Fit for delivery - VLE standards and accessibility

Standards for a VLE

Some universities that have ‘Threshold Standards’ or ‘minimum standards’ for their VLEs. However, in most of those cases they also have a system of monitoring those standards and intervening where they are not met.

We prefer to use recommendations about design and navigation standards, rather than hard and fast rules. This allows academics and support staff to make decisions about their use of the VLE based upon their pedagogical requirements in context.

There is a Default View for Blackboard, which is in place on every new Blackboard course. The features of the Default View came via a consultation with students and staff about how they felt Blackboard should look.

Please note that the default view is currently under review.

Design and Navigation Standards

Here are the recommended Design and Navigation Standards for your Blackboard site, as set out in the University’s Virtual Learning Environment (Blackboard) Policy and Guidance Statement. It also includes recommendations for the ongoing management of your Blackboard site:

i. Include an outline of the module/programme with a statement of learning outcomes (by quoting from or linking to approved versions held in the SRS), and a module/programme calendar where relevant, under the main navigation heading of “Overview”.

ii. Learning and teaching content should normally be stored under the overarching main navigation heading of “Materials and Activities” and organised in such a way as to aid student navigation – for example, content might be arranged chronologically with reference to the module/course calendar; by theme or topic; or by group activity – but other formats may be used as appropriate to the programme/module.

iii. Key contact information for academic, administrative and technical support should normally be provided under the overarching main navigation heading of “Help and Contacts”.

iv. Where the VLE instance includes references to, or actual, assessment of student work, collected information about the assignments, plagiarism advice, deadlines and submission methods/boxes should normally be provided under the main navigation heading of “Assessment” (even if individual assignments are provided or discussed elsewhere within the course materials - internal links can be made in these cases).

v. Where a significant form (or forms) of online interaction are included within a programme or module, a direct link to relevant sections of the VLE should be included as a main navigation heading. For example: “Discussion” or “Group Area”.

vi. Headings and subheadings should be clear and consistent.

vii. Downloadable files and other materials should be named in a way that is consistent and descriptive of their content, and provided in a form which affords access by all students registered on the VLE instance. For scanned materials provided by the Library, this should be done by entering the appropriate naming text in ‘Name of Link to File’ (in Blackboard) rather than amending the actual file name.

viii. Folders and information (including announcements) which are out of date or not in use should be removed from the navigation structure or deleted altogether.

ix. Regular checks (at least once per academic year) should be made by VLE Convenors of the currency of materials available through their VLE instances – this includes references in texts, links to online resources, etc.

x. Prominent and appropriate links to key academic information resources should be included in any programme or module VLE instances. The Library, Careers, Learning Development and Student Welfare should provide regularly updated information for departments to include on their VLE instances, where possible targeted through collaborative work between the departments and services.

xi. Major changes to the design and/or navigation of a live VLE instance should not normally be made part-way through a module or programme; where this is unavoidable, users should be:

  • given as much notice as possible
  • told what is changing and when
  • given support in using the new design or navigation features
  • told who to contact should they need assistance

Examples from other institutions

University of Derby's threshold standards.

They provide threshold standards, but also include further development to encourage staff to go beyond the basics.

University of Northampton's minimum standards.

Note that they call them 'minimum' standards, not 'threshold'. Derby felt that using 'minimum' might mean that staff merely felt they had to meet the minimum and not go any further. Using 'threshold' encourages them to go beyond the minimum.


Using a default view or threshold standards goes some way to meeting accessibility criteria because it encourages a consistency of approach, clear labelling, pathways and scaffolding.

University of York's recommendations for VLE accessibility.

They consider planning, the structure of the VLE, and issues regarding the resources.

York do not use a mandated use approach at the institution level, instead they cultivate and manage it at a departmental level. They have 'staff champions' in departments.

University of Edinburgh have these recommendations for VLE accessibility.

They consider course structure, alternative formats for files and materials, and issues with multimedia.

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