Pitt Online Toolbox: Building a centralized staff resource depot

Citation: Gunnell, J. & Piccolini, A. (2016). Pitt Online Toolbox: Building a centralized staff resource depot. Presented at the Online Learning Consortium (OLC) Innovate 2016 conference, New Orleans, LA.


Pitt Online uses a design in our online courses that includes custom HTML and CSS elements in conjunction with a theme provided by the Learning Management System. A growing list of new courses and our expanding staff has made consistency in course development and revision a growing concern. For example, course builders might list content in a different order or use a different format for displaying assignment instructions from course to course. Being that the majority of Pitt Online students are taking multiple courses through Pitt Online, it is important to keep the user interface as consistent as possible. Implementing our previous design template required an intermediate level of HTML and CSS knowledge. This resulted in additional training time for new hires. We also realized that the time it takes for new hires to “settle in” could be shortened if access to “How-Tos” and procedural documentation could be easily accessible.

The Pitt Online Toolbox originally started as a course shell meant to act as a “sandbox” for creating a new course template–our first problem. When the new template was finalized, the sandbox course was converted to an example which we left open and accessible by our staff for reference when applying the new template to courses. To help increase consistency between our courses, we added a content area in the sandbox that included detailed step-by-step instructions for applying the new template to a course. This was the first step towards converting the sandbox course into a resource center. Over the past several months, we have continued to add content to the Pitt Online Toolbox. In addition to template implementation instructions, it has grown to include how-to files, document and image resources, and department policies and procedures.