Supporting Online Students
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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.
Students can find useful information on the student resources page to get support for online classes.
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
- Make sure to put a page with common browser plug-in links within your course
- 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
- 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
Improve Retention →
Here are some strategies to help online students succeed and reduce dropout rates.
- The two biggest factors affecting dropout are student misconceptions and time management
issues, so make sure to address these in your orientation or assign Quest for Online Success orientation. Contact the Distance Education Coordinator to set it up.
- If you suspect many of the students in your class are not prepared, take a survey
and give suggestions for "catch up" (pre-screen students if possible)
- Studies show more (or longer) orientations increase retention - consider a 1-week
- Make emails and feedback personal (studies show personal interaction is very important
for student satisfaction) - be friendly, patient, encouraging, use humor
- Check student progress and interaction weekly and then take action:
- Use Canvas "Message Students Who" in Gradebook
- If student is falling behind, send email (or call) asking "What is happening? How
can I help?"
- The key is friendly, personal, and persistent encouragement
- Provide a link to Cuyamaca's online Ask A Counselor
- Frequent initial contact with the instructor can reduce drop out rate
- Give early and frequent feedback to badly performing students stressing "areas for
improvement," rather than what they did wrong
- Have students notify you if they will not be logging into class for over a week
- Make exceptions and show compassion and empathy for those students who truly have
difficult circumstances or challenges (such as medical emergencies)
- Although you should drop students who have not logged into your course for a while
(or very sporadically), but be sure to email them first and ask for reasons for the
- Call absent students by phone (this surprising, extra-personal contact can sometimes
change minds and motivate)
- Use frequent "practice quizzes" with zero point value
- Studies show retention is better for those with a higher education level and greater
expectations for getting a degree, so draw on those students to help other students
within the class
- For students having a difficult time with your online class, allow them to attend
some lectures in your face-to-face class (if you teach both formats)
Student Misconceptions →
Students who have never taken online classes (and even some who have) sometimes have
expectations that make adjusting to online difficult. It is best to address these
at the start of the course before bad habits set in (or before they sign up for a
course that is too different from that which they expected or needed). College counselors
should be familiar with many online courses to properly advise and place students.
- make clear the amount of work involved before students sign up for your course (in
orientation, on your college web page, syllabus)
- give past examples of your general grade distributions (or a general description of
how students do in your online courses compared to your face-to-face courses)
- emphasize this is a "real" course, transferable, college-level
- since some studies now show students as viewing online courses as actually more demanding,
temper any warnings with encouragement
"This course will give me a lot more free time"
- put the following in your syllabus: "Plan to devote much more time to it than you
do a lecture class. A lecture class meets 3 hours per week with at least an additional
3 - 6 hours of homework per week. Plan on spending at least that amount of time on
this class. Students who do best in online classes manage their time well, complete
assignments, and do work on many different days during each week (rather than waiting
- warn that online students frequently underestimate the time needed for offline reading
and doing assignments (even underestimating the amount of time spent waiting for screen
refreshes, downloading, tech issues, etc.)
- mention how they will save driving time (and gas), parking fees, but that home distractions
can make things more difficult (suggest their "online study room" be free of distractions
with email and cell phone turned off
"I like working at my own pace"
- although there is more flexibility with online courses, these are not really "self-paced"
courses - there are strict deadlines (every week or so) with penalties for late assignments
"I can sit back in my room and chill"
- clarify that online courses are not correspondence courses - students must be active-learners,
self-motivated, and self-directed
- give examples of how there is more interaction, communication, and collaboration in
- add that many students need and prefer the in-person communication and discipline
of face-to-face classes
"I can be anonymous"
- state the surprise reality: "You will get to know your instructor and your fellow
students much more personally than you do in a face-to-face class."
- online discussions, emails, assignments, and group work are not anonymous
"I will just be clicking around on the Web"
- list a typical week's assignments on your home page or point these out in the syllabus
- emphasize that much of the work is written work (this sometimes surprises new students)
"Your online course is not like the one I took last semester"
- state that just as all lecture classes are not the same, all online courses are not
- create a first week Db thread on expectations, rules, procedures
"This course will be perfect for me because I am not good at English"
- warn that online courses demand much more writing than face-to-face courses (writing
assignments, discussion boards, email)
- good reading and writing skills are essential to do well in an online course
"I like working alone"
- although there is no face-to-face contact, there is more interaction with the instructor
and other students than in a lecture class and group work is common (although, interestingly,
studies show introverts to have been success with online learning)
- online courses are not "self-taught," but, as in a face-to-face course, are taught
by an instructor
"I am good at computers"
- (see solutions in Computer Literacy)
Student Conduct →
Help for Online Teachers and Students →
Here are links, contacts, and references that you can use for all your online teaching.
This page can serve as a handy reference to links that you may have misplaced.
Additional Support and Assistance Programs
We have support programs for all our students.
Admissions & Records
Child Care Center
Commencement & Graduation
Diversity & Inclusion
DSPS/High Tech Center
Health & Wellness Center
Grossmont-Cuyamaca College Promise
Pride Resource Center
Undocumented Student Resources
Virtual Help Center
Wifi on Campus