Before you design any online content, you need to know what your students need to learn. These are the learning objectives.

This is your purpose in designing your online content: to teach students what they need to know in order to master those objectives, successfully complete the major assignments, and pass the course.

You will organize your online content into “containers” that typically represent a day or a week in your course and that address one or more of the course learning objectives. These containers are typically content folders or learning modules in Blackboard.

STEP ONE: Identify the learning objectives for the content container you want to design.  Most likely, you have already listed these as readings, activities, etc. on your course schedule for each day your class meets f2f. You do not have to change them. If you need verbs to identify the action for your learning objective, go HERE for a useful graph of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

STEP TWO: Once you know what students should learn, decide how you will assess whether they learned it. Blackboard tools make it easy to conduct a formative (low stakes) assessment, such as a self-scoring reading quiz so that students get quick feedback without increasing your workload. These formative assessments often double as “learning support tasks,” or the online activities students engage in to demonstrate their learning.

STEP THREE: You may not realize it, but you are already a pro at learning support tasks. You use them every time you meet your students f2f and/or assign homework. Now it is time to simulate that process in a “container” in Blackboard. The “container” is the same thing as a class period or a week in your course.

In this container, you place the instructional material your students will need to complete the online activity you will design. This can be textbook passages, secondary readings, videos, lectures, PowerPoint slides, etc. It is best not to deviate too far from what you typically do in terms of instruction and homework.

Next, decide which activities students can complete online that will enable them to demonstrate what they learned from that content. Place this activity in your “container” as well.

Basic Blackboard tools can make these easy to create. Most students are familiar with them anyway, and you are already using something like them in your f2f classes.

Here is an example of a one-class period “container” from one of the ENGH 302 Templates. It can be created as a content folder or a learning module in Blackboard:


  • To understand what we mean by inquiry-based, or question-driven research
  • To apply what you learn to choosing and narrowing a research question


READ “Conducting Research” and “Developing a Research Question,” Insider’s Guide, pp. 81-82
READ “From Topic to Question,” handout from The Craft of Research
WATCH “Developing a Research Question” (video)


  • INDIVIDUAL ACTIVITY: Formulating and Narrowing a Research Question Exercise (Bb assignment). Design a rubric to assess student comprehension and application of the content. Create criteria and award points. There is no need to provide individual, granular feedback unless you feel it is necessary to what students do next in your course.  If the topic/research question is a critical point in your course, an individual activity might be best.


  • COLLABORATIVE ACTIVITY: Formulating and Narrowing a Research Question Discussion Topic (Discussion Board). Have students work in small groups to provide feedback. Provide a guide to evaluating research questions in the prompt. Use a discussion board rubric that measures how students use the content to provide individual feedback. Use a summary comment of your own to provide feedback to the class.

This is enough to replicate one class period of f2f instruction. Keep in mind that students are doing a lot of this learning on their own without you by their side, so their cognitive load is greater. Don’t pile on readings because you think students might find them interesting. Assign readings students must use in order to complete the learning support tasks/activities so that you can measure if they grasped the content in that material.

If you understand this sequence, then you have also grasped backward design and alignment, which are fundamental to good course planning, whether online, f2f, or hybrid. For more information about backward design, a concept developed by McTighe and Wiggins in their book, Understanding by Design (2013), go HERE for a quick overview.