Considering Course Redesign…

The institution where I work and teach is in the middle of an LMS review as I write this (mid-December 2018), and as I prepare to teach my Science Writing and Presentation class this Spring, as I prep my class in Blackboard I’ve had a few things running through my mind:

  • If we’re possibly changing the LMS, how much work do I want to put into my course design?
  • Do I plan on the new LMS being “flatter” so I can only go two folder layers deep – meaning I have to rethink completely how I’m arranging my content?
  • Do my students really care what my course looks like as long as they know where to find stuff they need?

Now for each thought – points one and two actually flow together. We’re on Blackboard Learn where I teach and work, so if I want to create folders-on-folders-on-folders going ten layers deep…I can. However, that’s lousy design. Do I want to start putting any level of work in to redesigning and flattening my course? Of course I do. This way if we do make an LMS change, I can prepare myself for a more limited (yet easier to navigate?) experience.

I’m not an instructional designer by trade/education/etc (although I did complete a one week instructional design boot camp at the University of Virginia), but I feel like I know bad design when I see it. However, I’m pretty particular about my courses and when I taught online at my previous institution, even though they gave me my course content “ready to go” – that was a load of garbage. It was full of mismatched fonts, spelling and grammar errors, and more. I’d spend 10+ hours fixing my courses so my students didn’t think I was 100% inept. Mainly because I believe that if your course appears like you care, your students will get the point.

So…for several years, this was me the weekend before classes starting trying to fix the errors others had so kindly left for me in the pre-packaged class (and me not wanting to look inept):


But now if I have crappy course design, it’s all on me! But with a potential change to an LMS that won’t let me nest things six folders deep (like I’d do that anyway!), I need to rethink how I arrange my content. I’ve started by simply embedding the links to content within items, which are blocks of text, files, video, etc inside of Blackboard. I can have students read the context of what I’ve uploaded for them to review, instead of them seeing the file to download first, then seeing the context. Good design? We’ll see. My plan is to keep everything two folders or less deep this semester.

So what does the potential switch of an LMS have to do with redesigning a class? Well…it has everything to do with redesigning that class! Each LMS offers a new set of features – or, unfortunately, a more limited set of features – that has to be accounted for. If I’m teaching a class where I can embed videos or images into quiz questions in my current LMS, but the new LMS won’t allow that…that’s a massive change that must be accounted for. For me right now, if I really look at a) making my course as flat as possible, b) using only quiz questions that will likely be compatible with another LMS, and c) keeping the fact that my course might have to be tweaked upon migration in mind, I might stand a chance to see my content migrate to the new system with only a few needed changes.

…or I might have to start all over again.


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