bCourses as an Online Home for Your Classroom
UC Berkeley currently offers a suite of web-based tools in the learning management system (LMS) bCourses, which is Berkeley’s name for its installation of the LMS platform Canvas. Over the course of the semester, you may find that you want to use a range of bCourses functions; for example, keeping track of grades in a central location, sharing files with your students, and sending announcements to different discussion sections. In this section of the Teaching Guide, we will provide some of the rationale for setting up a bCourses site as well as an overview of the many helpful features found in bCourses.
There is a benefit for students when all of the relevant course information can be found in a single place. Often, students feel overwhelmed if they need to check a variety of sources in order to download assignments or reference the syllabus. bCourses does an excellent job of being that home base for students as they navigate your course.
Contact your Instructor of Record (the faculty member in charge of the course) early to find out how bCourses will be used in your course. Will separate sections have their own pages on a bCourses site set up by the Instructor of Record? Or should you set up your own bCourses site? For help setting up your bCourses site, see Research, Teaching, and Learning Services’ (RTL’s) bCourses Instructors Getting Started page, as well as their Course Design Tools page for templates and guides. RTL also gives workshops for instructors on using bCourses.
Overview of bCourses Tools
Below is a summary of the most frequently used bCourses features. You may not need to use all of them for your course, but it is helpful to know what exists. For more in-depth information on any of these tools, see the Canvas Instructor Guide.
One of the basic building blocks of a bCourses site is a Page. Each Page can contain text and various types of media, such as images or embedded videos. We recommend setting the homepage of your bCourses site to a Page that contains frequently accessed information and links.
Modules provide a way to group content — not only the Pages you create, but also Assignments and Quizzes. Modules are a great way to organize information for your students; seeing a list of Page titles is much less daunting when they are presented and grouped in an orderly fashion. One helpful feature of Modules is that you can make them unlock sequentially, so that students are required to complete earlier Modules in order to access later content.
It is recommended that any official course announcements be sent through the Announcements tool on bCourses. Since bCourses is linked to course enrollment, there will be no dropped communication, as there might be if you ask students to access another website or app for announcements. Also, all communications will be maintained on your bCourses site, so you need not worry about messages getting lost in your students’ inboxes, as is the case if messages are sent via email. This is especially important when communicating expectations around deadlines or examinations. Additionally, bCourses can be used to send separate announcements to different discussion sections.
Keeping track of grades and making them available to students in a timely manner is a core responsibility of GSIs. The Grades tool in bCourses is a convenient and transparent way to keep track of students’ scores on individual assignments as well as their overall course grades. You can choose to “mute” the grades on an assignment so that students cannot see the grades as you are entering them, then post the grades when all scores are entered.
SpeedGrader allows you to quickly read student submissions. Rather than having to download files that students submit, you can comment on them and grade them directly in bCourses using this tool. An additional benefit is that SpeedGrader integrates with the bCourses gradebook.
bCourses can be used to administer quizzes and surveys. Quizzes are customizable to have multiple choice or free response questions. You can schedule them to be available if you want, for example, students to take them within a 24-hour window, or you can set a time limit for students once they access the quiz. It is also possible to administer ungraded, anonymous surveys using the Quizzes tool, which can be used to conduct a midterm evaluation.
If you prefer not to communicate with students over email, bCourses offers an Inbox messaging feature. This can be useful if you prefer to batch your messages related to GSI duties in a separate location from your normal email inbox. Even if you do not use this tool, you should check your bCourses Inbox regularly throughout the semester in case some of your students use it to communicate with you.
bCourses has integration for files. Putting thought into the directory structure and file names will help students greatly. For example, keeping homework, exam review materials, and reading assignments in separate folders is much preferred to all files being present in the home folder. bCourses also provides an accessibility score that shows the instructor the files’ compatibility with assistive technology such as screen readers.