Tools for Online Course Design

Tools for Online Course Design

Brightspace is the default online environment at UA. While it is possible to host online courses in other learning management systems, UA does not generally support those systems for the following reasons:

  • FERPA protection – the provider may not have signed an agreement to protect students' educational records.
  • Security – the provider may not be compliant with industry standard security practices.
  • Accessibility – the system may not work well for students with disabilities (Desire2Learn wins awards in this area).
  • Disaster Recovery – the provider may not adequately protect your course against data corruption or data loss.
  • Software Support – the provider may not be able to answer support questions that you or your students may have.

Thus instructors developing online courses are strongly recommended to use Brightspace. If there are features present in other LMS's that are absent from Brightspace, please contact Wendy Lampner ( or x2149) to explore further. Some tools to customize your course that are fully compatible with the Brightspace LMS are listed below.

Course Delivery Tools


Created by Desire2Learn (D2L), Brightspace is the University of Akron's centrally supported learning management system. Brightspace automatically contains a course shell, complete with a class roster and state-of-the-art communication, collaboration, content delivery, and student assessment capabilities for every course. Additional Brightspace features include a course home page, a quiz tool, course news, threaded discussions, document sharing tools, a course calendar, a grade book, a checklist tool, self-assessments, dropboxes, user progress tracking, an HTML editor a paging system, intelligent agents, custom widgets, group management, rubrics, and competencies.

Cost: None.

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Web conferencing provides the functionality you need to support a 21st century teaching and learning environment, such as two-way audio, multi-point video, interactive white-board, application and desktop sharing, rich media, breakout rooms, and session recording. You will typically use this in a synchronous session with your students. Faculty also employ web conferencing to bring guest speakers into an online class and for students to use to complete group projects.

Cost: There is no additional cost to use WebEx. You may need to make a small investment in hardware (microphone, webcam). DDS staff can make recommendations based on your intended use.

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Learning Object Repository

A Learning Object Repository (LOR) allows you to efficiently store, locate, and share learning objects. The LOR allows for external repositories to be linked in, providing a single interface for searching external sources. The LOR is flexible and allows for quick resource publishing and tagging and integrates seamlessly with Springboard. You can work with the library staff to license and embed media and journal articles in your course using the LOR as the storage location.

Cost: No additional cost. In many cases, you can save costs by using the LOR. You will also save your own time when you find that you need to edit an item that appears in multiple courses if you have stored the original in the LOR.

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Assessment Tools


The ePortfolio tool is a user-focused online portfolio tool that empowers students to take an active role in their learning. Students upload, organize, reflect on, revise, and present digital learning artifacts that demonstrate their learning and achievements. Faculty can require students to post artifacts in their portfolio with an opportunity to grade the student's reflection.

Cost: There is no additional cost. Students can export their portfolio to upon graduation.

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Respondus Test Generator

Respondus is a tool for creating exams that can be printed out or published in an online classroom. The Respondus Test Bank Network contains thousands of test banks for the leading textbooks in higher education. Note: Respondus Test Generator is only available on Windows.

Cost: The Test Generator Test Bank Network is free for instructors who adopt a participating textbook.

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Respondus Monitor

Respondus Monitor, a companion to Respondus LockDown Browser, is a virtual proctoring solution for courses that are fully online. Respondus Monitor protects the integrity of online assessments by recording the testing session for each individual student through the use of a webcam and microphone.

Cost: None.

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Lesson Creation Tools

Brightspace Templates

Course templates are files made available by Design & Development Services (DDS) to help faculty develop and post online course materials. DDS offers templates for both 8.5-week courses and 16-week courses. Both are optimized for use in Brightspace and provide faculty with a series of boilerplate pages, sample pages with placeholder text and, pre-created weekly modules to simplify course development.

Cost: None.

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Panopto Focus

Focus is a simple solution for capturing your lectures and offering them for later viewing. With Focus you can capture audio, PowerPoint lectures with narration and screen captures with narration. It also offers searchable integrated note taking, enabling the student to take notes at any point in the presentation to revisit.

Cost: There is no additional cost to use Panopto. You may need to make a small investment in hardware (microphone and webcam). DDS staff can make recommendations based on your intended use.

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Explain Everything

Explain Everything is an easy-to-use design, screencasting, and interactive whiteboard tool that lets you annotate, animate, narrate, import, and export almost anything to and from almost anywhere. With Explain Everything, you can create slides, draw in any color, add shapes, add text, and use a laser pointer. You can rotate, move, scale, copy, paste, clone, and lock any object added to the stage.

Cost: Yes. This is an app that runs on Android or iPad tablets. Cost as of August, 2014 is $2.99. You may need additional hardware such as a noise cancelling microphone or a stylus. DDS staff can make recommendations based on your intended use.

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You should consider using video to introduce yourself and your course goals to your students. If there are learning activities that you would normally accomplish through demonstration, you should contact DDS to discuss the development of a video to accomplish that learning goal. DDS staff members are available to work with you to develop a script, produce the video, edit the video, and embed it in your course.

Cost: There is no additional cost, however projects should be planned with as much time as possible.

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Alternative Presentation Tools

There are a variety of presentation tools you may want to use to embed presentations inside Brightspace. Examples include Animoto, Prezi, Haiku deck, and Sli.des.

Cost: Typically free. Some tools offer a premium product that may include features you would like to use. You may need to make a small investment in hardware (microphone, webcam). DDS staff can make recommendations based on your intended use.

Tools for Student Collaboration

Google Apps for Education

Google Docs is a free web-based office suite offered by Google within its Google Drive service. Google Docs includes a suite of applications that provide collaborative word processing, spreadsheet, presentation and storage services. With Google Drive, you can create and edit documents online while collaborating in real-time with other users. Many instructors utilize Google Drive to establish a class Wiki or real time repository where students can contribute ideas and resources throughout the semester.

Cost: There is no additional cost. All UA students receive an account with their UA email. In order for students to effectively share documents, you may need to request that a Google apps account be provisioned for you. Contact Zip Support to make this request.

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Qualtrics is the online survey tool at The University of Akron. You could use it create and embed polls and surveys in your online course for real-time student engagement.

Cost: None.

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