About the Authors

Scott McGuinness, Ph.D., LMHC, Master CASAC
Assistant Professor, Counseling Program Director
Kyle Sullivan, MS
Adjunct Professor, Doctoral Student in Human Development

About the Tool and Class

TitleFostering autonomy and specialized knowledge through Blackboard content management
ToolBlackboard Learn (https://www.blackboard.com/)
Video Walkthrough
Tool descriptionBlackboard is a learning management system for colleges, universities, K-12, and businesses. This tool allows for flexible content curation to meet individual pedagogical styles and the learning needs of a diverse learning community.
Class/ Target LevelEDU 474 / Masters Level
Course TitleAddictions Counseling and Prevention
Background Information About the Class

EDU 474, “Addictions Counseling and Prevention,” is a core, specialization course within the Department of Counseling and Human Development for students enrolled in the Mental Health Counseling program. The course has fluctuating enrollment depending upon Mental Health Counseling cohort size and interest level amongst students enrolled in other Warner School disciplines. Topics covered in the course include but are not limited to counseling techniques for substance use, etiological perspectives on the development of substance-using behaviors, public policy affecting substance use treatment, medication-assisted therapy, harm-reduction, and addiction biology. Pedagogical methods include lecture and problem-solving activities in small groups complemented by assorted forms of media, including video clips, podcasts, news articles, and journal articles.
Lesson TimeA semester (155 minutes, 1x/week, 14 weeks)
Number of Students20-45
Learning ObjectivesStudents learn how to diagnose, assess, and treat clients struggling with co-occurring substance use and mental health disorders in accordance with CACREP and OASAS CASAC accreditation standards. In addition, students are encouraged to exercise their autonomy by immersing themselves in the constantly developing research and news trends that constitute the greater field of substance use and addiction through “choice” and “peer modules.” Three “choice” modules are developed each week by instructors based on current news and research trends, and students have an option to pick which module they wish to complete for 8 weeks. “Peer” modules are then created by groups of students based on their own interest in addictions, guided by instructor input, and are offered to other students for four weeks. Blackboard was the canvas that allowed us to compile resources for each module. These modules were completed following a 90-minute Zoom session each week.

Lesson Plan


For eight weeks, each student completed one collective “core module” and one of three “choice” modules about topics pertinent to substance use counseling every week. Instructors created “choice” modules after surveying current trends in recent addictions-related academic literature and news-media. Each “choice” module contained multimedia content from scholarly and popular sources so students could immerse themselves in content suited to their learning preference. A short assessment was required for each module in the form of an 8-question quiz or a short reflection. Blackboard’s ability to embed videos directly from YouTube, attach audio files, and upload journal articles were instrumental to keeping each module organized. Further, Blackboard’s integrated assessment system simplified grading and organized student success tracking.


After completing their selection of choice modules, students then created a module of their choosing with a group of their peers. These “peer” modules were offered in conjunction with the “core” modules for the final weeks of the semester. Instructors guided their content accumulation and creation, as well as their evaluation measures. Instructors met with each student group and explained functions of Blackboard, and how to present material in a way that engages students and meets lesson objectives. Student groups then found their resources, compiled them into a Microsoft Word document, and explained how they wanted the organization of Blackboard to look when presenting their module. Instructors then uploaded their materials.


Student groups became content assemblers, content producers, and assumed ownership of their content when an inquiry arose in their specific area of substance use/addiction expertise that they investigated. Student groups were expected to answer questions related to their content if their content came up during class discussion. Additionally, students could optimize their own choice and autonomy by selecting relevant topics that were valuable to them and present their mastery through their own customized display of information.


Evaluations of their module creation yielded positive results and indicated student learning and investment into their content area. Students were able to bring their own expertise, which was developed and encouraged through the “choice” and “peer” modules, to our weekly conversations during synchronous sessions. This presented unique opportunity for increased social presence with one another during module creation and class sessions, amplified cognitive presence while completing choice modules, and boosted instructor presence through enhanced support and guidance with students yielding success in both “choice” and student-created modules.



Blackboard’s enhanced accessibility features allowed for students of all abilities to participate in choice module framework. As instructors, we focused on presenting content utilizing the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework to give all individuals an equal opportunity to learn. Specifically, this means that content was presented through multiple mediums (text, audio, video, images) and then each of those content pieces was made accessible in other ways. For example, each video or MP4 file was also accessible as an audio or MP3 file. Further, students could access additional assistive technologies through the learning center.

As students worked in groups, they had the opportunity to delegate and differentiate the roles they played. Some did research, others found content, and others developed assessments, for example. Blackboard, as the Learning Management System (LMS) for all university students, became our central tool as it was familiar to all participants.


Reflection from instructor

The field of substance use and addictions is vast and constantly changing, making it challenging to cover all contemporary topics in a 14-week semester beyond required accreditation standards. The creation of choice-modules and then peer-modules allowed us as instructors to foster interest in related topics using students’ autonomy and own interest. The hope is that these students will enter the field of counseling with specialized knowledge that will help them serve their clients, become valuable interdisciplinary team members, and develop specializations in the vast field of counseling to ultimately limit the strain that addiction and substance use puts on the greater community.

Preparation time/materials

Development of choice modules required much foresight and planning before the beginning of a semester. We hope that these students will enter the field of counseling with specialized knowledge that will help them serve their clients, become valuable interdisciplinary team members, and develop specializations to limit the strain that addiction and substance use puts on the greater community.

Benefits and challenges of the tool

The instructors only experienced minimal difficulty using Blackboard as a tool since they were accustomed to using it as an educational content management system. If either instructor experienced trouble, they would consult the Blackboard help page (https://help.blackboard.com/). Students were familiar with Blackboard before enrolling in EDU 474, and they did not express much difficulty using or navigating Blackboard. Instructors encouraged students to reach out to them if they encountered any trouble or refer to the Blackboard help page as well. Given the instructors’ familiarity with Blackboard, in combination with available resources for help, the instructors would consider adopting this instruction format for other future courses.

In-class experience

Modules were completed outside of class meeting time and were briefly discussed and integrated in conjunction with the weekly synchronous sessions.

Ease of use/Ranking

Many faculty and staff members have familiarity with Blackboard as it is the tool that the University uses across schools and disciplines. The implementation of “core,” “choice,” and “peer” modules can be made by a Blackboard user who is a beginner to a user who is more advanced.

Reflection from students

Students stated they appreciated the freedom to shape their own learning through “choice” modules. Student groups stated they benefitted from working in a group to create modules together and that they would not have learned as much about their topic if they had worked individually. They also appreciated the opportunity to present material in a way that was not tied to what feels like a higher stake assignment, such as a literature review, essay, or oral presentation.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.