Computer Literacy


  Students enter online courses with vastly different levels of computer literacy. Tech problems arise in all online courses and can make or break a course.

Problems and Solutions

Before Class Begins:

  • Keep your course simple, use simple terms, don't overdo tech complexity
  • Before your course, either in email or on your college web page, have future students take an "Are you ready for online?" quiz (see sidebar in Misconceptions), or include some tech questions in your orientation quiz or on-campus presentation
  • Put detailed requirements in your syllabus: skills needed, minimal hardware/software needed (microphone, use of blogs, SPSS)
  • State your policy regarding tech problems - that these are students' responsibility - include that the district server is almost never the cause - that tech problems cannot be used as an excuse for a missed deadline
  • Put FAQs in your course on common tech issues and solutions
  • Post or include the "Get Started with Canvas" flier in your syllabus or web page
  • Create a Discussion called "Tech Problems" or "Questions and Answers" for student-to-student help
  • Suggest that very unprepared students get a mentor, tech friend, training, computer books
  • Make sure to put a page with common browser plug-in links within your course

During Class:

  • Use the first week of class to get students familiar with Canvas by giving a variety of simple assignments (taking a short quiz, submitting a brief paper, posting to discussions) - most technical problems occur at the start of the course, so set aside time to deal with student issues
  • Tell students to save files in common formats (pdf, docx) - explain the "Save as" dialog box in most programs
  • For students who do not have a word processor, suggest OpenOffice or tell them to use those supplied with their OS: Windows includes Wordpad and Notepad, Mac includes TextEdit. Google Docs can save as Word files too.
  • Refer students to the Cuyamaca Help Desk:
  • Sometimes you need to interpret what students are asking or what their problem actually is, so have them give you a step-by-step clarification (this sometimes requires considerable patience)
  • Allow students who are having tech problems with quizzes to take a makeup test or even take the exam on-campus (with your F2F class, in your office, by proctor). And advise students of the following reasons for test crashes: 1) clicking the wrong buttons or keys - e.g., a "back button" when that is prohibited, 2) clicking too fast and not waiting for the screen to refresh (they need to click and wait), 3) having many programs active simultaneously on their computer and switching between them, and 4) bad or lost ISP connection
  • Allow extra-credit work to makeup for missed assignments due to tech problems (state this policy in your syllabus)
  • If their computer goes down, tell them to use another computer (a family member, friend, the tech lab at Cuyamaca, the community library, at work) - this is also a good way to troubleshoot the original computer
  • Remind them to backup work frequently
  • Always have them check for popup blockers (sometimes in multiple installed programs) and antivirus software conflicts
  • Advise them to try a different browser (Firefox and Chrome are best)
  • Tell them to wait a while and try again (surprisingly this many times works)
  • Ask if they tried rebooting