Digital learning: Getting started 1. The Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)

1. The

2. Electronic

3. Interactive

4. Digital

Blackboard is our Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), and it is the central place to support your learning and teaching at Sheffield and beyond.

This resource provides guidance on how to use it effectively for teaching and learning.

Page break

Welcome to Blackboard

Blackboard has been designed so you can create high-quality course content, develop engaging learning activities, and provide full support for digital assessment and feedback in a sustainable and consistent way.

Our students value Blackboard and consider it to be an essential part of their studies.

Watch the video below for an overview of the Blackboard VLE.

Page break

What can I do on Blackboard?

Blackboard provides a whole range of activities and tools for you and your students to use.

You should think of Blackboard as an engaging website that enriches your face-to-face teaching (rather than a document repository to share the occasional PowerPoint presentation).

Feature What it's for

Assessment and Feedback

There are a number of assessment tools available in Blackboard to best suit the content of your assessment.

Many programmes use the Turnitin feature within Blackboard - a tool that enables students to submit written work electronically. Turntin also checks for signs of plagiarism, and provides a rich suite of feedback mechanisms for staff to use.

Blackboard Tests can be used for formative and summative assessments. With a whole variety of question types to suit the diverse range of disciplines taught at Sheffield, tests can offer the ability to assess and check student understanding at scale. Around 10% of summative exams annually are conducted via Blackboard at Sheffield.
Crowdmark is a tool that enables the submission of handwritten work as PDF or image files.

Please visit the Electronic Assessment and Feedback page of this guide for more information about the range of tools available.

Digital media

You can create and upload audio-visual media for your students to view within Blackboard.

This could be used for video introductions, instructional screencasts and rich media feedback. Media can be created and inserted anywhere in your Blackboard course using a tool called Kaltura.

You can create interactive, engaging, and accessible online learning resources using Xerte which can be embedded or linked to in Blackboard.

Reflective portfolios

Portfolios are flexible tools that develop learners’ sense of self-ownership and reflection.

This is supported by a tool called PebblePad within Blackboard.

Lecture recordings

Screen and audio recordings of your lectures are automatically made available to your students via a link in your Blackboard course.

The lecture capture system at Sheffield is known as Encore, and students can create personal notes and bookmarks within lecture recordings on your Blackboard course.

Collaborative learning

Discussion boards, blogs and peer assessment can easily be set up within your Blackboard courses. These can help build an online community within your course to enhance the face-to-face teaching experience.

Virtual classrooms and flexible delivery

Remote teaching, supervision, tutorials and meetings can be launched from within Blackboard using a webinar tool called Collaborate.

Collaborate enables you to bring people together, regardless of their physical location. It includes audio, video, presentation sharing, screen sharing, polling, breakout rooms and session recording.

Add content

Content can be shared with your students via Blackboard using the Add content > Item option.

The Content Editor is used across Blackboard when creating content items, announcements, giving feedback to student assessments, and more. It is also used to insert media such as Kaltura and Encore videos.

Check your course

We’ve worked with the Students Union to develop a checklist that outlines the expectations of what you should have on your Blackboard course. You also need to make sure that your course meets digital accessibility standards.

Blackboard first steps checklist

You also need to make sure that your course meets digital accessibility standards. Visit the last page of this getting started guide for more information about digital accessibility.

Page break

What makes a great Blackboard course?

The key to making a great Blackboard course is to focus on the student experience. Asking yourself these questions will help ensure your course works well.

  1. Is your course well organised? Would a student be able to find what they needed? Designing your course in line with institutional or departmental templates ensures students have a consistent experience across modules.

  2. Is it clear to students what they are expected to do on a week by week basis, and where to ask for support? A module overview and staff contacts section can help manage student expectations.

  3. Is your course accessible? Can all students engage with the material provided? Use Blackboard Ally to support your creation of accessible content.

  4. Are your learning materials relevant and engaging? Chunk or segment information. Use complementary images and text and avoid irrelevant content in your multimedia learning materials. Focus on the core of your learning objectives.

  5. Have you chosen the most appropriate digital tools for assessment? Have you given your students the opportunity to try out the assessment tool in a low stakes task before the final assessment?

We have produced a Blackboard course that offers structured guidance, activities, and reflection points to help you get the most out of Blackboard and associated digital tools for course design (including accessibility and multimedia content), collaboration and communication, engagement, and assessment.

Self enrol on the Digital Learning at TUoS course (Blackboard login required) 

The Module overview page of the Digital Learning at TUoS Blackboard course.

Page break

Institutional and departmental templates

The University of Sheffield has an institutional template to help structure your courses and ensure a consistent approach across programmes.

It is designed according to the good practice outlined above, with a well-structured left hand menu including designated areas for the module overview, course content, and assessment.

Some departments may have opted to use a departmental template to allow for more customisation at a local level.

You can find out more about which template your department uses, as well as more detail about what is included on our course templates page.

Blackboard: course templates

Page break

 Additional resources

The Digital Learning Team have created extensive user guides for all areas of Blackboard. Visit the Blackboard Help Page to get started.

Back to Digital learning: Getting started guide

Back to top

Next page: Electronic assessment and feedback