content Collection area, which will make it easy for you to find and links to your various content files in your course. For example, if you have decided that you will organize and group the content in your course based on lessons organized by week, you should begin by creating a folder on your PC labeled with your course title, then create sub-folders labeled with each weekly lesson title within this folder.

You can upload files and folders of files from your computer directly to Blackboard for later use. You can upload text files, PDFs, video files, audio files, and even web content files. This feature is useful if you want to add all of your course documents to the site and store them there, adding them to appropriate portions of the site when you need. You should organize the content collection area in a similar manner to your course structure on your hard drive. This will make it easier to find files for editing or removal.

You should note that there is a size limit on your course. To avoid exceeding this limit, and to ensure that students can access content from various connection types and speeds, you should use our streaming services to deliver video/audio files of any substantial size. To access the cotnent collection area, take the following steps:


You should create a folder structure that reflects the organization of your course; alternatively, you can create htis folder structure on your desktop and upload it to your course.
You can view the content collection area as a list (shown above), or you can view as thumbnails:


Add files to content collection

The Control Panel

Most tools can be created using one of two approaches:

  1. Create a content area and build the tool using the Add Interactive Tool menu
  2. Build the tool using the Tools link in the control panel, then link to it in a content area or on the course menu

The control panel is the blue menu structure immediately below the course menu on the left side of your screen. While you can always see this panel, even while viewing with edit mode off, the student never sees the control panel.

You have access to the following through the control panel:


Each of these links will be explained in more detail in later portions of this help guide. Here, we're primarily concerned with content collection.

The content collection area