Organizing Your Course

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Creating a usable PolyLearn course environment is a challenge and requires planning. Students in the PolyLearn course are responsible for locating essential elements and activities. Numerous sections and links may be confusing if not visually organized well. Poor course design may result in students getting lost in the navigation and struggling with the PolyLearn course as a whole.

"To define usability in the context of the online learning experience...good usability translates to several key requirements (Dringus & Cohen, 2005):

  • Good usability facilitates learning by having the mechanics of the learning environment transparent to the user.
  • Good usability involves easy engagement of the user in the instructional and communication process.
  • Good usability involves supporting flexibility for creative endeavors as part of the learning process.
  • Good usability involves promoting interactivity among students and between students and instructor."

Please review Chico's rubric. It is a great way to quickly see some key elements to Exemplary Online Course Usability/Design.

Managing Course Files on Your Computer

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When developing a course for PolyLearn it is important that instructors keep all of their original files on their desktop. Instructors can also back files up on a flash drive, hard drive, server or CD-ROM. PolyLearn performs a daily database backup, but the backup is of the whole system and not of individual files. ITS is unable to retrieve individual files if the instructor loses them. Files can be edited outside of PolyLearn and then uploaded for students to access. PolyLearn will not allow users to edit files within the PolyLearn system.

From the Desktop:

  1. Create a new folder. Name the folder the Course ID (ENGL-0101-01-024) or the name of the course.
  2. Create more new folders inside the course folder to mirror your PolyLearn course navigation as illustrated below.
    Folder Setup screen image
  3. Create the course content (.html, .pdf, .doc, .xls, .ppt, etc.) and place/save them to the correct folders.

    Folder Opened screen image


  4. Once you have the content created and the course shell has been developed and assigned to you in the PolyLearn system, go into your PolyLearn course and add your files. The Instructor will know that the course has been assigned to them when a link appears within the My Classes channel in the My Cal Poly portal.

    Note: Always open and modify the original file on your desktop (development) and then replace the file that is in PolyLearn (production).

PolyLearn File Management (My Private Files)

Tip 1: The My private files tool is used for storing course-related files in the PolyLearn website for use as needed or simply as a personal file storage repository. Both the instructor and students can utilize this tool, and files are not viewable by others within My Private Files until add to a course. My Private Files provides the instructor with a single location to store ALL course files and organize them in Folders. These files can then be added into any PolyLearn course for students to access. Think of it as your personal PolyLearn file storage space. Using the My Private Files tool will make it easier for instructors to manage all of their course files in a single location and link them to any PolyLearn course via the File Picker. Please view the My Private Files tutorial for more information.

Tip 2: Use correct file-naming procedures that are universal for all computers (e.g., Mac OS, Windows, UNIX, etc).


  • Dog.doc
  • theDogRan.doc
  • thedogran.doc
  • Dog1.doc
  • EDUC200_Syllabus_Fall11.pdf


  • dog ran.doc
  • dog-ran.doc
  • dog&ran.doc
  • Dog#1.doc
  • dog/ran.doc
  • dog.ran.doc
  • the dog ran over the fence across the field.doc

Managing Course Sections

Using the My Private Files tool allows the instructor to store a single file that can be added into any course. Starting out with My Private Files will save instructors many hours of upload and file management time. In the future, make sure that the My Private Files area is not the only location of these files. It is also important to keep a copy of the files on the instructor's personal computer and a backup on other devices.

The PolyLearn system has a course shell for each section. The instructor of record has access to all the sections he/she is teaching. If the instructor is teaching more than one section of a course, PolyLearn will allow instructors to copy course content from section-one into section-two with the Import tool. The Import tool can be used to manage multiple sections as well as copy content between quarters (within 5 quarters only). If the instructor wants to merge student enrollments from section-two into section-one, then the instructor must enroll section-two students into section-one one student at a time.


Supporting Your Students

Ten weeks of content packed into one page can be very overwhelming for students. The goal for good course design is to organize the content into easy-to-see-and-navigate units/modules. Displayed in the image below is a course divided into content sections either by week or topic. The first content section should be for course business (welcome message, syllabus, course calendar, rubrics, office hours, etc.). The following content sections would either list the dates (week format) or numbers (topic format). Use the content section summary to post the week/topic calendar and/or outcomes. Use Labels to highlight content areas such as Reading, Assignments, In-Class, and Online. Folders can also be used when a large number of files need to be organized together, such as Optional Reading. Quick Guide: Organizing Course (PDF)

screen image of PolyLearn course

Screen image of  PolyLearn Module