Making your Brightspace site self-explanatory

This article will show an example of how to make your Brightspace course page self-explanatory.

Making your Brightspace site self-explanatory - cover image

Course: AFI20306 Aquaculture and Fisheries (150 students)

Period: Period 5

Short introduction and background

Introduction and story behind the emergence of this learning activity. What was the need, what issue/problem was the teacher facing and wanted to resolve? 

Normally our course consists of one introduction week and five theme weeks. They include live lectures, tutorials and practicals. As we needed to change this P5 course overnight, we started by looking at the learning outcomes and decided which ones we could easily transfer to online education and which ones where more difficult.  

Transferring the cognitive learning outcomes were the easiest to tackle: we e.g. set-up a guiding Brightspace page that guided the students through the content.  

The learning outcomes related to skills were of course more challenging to transfer as we couldn’t offer any hands-on exercises. Therefore in the end we settled for the minimum requirements to at least ensure that students could pass the course. 

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Due to the short notice we decided to use the web lecture recordings from last year as a basis for the course and added additional knowledge clips or introduction video’s where necessary. To help students understand the content and to keep track of students’ progress we rewrote the tutorial assignments so that they were self-explanatory and appropriate for independent study. Students were obliged to  submit their answers in Brightspace. This way we could keep track of student participation and reach out to students who started lagging behind.  

Each week we organised a Q&A session, using Virtual Classrooms, in which students could address any questions they had. We also added discussion fora per theme/week where students could also ask questions and answer each other’s. We hoped to stimulate interaction between students this way, and prevented students from getting stuck at an exercise.  


The Brightspace site was really the core of our course and therefor required extra attention. 

With live teaching you get instant feedback from students, verbally or non-verbally. 

This gives you the opportunity to adjust your lecture or tutorial while giving it, maybe adding or rephrasing some parts, so all is clear again to the students. With distance learning this is not a given, especially if you don’t have many live contact moments within your course. You want them to keep up with you and guide them through the course. Therefore, the Brightspace site of the course should be as self-explanatory as possible, to at least have a good structure to build up from: you are not there as a lecturer to fill in the blanks, so you should leave as less blanks as possible when it comes to logistical questions. 

Relevant tools / apps (software) or hardware used

Learning outcome(s)

What has been learned after this lesson/activity has been executed ?


Lesson idea / Learning activity

Specific description and demonstration of the lesson idea/learning activity.

Building a self-explanatory course means that you take the students by the hand and guide them through the course by telling them what they need to do, why it is relevant, as well as when and how they need to do it. This gives the student some structure and guidance, which helps them to actually get started with the course. Within this course we did this by: 

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  1. First explaining to the students what the general set-up of the course is, in a module on ‘Distance learning’. This helps them to place the lectures and exercises into context, to know what they can expect and to see the bigger picture that we aim to paint with this course. 
Figure 1: Explanation set-up of the course

Figure 1: Explanation set-up of the course

  1. Thereafter, we indicated per theme/week what students could expect and should do, using a recurring text format for every theme. The text takes them by the hand and makes the Brightspace site easily readable. By using this format we feel that we could take the Brightspace site to a higher level than just file/content distribution, as we did previously on the Blackboard site.  In the text format we discussed every week: 
    • Learning outcomes | Course Elements (overview of what they should have completed to finish a theme)| Getting Started (Introduction, explaining learning outcomes)| Tutorial Assignment | Practical (replacement) Assignment | Content related discussion forum | Virtual Classroom session | Self Tests 
  2. Adding links in the text format enabled students to go directly to the relevant lecture/assignment/discussion forum etc. This way, there could be no misunderstanding on what lecture or assignment we were referring to.  
  3. Using release dates for the modules kept all students “on the same page”. We wanted to maintain the thematic structure and for students to go through this more or less in the same pace. This way it was easier to encourage them to help each other as well as finding out if students started lagging behind.   
  4. Using start and due dates for the assignments. Especially the due dates enabled us to monitor whether students were still involved in the course. We approached students who failed to meet the deadlines, hoping to keep them on board or help them get back on track. 
  5. Using self-assessments per theme. This was used both as a preparation for the exam so that students had a better idea on the highlights of the course, as well as a motivation to take all course elements seriously.   
  6. Using groups to divide the 150 students in three groups for the VC sessions. Interaction with such a large group becomes ineffective, if not impossible. To ensure that the question hours/virtual classrooms would be helpful for students, we did this with groups of 50 students at once, at most. This meant repetition for the lecturer, but was well worth the investment in our opinion.  
  7. Using the announcement tool to communicate changes/updates made to the site or to communicate important messages. In this way we prevented that we had to repeatedly answer the same questions over and over and thus saved us a lot of time. Moreover it helps in keeping the same standards and the same message for all students, instead of having detailed personal discussions through email. Not all students appreciate it, but I still would recommend it.  
Figure 2: Example of part of a Theme module

Figure 2: Example of part of a Theme module

Lessons learned / Tips

Mentions tips lecturer has for colleagues based on their experience.

Start on time with the preparations of the course and make sure all details of the Brightspace site work as intended. 


Teacher(s): Esther Nijkamp MSc.
TLC contact (on MS Teams): Anniek Wintraeken
Author (interviewer): Anniek Wintraeken 



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