What are Threshold Standards ?
The threshold standards are aligned to the University Curriculum Framework pedagogic principles and intended to be a clear set of practical guidelines that describe how to manage and structure online learning materials and activities in Blackboard modules.
They can be used by Module Convenors and Programme teams to design and evaluate their modules against recommended components needed to:
- Provide students with a consistent and quality online learning experience.
- An accessible well-presented module with a clear structure that is easy to navigate.
- Make effective use of the features and tools in Blackboard.
The standards are flexible and designed to be applicable across disciplines and do not mandate a specific layout or approach. The standards are evidence based; drawing on sector good practice within blended and online learning, and web design. They also ensure legal requirements are met and institutional policies are applied. For example the new UK website accessibility legislation.
- The University Blackboard default module template aligns with the standards and is a useful reference point.
- Our Blackboard guides have instructions on setting up and using the features and tools referred to in the standards.
- Conduct a self or peer review of your Blackboard module/s using the Blackboard module review form.
All modules have a cohesive and up-to-date online presence that supports the design of the curriculum and is well organised, logically structured, and easy to navigate.
- Ensure the RISIS module has a corresponding presence on Blackboard.
- Make modules available to students in advance of the module start date. (Ideally, at least 2 weeks.)
- Keep the module available to students once they have completed it.
- Hide or delete un-used and out-of-date section headings, folders or content.
- Ensure the correct staff are enrolled onto the module and given the correct Blackboard Role based on their involvement.
- Use a shared Blackboard module template with default menu headings. Ideally agreed at Department or School level.
- Agree common elements and language for a consistent layout and experience.
- Define if and where the template can be extended or modified, as appropriate.
- Provide instructions to staff about how to use the module template and what should be included, and in what format.
- Include a banner image on the module landing page that includes the title of the module.
- Use left-hand menu headings to organise the module content and activity logically.
- Keep the menu titles short or to a single word.
- Limit the number of menu headings. (Fewer headings are preferable.)
- Group common content using folders that complements the way the module is taught, for example, topic, week or seminar group.
- Label folders, items and documents clearly and consistently. Use descriptive titles that are meaningful to students.
- Prioritise key or important headings or information by placing it above other content.
- Number content and activities to indicate to students the order in which they need to be completed. For example: Activity 1.2
- Where appropriate:
- Use timed release on folders or items to guide and focus student learning.
- Use adaptive release rules to make the availability of content conditional on the completion of prerequisite tasks or activities e.g. a Blackboard test score.
- Use the Groups feature to create specific sets of students to enable:
- Separate communications,
- Access to different learning materials, activities or assessment, as appropriate.
Modules clearly indicate how students should engage online and how the online presence of the module relates to the teaching and learning approach of the module. Students are signposted to important learning content and information to increase preparedness and maximise their use of learning hours.
- Post a welcome message at the start of the module using the Announcement tool.
- Briefly introduce and explain the module.
- Signpost students to key information.
- Use a friendly and informal tone.
- Provide a description within each menu or folder that explains to students what is being provided and indicate any expected contribution or time required to complete the content.
- Attach or link to the:
- Programme or module handbook.
- Module descriptor.
- Provide a ‘Module Roadmap and Weekly Plans’ that explains what learning takes place and when it is face-to-face or online.
- Extract and highlight key information to make it immediately visible to students. Display the:
- Module syllabus or outline.
- Module learning outcomes.
- Assessment criteria and requirements.
- Key dates (e.g. assignment deadlines)
- Provide details and links to relevant services and functions that can support student learning in the module, where appropriate.
- Explain how students should use the module, what level of interaction and participation is required and how often.
- State what communication methods staff and students should use and response times.
- Indicate what activities take place online and if they are synchronous (live) or asynchronous (can be done over a time period).
- Outline any requirements for using specific or specialist technologies and software to participate in the module. Include links to instructions or help guides (for example, relevant TEL Support articles located in Help for Students).
Communications made to and between students are clear, timely and consistent.
- Use the Announcements tool to issue important and time-sensitive messages to students.
- Keep announcements short and focused.
- Only use the ‘Email Announcement’ option for urgent notifications.
- Display the contact details of staff teaching or supporting the module, including their availability and contact hours.
- Provide staff profile information describing their role in the module.
- Communicate regularly to maintain your presence, and to motivate and encourage engagement. For example:
- Make announcements regularly. (At least weekly.)
- Use talking head videos to introduce new topics or provide summary feedback on progress.
- Use online meetings with office hours.
4. Learning Materials
The learning materials and resources allow all students to maximise independent study time, build on their prior learning and transition to become autonomous learners. The timeliness of digital materials allows students to study flexibly; either before coming to class or afterwards with extension resources.
- Check that all content is up-to-date and web links work before they are made available to students.
- Upload and organise learning materials using folders and items (for example, lecture notes or slides).
- Make learning materials available two working days in advance of the taught session (in accordance with the Policy on Inclusive Practice in T&L).
- Compress files uploaded directly to Blackboard to minimize their file size.
- Provide an up-to-date online reading list using the University Talis Aspire Reading List system for the module.
- Provide copyright-cleared scans of journal articles and chapters from books using the Library’s scanning service.
- Organise the reading list into sections to assist students to prioritise and focus their reading.
- Link directly to sections of the list in relevant places within the module, where appropriate.
- Ensure the following required menu item appears in the module menu (do not edit the title or delete):
- YuJa (This can be hidden, if you do not want students to see the video playlist.)
- Upload videos and screencasts you have produced to YuJa.
- Add a tag to the video to ensure the correct retention period is allocated. How to upload videos.
- Embed YuJa videos in context with other learning materials.
- Do not upload video or large audio files directly to Blackboard.
- Use share or embed code to display videos or multimedia in the module from other external platforms (for example, YouTube).
- You may wish to embed dynamic web content and social media feeds, where appropriate (for example, Twitter feeds and RSS news feeds).
5. Active Participation
Students are encouraged to engage actively with their learning in the online space to develop concepts, ideas and theories. They can feed into the learning process and undertake authentic online learning activities, both individual and collaborative that are aligned to learning outcomes and which reflect real world engagement, and the disciplinary context.
- Provide a mix of online synchronous and asynchronous learning opportunities. For example:
- Webinars for real time events.
- Screencasts of key concepts.
- Links to targeted resources and readings.
- Set up Blackboard Groups where students are working together to facilitate asynchronous online communication, collaboration and/or assignment submission.
- Provide online learning activities for students to check their learning and understanding (for example. diagnostic and self-assessment tests).
- Provide pre and post sessional activities that extend and support discussion and reflection on taught lecture and seminar learning materials (for example. discussion boards, wikis, blogs and journals).
- Provide opportunities for students to share with peers and ask questions (for example a discussion board 'Question and Answer' forum).
6. Assessment and Feedback
Students can submit assignments online, where appropriate and access timely feedback on formative and summative work. Students have access to information that provides them with a clear understanding of what is expected for the assessment task, including where and when to find their feedback.
Access & Information
- Ensure the following required menu items appear in the module:
- My Marks and Feedback
- Provide clear information about the submission requirements for the assessment:
- Attach an assignment brief in the Assessment section
- Highlight and make immediately visible to students the:
- Assessment rationale and specific instructions.
- Assessment criteria.
- Deadline dates.
- Set up summative online submission points in the dedicated ‘Assessment’ section. (Done by the Programme Administrator).
- Use the most appropriate tool for the type of assignment (Electronic Management of Assessment Help).
- Make submission points available to students well in advance of the deadline.
- Provide submission instructions and guidance. Link to Turnitin and Blackboard assignment guides.
- Attach a marking rubric (if they are used) to the assessment ahead of the deadline and make it available to the students.
- Add or link to disclaimer statements on:
- Original authorship
- Editorial and proof-reading services
- Provisional marks
- Required: Enter all marks for summative assignments online and ensure they appear in the Grade Centre.
- State how, when and in what format students will receive feedback for summative assignments, in line with 15 day marking turnaround time. (Guide to policy and procedures for teaching and learning. Section 6: Programme-related matters.)
- Use the most appropriate features to provide effective online feedback (For example: audio, video, reusable comments or a Rubric).
- Give students an opportunity to ask questions and reflect on the assignment brief (for example via a discussion board).
- Link to or provide guidance on academic writing and integrity, and / or the use of Turnitin.
- Enable students to view a similarity report of their work ahead of the deadline in Turnitin, for suitable assignments.
- Where appropriate:
- Provide generic exam feedback.
- Provide access to previous exam papers or questions for revision.
Online content is inclusive by anticipating and addressing the needs of the students using a variety of different formats and media. Learning materials are presented clearly and provided in suitable formats that make them as accessible to as many different students as possible.
- Check all content in the module for accessibility and make corrections to improve accessibility.
- Use the Blackboard Ally tool for existing content.
- And Microsoft Office Accessibility Checker before you upload a file.
- Use alt text descriptions for images.
- Indicate who a student should contact to request a resource in an accessible format (e,g. module convenor).
- Upload files in the original Micorsoft Office file format, where possible. Specifically, Word, PowerPoint and Excel.
- Alternative formats are automatically generated and made available, where possible, when files are uploaded to Blackboard.
- Provide either a transcript, captions, summary notes, alternative resource or scene description for videos or audio materials.
- The suitability of what is required will depend on the context, audience and durability of the resource.
- Audio-visual materials you have produced for teaching and learning with students must be uploaded to YuJa (the University's Learning Capture platform) to ensure an automatic captioning is provided. This is a legal requirement.
- Online sessions and live captions: Microsoft Teams Meetings has automatic live captioning. Blackboard Collaborate does not provide automatic live captioning, althought students who require live captions may be able to use a browser extension.
8. Quality Enhancement
Modules are regularly reviewed and evaluated using student feedback to ensure a constant cycle of improvement.
- Ensure the required menu item ‘Module Evaluation’ appears in the module menu and is available to students.
- Provide the Module Convenor’s Commentary on the previous year’s module evaluation feedback.
- Remove any evaluation reports from previous years but retain the commentaries.
Learning materials observe data protection, intellectual and copyright legislation.
Copyright and Intellectual Property
- Ensure learning materials abide by copyright and intellectual property legislation. Follow the guidance provided by Information and Policy Management Services (IMPS) for online delivery.
- Check for any possible data protection issues if you ask students to use non-University of Reading platforms.