Using Blackboard Learn to design and manage a quality learning environment is hard. Managing the web content alone is hard to do well. To do so requires significant HTML, CSS and related web design knowledge. Knowledge that not everyone has, or should have, or can have. That’s why there are so many ugly Blackboard sites.

The difficulty of sharing this specific type of design knowledge is just one small example of the question facing institutions of higher education (especially in these pandemic times): How to share design knowledge in design for digital learning?

The following resources are associated with an ASCILITE’2019 paper (or conference proceedings PDF) that attempted to explain one possible way of answering that question.

Not the answer, but an answer that has since been successfully used to share design knowledge across hundreds of courses across multiple institutions (but mostly at my current institution).

Early versions of the work are described in blog posts (Card Interface and Content Interface) and are currently (mid-2021) open source software ready to use on any Blackboard Learn instance (Card Interface or Content Interface)

Working Software

This paper draws on the experience developing the Card and Content Interface. Two collections of Javascript & CSS that can be embedded into any instance of Blackboard Learn.

The Card Interface is simplest to install and use and has been used at Universities in Australia, Ireland, and New Zealand.

Both tools have


Higher education is being challenged to improve the quality of learning and teaching while at the same time dealing with challenges such as reduced funding and increasing complexity. Design for learning has been proposed as one way to address this challenge, but a question remains around how to sustainably harness all the diverse knowledge required for effective design for digital learning. This paper proposes some initial design principles embodied in the idea of Context-Appropriate Scaffolding Assemblages (CASA) as one potential answer. These principles arose out of prior theory and work, contemporary digital learning practices and the early cycles of an Action Design Research process that developed two digital ensemble artefacts for 7 courses (units, subjects) and in less than a year been used in over 60 sites. Experience with this approach suggests it can successfully increase the level of design knowledge embedded in digital learning experiences, identify and address shortcomings with current practice, and have a positive impact on the quality of the learning environment.


The PowerPoint animations don’t translate 100% correctly to Google Presentation but close enough.


Aitchison, C., Harper, R., Mirriahi, N., & Guerin, C. (2019). Tensions for educational developers in the digital university: Developing the person, developing the product. Higher Education Research & Development, 0(0), 1–14.

Arthur, W. B. (2009). The Nature of Technology: what it is and how it evolves. New York, USA: Free Press.

Behnke, J. (2018). Content editor HTML vs. PDF? Retrieved February 24, 2019, from Blackboard Community website:

Bennett, S., Agostinho, S., & Lockyer, L. (2017). The process of designing for learning: understanding university teachers’ design work. Educational Technology Research & Development, 65(1), 125–145.

DeLanda, M. (2006). A New Philosophy of Society: Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity. A&C Black.

Dimitriadis, Y., & Goodyear, P. (2013). Forward-oriented design for learning : illustrating the approach. Research in Learning Technology, 21, 1–13.

Ellis, R. A., & Goodyear, P. (2019). The Education Ecology of Universities: Integrating Learning, Strategy and the Academy. Routledge.

Fischer, G., & Girgensohn, A. (1990). End-user Modifiability in Design Environments. Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 183–192.

Goodyear, P. (2015). Teaching As Design. HERDSA Review of Higher Education, 2, 27–59.

Greeno, G. J. (2005). Learning in Activity. In R. K. Sawyer (Ed.), The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences (pp. 79–96).

Introna, L. (2013). Epilogue: Performativity and the Becoming of Sociomaterial Assemblages. In F.-X. de Vaujany & N. Mitev (Eds.), Materiality and Space: Organizations, Artefacts and Practices (pp. 330–342).

Mathes, J. (2019). Global quality in online, open, flexible and technology enhanced education: An analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Retrieved from International Council for Open and Distance Education website:

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. (2006). Technological pedagogical content knowledge: A framework for teacher knowledge. Teachers College Record, 108(6), 1017–1054.

Mor, Y., Craft, B., & Maina, M. (2015). Introduction – Learning Design: Definitions, Current Issues and Grand Challenges. In M. Maina, B. Craft, & Y. Mor (Eds.), The Art & Science of Learning Design (pp. ix–xxvi). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Nanard, M., Nanard, J., & Kahn, P. (1998). Pushing Reuse in Hypermedia Design: Golden Rules, Design Patterns and Constructive Templates. 11–20. ACM.

Roberts, J. (2018). Future and changing roles of staff in distance education: A study to identify training and professional development needs. Distance Education, 39(1), 37–53.

Ryan, T., French, S., & Kennedy, G. (2019). Beyond the Iron Triangle: Improving the quality of teaching and learning at scale. Studies in Higher Education, 0(0), 1–12.

Sein, M. K., Henfridsson, O., Purao, S., & Rossi, M. (2011). Action Design Research. MIS Quarterly, 35(1), 37–56.

Sun, S. Y. H. (2017). Design for CALL – possible synergies between CALL and design for learning. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 30(6), 575–599.

Zittrain, J. (2008). The Future of the Internet–And How to Stop It. Yale University Press.

Image attributions

Why did the chicken cross the road? flickr photo by bortescristian shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

what flickr photo by Vikki-Lea shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

How flickr photo by Infrogmation shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Why flickr photo by Jeremiah Vandermeer shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

KNOWLEDGE flickr photo by Troels Myrup shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

Diamond road sign steep incline By User:Stannereden:Image:Diamond road sign steep incline.png, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

King playing cards
By Enoch LauOwn work (photo), CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Warning on the French Cigarettes Pack
By The original uploader was Arolga at English Wikipedia.
(Original text: Encyclopedia of Cigarettes) –, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Context is King flickr photo by _rebeccajackson shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

Scaffold flickr photo by OiMax shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Sarah Ionnides – Conducting
By Izabel.zambrzyckiOwn work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link