Mighty Sandbox

Educational Technology Simplified

Minimalist Blackboard Course Design for Mobile Learn

Here are some suggestions for building user-friendly Blackboard courses in the following situations:

  1. Most, or all, of your students will be viewing your course through the Mobile Learn app for the iPad
  2. Your students' native language is not English

I've found that these guidelines reduce the amount of support students need to navigate the course..  Of course, on the instructor's side you will be building your course through the Blackboard website.  What I will focus on here is the result of these design decisions in the Mobile Learn app:

Keep your Navigation Menu Short and Simple

Here are some things to consider when designing the main menu in your course.  What this looks like will vary depending on what you are teaching and how the course is organized, but there are some general rules to follow.  This is a menu  of a course I'm teaching that I share with another teacher, so shared items are put at the top level and anything we need to put in the course goes under a folder with our names.  The general ideas here are:

  1. Delete anything students aren't actually going to use - keep the main menu clutter-free.
  2. Keep the names short and clear.  Blackboard will replace the middle of longer names with an elipse (...), making them very difficult to read or sometimes meaningless.
  3. Try to develop a consistent routine to follow during your course.  The predictability will help students navigate your course independently.

Use the Tasks Tool

One thing you'll notice in Mobile Learn is that quite a few of the Blackboard tools aren't well-supported in the app.  One tool that does work well is the Tasks tool.  This tool lets you give instructions to students, set a deadline and priority level for the task, and track student progress if they update their status in the task tool.  Here are a few things I've learned.

  1. This needs to be part of your class routine for it to work well and it may take a few weeks for students to make it a habit. Initially, you should consider if this tool is something that will support how you run your class or not.
  2. You should use this for tasks with short, clear written instructions.
  3. The styles that you can use in the task description are limited.  Bullet or ordered (numbered) lists don't work.  You can manually number lists or use hyphens and spacing to achieve the same effect.

Use the My Grades Tool

This is the other tool that works well in the Mobile Learn app.  It displays student grades from the gradebook in a clear, easy-to-read format.  As an instructor, you can't actually preview this in Mobile Learn since you don't have any grades, so I don't have a screen shot to show you.  However, it's easy to set up and if you're using the Blackboard grade book there's no reason not to put it in your course.  From the Blackboard website, choose "Add menu item" -> "Add tool link" -> "type: my grades".  Give it a name and tick the "Available to Users" box and you're set.

Use Headings to Increase Font Size in Items

Blackboard recommends that you use .pdf files to display text, but a limitation of .pdfs is that it removes the option to display multimedia such as video and audio.  These do work in an item in Mobile Learn, but unfortunately the styles that are allowed in the Mobile Learn app are limited.  One thing I noticed is that the default font size of a paragraph is tiny:

You can't add custom CSS styles to fix this.  One way to work around this and achieve an acceptable font size is to set your content as headings instead of regular paragraphs.  You can do this by setting the paragraph style in the text editor or by manually editing the HTML in the   This is kind of hackish, but it does result in what I think is an easier to read text: