Programme Courses

(See also: Guidelines on setting up Programme-based Blackboard courses in ISIS (opens in new window)


Programme courses are a new addition to the University’s Blackboard service. They are an optional supplement to our existing Module Run and Student Group courses, and do not supersede them. There are a number of potential applications for programme courses, and the following guidance is intended for tutors who are considering using this new facility.

Primary Awards and Primary Targets

We will refer to programme courses throughout this guidance. We use the term programme to mean either a Primary Award or a Primary Target. A Primary Award will generally consist of one or more Primary Targets, and programme courses can be used to support either but not both for the same programme. (See Appendix A).

The decision of which to use is primarily a learning management issue. In some schools one of these may be favoured depending on local practice, but the decision can be made on a programme-by-programme basis. Your faculty administrative staff can set up either a course based on a Primary Award, or based on one or more of its Primary Targets, and in case of doubt will be able to advise on the logistical implications of using one or other.

The decision on whether you will support a Primary Award or its Primary Targets should be made carefully. Once a programme course for one is created, there will be complexity in reversing the decision (although the Learning & Research Systems team will provide advice on the necessary steps) and so changes in the type used must be avoided if at all possible.

Programmes and Module Runs

Programme courses are not intended to be a replacement for module run courses, but may complement them. It may be helpful to consider how your programme course will relate to module run courses for your students. For example, a statement on the programme course home page might help students understand what to expect from the programme course.

Course design

The most important issues to consider when structuring a Programme course for the first time are that the course continues for the life of the programme, and that all enrolled students join the course at the beginning of their study and leave the course when they are no longer enrolled on the programme. Therefore, it is very important that the course is structured in a way that enables students to find their way around it during the years they are on the course. Navigation and good organisation are imperative, as all students on the programme will have access to the course and it could quickly become difficult to navigate if the structure is unclear.

At an early stage you will need to consider what the most appropriate groupings might be for the students on the programme. Groupings can be time-consuming to create, but help students to find the appropriate resources. You might group students by year, or level, or subject groups, or other relevant groupings depending upon the nature of the programme. In the example shown below (Fig 1) the course is structured by level, but this is only a suggestion, and it may be that there are other, more relevant and natural groupings you could choose. Also, you might want a general area that is accessible to all students on the course for, say, information on the Programme as a whole. You have complete freedom as to how you structure these groups within a Programme course. Also, the example below shows the same content area names for all 3 levels, but this may not be appropriate for your programmes. There are no hard and fast rules - what will work best is what is most appropriate for the subject and the students.

A Programme course has exactly the same functionality as any course in Blackboard (Bb). You can use all the tools that are usually available to you in a Bb module run course. The course used as the example in this guidance is simply a suggestion - every programme will have different needs and content. It is very important to stress that this example course is in no way a standard or minimum specification. This example is simply to help colleagues to think about how Programme courses might be used. It uses a 3 year undergraduate course as the vehicle for the design, but there are many course types at different levels in UWE, and so Programme courses are likely to be structured in very different ways.

Figure 1 – an example Programme course:

screenshot of an example programme course

Some initial design thoughts

At the early stage of design it is helpful to consider the following:

You are likely to want to set up Groups within the course for the groupings you have identified in the Programme. The example in Fig 1 is Levels. These Groups will have to be set up manually in the first instance. This does require a bit of administrative work in identifying and assigning group members within Blackboard, but once it has been done for the first time, the Groups can be renamed as they progress through the levels of the course, only requiring a new Group to be created at the beginning of each academic year. Of course, if students join the Programme during the year then an individual adjustment will have to be made for those students. See the staff guides for help in using the Groups feature of Bb.

Do you want to structure the students' access to different parts of the course? For example, do you want Level 1 students only able to see the Level 1 area? Or perhaps you want Level 2 students to see both Level 1 and Level 2 but not Level 3? You can achieve this by using the Adaptive Release feature of Bb, where logic rules can be created for individuals or groups studying the module. See the Keeping Students on Track guides for help on using the Adaptive Release feature of Bb.
Buttons or links!? Many people have a particular preference for using either buttons or links in the navigation area. To be honest, our preference is for links, so that the course can be organised in the way shown in Fig 1. Buttons take up more space and don't enable the sectioning you can see here. In the end, it's a matter of both functionality and personal taste, though. In any case, it's a good idea to canvas the students occasionally about their preferences for and reactions to any Bb course - they are the main users, after all.

Think about housekeeping procedures at any early stage. How will the content be monitored and updated? Who will be responsible for disposing of out of date content? The Content Collection is probably going to be the most appropriate place to put content that will be used in both a Programme course and a Module-based course, rather than have repeat copies of documents and materials in different courses. Alternatively, if you use the Content Collection for module-based course materials that are then used in the Programme, you could enable all or any of the students on the Programme to see those module-based course materials by adding simple links to them in the relevant level areas of the Programme course. There are two possible locations for resources in the Content Collection. Each tutor has a personal content collection area, and there are also field content collection areas which tutors share with others attached to module runs of the same field. See the staff guides for help in using the Content Collection in Bb.

Examples of structure and content

The navigation panel in the example course shown here is arranged as follows:

  • Introduction
    Level 1
    • Information (L1)
    • GDP (L1)
    • E-portfolios (L1)
    • Communication area (L1)
  • Level 2
    • Information (L2)
    • GDP (L2)
    • E-portfolios (L2)
    • Communication area (L2)
  • Level 3
    • Information (L3)
    • GDP (L3)
    • E-portfolios (L3)
    • Communication area (L3)
  • Resources
    • Tools
    • My Portfolios
    • MyFuture
    • Course Documents
    • Websites
  • Administration
    • Announcements
    • Staff information
    • The following are some ideas for the type of content that might be relevant to Programme courses.

Level introduction areas

Here you might introduce the students to the intention and content of each of the Level areas. You would need to explain how the area will be used, what the students can expect to find in it, the tutors that will be involved in tutoring this level, and other orientation information. You might want to explain the overall structure of this level, refer to an overview of how GDP will run and display a timetable for flag sessions, an overview of portfolios and/or how the students and tutors might use this area for communication.

Level content areas

For each of the level content areas there might be documents, links, tools such as discussion panels or other materials specific to the subject of the course.


If you choose to have a resources category then you could put links to the Bb e-portfolios area (not yet enabled), to the Careers MyFuture website (see Fig 2 below) to support level 2 of GDP and employability generally, to documents that relate to the course as a whole and so on.

Figure 2 – the MyFuture careers website in Blackboard:

example screenshot of the myFuture website within the Blackboard frame


It is often helpful to separate administration areas of a course from the learning and resources areas, so you could group the announcements page, staff information and other areas that address admin under one heading. In the course example here, the landing page has been set to Introduction, but you could leave it on Announcements (the Bb default) or set it to any other area that best suits the needs of the students and tutors.

If you would like to experience the example course shown here for real then please contact the E-learning Development Unit (in IT Services) who will be happy to help. For queries relating to the administration or technical functioning of Bb, contact the Bb support team at

Managing your programme course

Programme courses generally behave exactly the same as all other Blackboard courses. They will be created as “unavailable” by default, with staff and student attachment managed in ISIS by faculty administrative staff.

However, once you have set up a programme course, there are some important considerations to bear in mind about its management:

An award leader should identify who will be taking a leading role in the management of each programme course, and faculty administrative staff will need to be advised which staff to attach to it. All tutors will have the same rights on the course itself, and to avoid confusion you may wish to exercise caution in the number of your colleagues engaged in running the programme course. If some of your colleagues will need to see the course but will not be engaged in adding or managing content, they can be attached in ISIS with Associate status meaning they will have student rather than tutor rights on the course.

Unlike module run and student group courses, programme courses are open-ended and do not expire unless no tutors are currently attached to them. In practice, a programme course could last for many years. This places a high premium on course management because content may accumulate in the course. You may wish to keep your course structure quite simple, to make it easier for you and your colleagues to review all its content.

Discussion boards merit special mention. New students joining the course each year will have access to all the postings of students from previous years, unless these are purged, or the group mechanism is used to define a discussion board(s) per group. You can disable discussion boards on your course, and we recommend this if you do not wish to use them. Otherwise we recommend particular care be taken to moderate and review.

As with other Blackboard courses, programme courses can be made available or unavailable to students at will. Tutors attached to the course have full control over this, and you may wish to use this facility to restrict student access to particular times of year, or to withdraw the course each year for review and re-structuring.

Staff attachment

Staff are attached to programmes in ISIS by administrative staff in your faculty. However unlike student attachment, staff attachment to a programme course lasts for one year and requires renewal each year by the appropriate administrative staff in your faculty. This measure is needed as a check that courses are actively managed.

Programme courses will only be supported in Blackboard if tutors are currently attached to the corresponding Primary Award or Primary Target in ISIS. If at any time no tutors are attached (for example, if the last tutor attached leaves the University or all staff on the Programme have passed their attachment period) the programme will be withdrawn and its contents will ultimately be removed from Blackboard.

If you have further queries about programme courses in Blackboard, please consult the Learning & Research Systems team:

Appendix A

Primary Award and Primary Target courses

The following diagrams will help to explain the relationship between Award and Target and the implications for Blackboard:

Fig 1: Primary Award support:

Primary award

In Fig 1, each of the Primary Targets is aggregated under the parent Primary Award and so a single Award-based Blackboard course will be created.

Fig 2: Primary Target support:

Primary Target support

In Fig 2, each of the Primary Targets is used to facilitate a unique Blackboard course for each Target. It is possible to include/exclude any Target of the Award, ie one or more.

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