It is important to make sure all goes well at the start of an online course or students
will see your course as sloppy, amateur, and unprepared. The start is also a good
time to develop a sense of community. Even before the start of your course, consider
designing (or modifying) your college faculty Web page to give better information on your current online courses.
- Orientation can be online or on-campus (as a one- hour session on a Saturday or weekday
evening). You may give students a choice of either, but make some type of orientation
required, not optional.
- Be clear on what you require (a "contract agreement").
- Mix course information with some Canvas instructions, but also be aware that many
of your students may be familiar with Canvas.
- Give Help Desk contact information (see Help Desk)
- See Orientation Content for more details about what to include.
- Be sure your syllabus is ready for online.
- Email students before course begins with a welcome message that includes how to access
Canvas and get started.
- Consider opening your course to students a few days before the start of the semester.
- Send a friendly, informative welcome announcement to start off your course - with
a brief summary of what to do first and where to find it. Note that in Canvas, the
course needs to be published for students to be notified.
- Include a teacher page in your first module. Include a picture of yourself and contact
Creating a Sense of Community
- Include an opening icebreaker discussion.
- Include chat or online conferencing times as part of orientation: "I will be available
via Zoom on this date."
- Include personal phone calls for those who haven't logged in or who haven't yet engaged
in the first weeks' assignments.
A variety of materials and formats are available to use in online teaching. It is
best to use many of these when presenting information online -- variety works well.
You may need to include instructions for students on how to use some of formats and
you should always consider cost to students as well as differences in student technical
expertise. Some instructors have actually mailed materials as "on loan" to students
for the semester, to be mailed back at the end.
For more on materials and formats, see Content and Multimedia
- Best if visual and organized into workable sections
- Online e-books are available - less expensive, but not as portable - also reading
large amounts of text online can be tiring (smart phones, and e-book readers may change
this - see sidebar)
- Consider using no textbook at all or use zero cost options.
- Publisher content can be included as less expensive bundles with textbooks
- CD/DVDs can contain extra videos, presentations, labs
- Streaming allows instant viewing with download lag
- mp4 is the most common format for video
- YouTube and other video can be embedded in Canvas
- See Library Media faculty services for more options
- Add graphics, audio narration, and video (see Content)
- Use free "flowgram" programs for interactive Web presentations (see Programs/Applications for information)
Graphics and Animation
- Use a digital camera or royalty-free clipart
- Develop you own animations using Flash or other programs
- Add narration to even still photos, diagrams, charts, or graphs for effect
Podcasts and more
- Mp3 audio or Mp4 video can be used by students on the go via smartphones
- Various programs allow you to make interactive crossword puzzles, games, flashcards
(see Useful Resources)
- Newspapers, journals, academic departments online (see Useful Resources)
- Can be viewed smartphones
- Video with tips to help your students conduct quality research
- Give assignments to students involving local or college libraries
- Use simulated, online, or at-home lab exercises - "dry" labs (see sidebar for links
- Two-way video and audio for live virtual classrooms
- Students need a connected camera and microphone (webcam, headset)
- ConferZoom - Free video conferencing and webinar software for all California Community
Colleges. See Using ConferZoom in Canvas.
- For a list of conferencing solutions see Useful Resources
Online courses need a greater variety of assignments than do face-to-face courses
- and they should be more frequent. Also, online instructors should always keep their
grading current - giving students feedback explaining their grades and suggesting
ways to improve. All this not only helps students manage and appraise their work,
but also helps instructors to check their own course effectiveness.
Canvas Rubrics allow teachers to clarify expectations and grading criteria. This helps students
understand requirements and helps teachers grade more fairly. See Rubistar for rubric examples.
Types of Assignments
Quizzes, Tests, Exams
- Experiment with different question types
- It is helpful to students (although entails much work) if you write feedback to each
test question choice with explanations for correct and incorrect answers - you can
also cite where the correct information can be found.
- Grade Discussions weekly or by unit
- Clearly state grading policy and expectations at the start of your course
- Grade on quality (content-related, scholarly, not superficial) and quantity (number
and length of posts)
- Some teachers require students to comment on other student posts
- Check for posts that simply repeat other student posts or copy/paste textbook information
- Have students submit a document (specify allowed document types)
- Be clear on whether you also grade on spelling and grammar
- Canvas allows you to annotate documents with your comments
- Projects require creative application of knowledge and skills
- Project ideas include portfolio, slide presentation, website, video presentation,
concept map, blog, journal, course notebook, etc.
- Give both a "group grade" and individual grade (with a percentage breakdown for each)
- Require a group project, but also accept individual work on the project
- Have students detail the individual work they did on the project
- Have members of each group rate/grade each other on a scale of 1- 10 on some criteria
(have them explain their assessment in a sentence)
- Use Peer Reviews
- Interpreting graphs (economics), use of programming (CIS), mastery of skills (languages,
math), interpreting language (Spanish)
- Blogs are personal web pages that become journal-like with the ability to include
graphics, comments from students, and links. For details, see Blogs in Plain English.
- You can create a class blog or a multi-class blog and ask students to subscribe and
comment on blog entries
- You can ask students to create their own blog as an online journal
- You can link all these blogs from within Canvas
- See Useful Resources for blog development links
- These are Web tools that allow for writing and editing by many people simultaneously.
Anyone can add or make changes to what is presented. For details, see Wiki in Plain English.
- The instructor (or group moderator) can track users for any problems and can delete
- These work well with group projects (for both planning and the finished presentation)
- Wikis can replace discussion boards. As with blogs, wikis can be used for multiple
sections of the same class (creating a large group cohesiveness)
- Link the wikis from within Canvas
- See Useful Resources for Wiki development links
- Some use percentages (A:90%, B:80%, C:70%, D: 60%, F: below this)
- Use credit/ncr (pass/fail) for some assignments with a fixed amount of points
- Most recommend to not allow students to grade each other as trust in the class will
plummet - (although one can allow comments or critiques on each other's work)
- Extra-credit work allows much more flexibility in online courses especially for poorly
performing students and those with time-management problems
- For student complaints about grades, refer to your stated expectations or syllabus,
give an acceptable example from the past, give suggestions for improvement
What to Include in Your Descriptions of Assignments
- Objectives - Purposes and expectations of the assignment
- Procedure - Instructions on developing and completing the assignment
- Materials - Any materials (sources, tech requirements) to be used
- For exams: time limits, backtracking, attempts
- For papers: number of pages, warnings about plagiarism
- For presentations: number of screens
- For discussions: number of posts
- Due Date - Exact deadline
- Grading/Points - Criteria to be used in assessing the quality of the assignment (Rubrics are recommended)
- Submission - How and where to submit the assignment; acceptable formats and file sizes
- Feedback - Whether feedback will be given and where
Discussions are one of the most important areas in an online course. This is where
much of the "real" learning can take place and it is the one place that gives a sense
of community to the class. But, handling the discussion board can easily become one
of most difficult parts of online teaching. Facilitating discussion and dealing with
problems can take much time. Below are some tips and hints to make your discussion
boards more effective.
- Create topic threads by week, module, etc. - create prompts that are on specific areas
- Name each Discussion or group of threads something appropriate to the content of the
course: "Chapter One Questions," "Question on the Brain and Central Nervous System"
- Include only one idea per prompt - not too long, not too many thoughts
- State clear guidelines: length of posts (one paragraph), minimum number of posts (4
per week), types of content desired (use of text information, resources, etc.), your
policy on personal posts ("My computer sound is not working," "I knew you in high
school") grading, warnings (see sidebar)
- Consider setting up smaller discussion groups (see Using Groups)
- After a deadline has passed, lock discussions so that students cannot add posts past
the deadline (the posts will remain available for students to read and review)
- Discussion prompts should clearly state the topic - although you can sometimes use
a "tempt prompt" such as "Can you answer this?"
- Use open-ended prompts that demand more than one answer (one-answer questions tend
to kill threads or get repeated, identical student replies
- Use controversial issues that integrate course information - play "devil's advocate"
- avoid long debates with only one student, but rather open it up ("Would anyone care
to comment on . . .?")
- Use critical thinking or hypothetical, "suppose if" scenarios - more reflecting on
than repeating information
- Post a quotation and have students respond
- Post questions like: "The most important thing I learned in this chapter is . . ."
or "What confused me most about this section was . . ."
- Use guest speakers (see Outside-In)
- Role play - become a historical figure, a confused student, a professional - and invite
questions and responses
- Discuss posted papers by students, web links, current news on course-related topics
- Draw from students' own life experiences
- Do not allow students to create their own Discussions as these can get off point,
misused, or create too many similar threads diluting responses
- Ask students to list the most valuable student posts of the week and make comments
- Demand posting immediately when a course begins - the first log on, the first week
(use "Tell us something about yourself," "Why are you taking this class?," "Give advice
to your fellow students about becoming a successful online student" - or assign students
to give information about another student requiring student interaction)
- Encourage particularly good posts ("Great ideas here," "Perfect understanding of the
text") but do not over praise or other students may become intimidated - give a "reward"
such as a link, a connection to a future area in the course, a book resource
- Don't be too negative, judgmental, contradictory, authoritarian, ridiculing - for
poor posts, don't delete, but respond in a reply post that you will also reply privately
in an email to that student (all student will see this reply and learn from it, yet
you will not be directly embarrassing the student)
- Restate or rephrase a student post clarifying their response ("Yes, you are saying
that . . .", "Do you mean that . . .")
- Think of Discussions as conversation - with a similar flow - look for connections
between posts and point this out ("Your post is similar to Mary's on . . .")
- So student's don't feel hurt or neglected, be clear in your syllabus and announcements
that you will not respond to every post but that you will read all posts (it is impossible
to respond to every post and this can set up an unreasonable expectation - students
should learn from each other) - some suggest more replies at the beginning of the
course (1:5), less towards the end (1:12)
- Tell students they can voice their opinions, but they must back these up with course
- For too brief posts, ask for further explanation or clarification
- For an unclear post, ask other students to explain what that student was saying
- Reply in third person so that your post does not sound too personal and exclusionary,
but use the student's name to make it sound friendly and inviting to others (instead
of "You say that . . .," use "Mary states that . . .")
- Don't respond with one or two words ("yes," "good," "OK," "thank you,") or that thread
will die - these only work in F2F - you could privately email your thanks or praise
for the thread
- To make for more student-student interaction, specify the number of of posts (one
half?) that must be replies or comments to another student's post, not just to the
initial prompt of the instructor ( the instructor can direct students to do this with
such statements as "Who would like to respond Jerome's post?")
- Create dissonance by challenging students with difficult, critical thinking questioning
- argue, but "agree to disagree" - bring out the complexity of issues, the multiple
sides of an argument
- If a thread gets off-topic, direct the thread back
- Wait for students to respond first, before jumping into a thread - wait - but if a
single post is left hanging for too long, add a comment ("dangling posts" can be negative
in a Discussion)
- Don't be afraid to end a Discussion ("This discussion is now closed")
- Also be advised: much depends on the students you happen to have in your class (and
this is a toss of the dice). Sometimes you get a very interactive group, sometimes
not. And, while you can easily turn this around in a lecture class, it is much more
difficult with online. So, the motto here is: don't always blame yourself.
Problems and Solutions:
- For students posting mainly at the deadline:
- create mid-week deadlines (postings split between 2 deadlines)
- give more points for mid-week posts
- give bonus points for the first 15 students posting
- have a mid-week deadline for replies to original prompts, then a end-of-week deadline
for follow-up replies to other student posts
- demand three different days of posting per week (some experts suggest students log
on 5x a week even if they post nothing
- To prevent too many personal stories, excessive debating, or casual posts:
- specify how many posts should directly include (or use) specific course content
- set limits on personal posts or opinions
- have two sets of Discussions: one for textbook information, one for debating
- direct students to your always-available, no points "Student Lounge" Discussion for
a "student union like" atmosphere
- Always warn students in your syllabus and orientation, that they should be: collegial
to each other, polite and respectful - delete or edit objectionable posts and email
the author (see Problem Students)
- To eliminate very short posts, specify how long each should be for maximum credit
(for example, at least four sentences; 200 words) or provide a few "quality posts"
for students to model
- If you allow students to edit or delete their posts, you might have difficulty in
tracking and grading ever changing posts
- If some students overpost or monopolize discussion, email them privately and combine
praise - "Help me out by reducing or delaying your posts so other can have a chance
to answer as well as you"
- Either allow or disallow text messaging lingo (LOL, BTW, IMHO) or emoticons such as
:^) or :-) - but state your rule up front (and remember generation gaps on some of
- To prevent problems before they escalate, monitor Discussions frequently
Canvas groups not only make for a better class community, but can also reduce instructor workload and make online classes more manageable. It
is best to wait until week three or so before starting groups so that students can
get used to your class and each other. Realize that students in a Canvas group can
only see their own group work - but there are many ways to expand beyond this (see
below). The instructor should always observe the group's progress and ask to be informed
of any "slackers" so that they can be emailed about responsibility. You can change
and mix groups over the semester (including leaders). Advise students that they are
responsible for managing other group members (including any changes needed for those
who might drop out midway).
Group Activity Ideas
- For each week or chapter, have a group develop questions based on the readings. Then
have them post these to a Db for all students to read and have them moderate all posts
for that week. Next week, new group. (for a clear description of setting up groups in Bb, see the sidebar)
- Split large classes into isolated groups for all discussions (mix members throughout
- Create "special interest" groups for those who want to focus on a particular topic
in your course
- Here the leader must divide and assign work (by task such as searching, graphics,
programming or by content) and must set mini-deadlines to keep the task on-schedule
- Include a final public class presentation or summary.
- Consider having students use Google Docs .
Jeopardy Games LIVE
- Students can gain points by playing (and winning) in a Jeopardy-type game on course subject matter
- Use the Bb Chat or Bb Virtual Classroom
- See sidebar for tips on live sessions
- Use live discussion on a particular topic or for review sessions before tests (vary times so
that all have a chance to attend)
- The instructor does not have to attend these, but could assign a student moderator and later view the recorded transcripts for grading
- Use the Bb whiteboard in combination with live chat for diagrams and charts to get
a live, face-to-face feel
- See the sidebar for tips on using chat
- Schedule local, in-person, face-to-face groups for study sessions or for assignment
- Use peer review such as commenting on other student papers (as in English courses)
- Have students post their homework and have other students do critiques in the Db
- Try using the Bb's Group Browser which allows many students to view Web pages simultaneously.
- Read Group Work in Distance Learning Courses
Advice on Setting Up Groups in Canvas
- See Canvas Guides to set up groups
- Give each group a distinctive name (corresponding to the content of your course) and
be very clear and detailed on the assignment task, how they are to proceed and collaborate
- Choose different options for student interaction (Discussion, chat, file exchange)
- Add students to each group (4 - 15 is a good amount depending on the activity) and
have a plan in case students drop out
- Depending on the assignment and it is best that the instructor choose and divide students
into groups because allowing them to self-group can become a mess. Another option
is to have a sign-up sheet for various topics - signup based on interests
- Give group role options (leader, researcher, designer, programmer, writer) depending
on the assignment - especially designate a leader who will be the moderator and report
to the instructor
- Specify how grading will operate (individual grades, a group grade, or the recommended
combination of the two)
The virtual classroom environment can be confining. It can be exciting and educational
to expand beyond this and bring the outside world into your virtual classroom.
- Call or email professionals, experts, those who work in your field, other instructors,
or those who have had personal experiences with your course content.
- Be sure to explain to your guest how online works (login instructions, time frame
for the visit, how to use technology, what to expect).
- For adding guest lecturers or others to your Canvas containers, fill out the form
on the Canvas Forms page.
- Consider using Zoom online conferencing for a rich experience.
- Have students interview someone related to course material (in person, by phone, by
- Post their interview (or a recording or video) to a Canvas discussion.
- Have students observe people or a situation that relates to course material
- Have students visit a course-related location and report (prepare assignment instructions
- Examples: a church for religious studies, court for law, planetarium for astronomy
- Explore other countries by Web search
- Google has a language translator
- You might even set up correspondence through similar online courses in other countries
(perfect for history, languages, political science)
- Google has a text translator
- Have students view a movie (theater or rented) that relates to class material
- Exchange material with other instructors here or across the world (search for schools)
- Share video, animations, presentations
- Simulate laboratory experiments using household items
- See the sidebar in Choosing Materials
Communication is much more important to student success in online classes. It is needed
to break the isolation sometimes felt by students and to bridge the differences in
background (which can be greater in online classes).
There are two main types of online communication:
|chat, virtual classroom, office hours
- more immediate
- better sense of community
- difficult to manage with many students (see the sidebar in Using Groups for advice)
- hard to censor
- difficult to grade
||email, messaging, discussions, announcements
- more flexible for student schedules
- better quality interaction since there is no rush
- Community building
- Should be updated at least once a week
- Include: reminders of assignment due dates, comments on class progress, add interesting
new information (news links, articles)
Discussions: see Handling Discussions
- Can also give a sense of community and encourage more student-student interaction.
- Results can be used in discussions.
- Some give a survey at the start of the class that describes the course demographics
and students expectations and attitude about the class.
Personal teacher-student and student-student contact:
- can send emails to student's preferred external email address
- when you add students, their default email address may be incorrect or one that they
do not use regularly (you MUST have them immediately check their email address in WebAdvisor)
- emails can get "lost"
- hard to track tons of emails from many sources in your inbox (consider setting up
a separate gmail accounts for each class see "forwarding email")
- can be blocked by spam filters
- Inbox messages are sent through email
- there is a record of all interactions in a course
Written Work Feedback
- entered in assignment "Comments"
- besides assignment discussion, these can include personal issues as a better substitute
- Be sure that students have their correct email listed in WebAdvisor or you will not be able to contact them. Any changes made to email addresses in WebAdvisor
will be transferred to Canvas within 24 hours.
- Besides a welcome email (see Orientation), you might also include and end-of-course goodbye email including their final grade.
- Be sure to save all emails and messages to and from students throughout a semester
in case of disputes.
Here are some basics about the underpinning of your courses. Canvas is hosted on a
remote server. WebAdvisor handles all rosters at A&R and will automatically update
student roster changes in Canvas.
- Empty course container shells are automatically created for every section you are
teaching each semester. These will appear in your Canvas account about the time registration
begins. You can then build your course from these containers, add a Canvas template,
and/or copy material and settings from previous courses into these containers (see Canvas Container Preparation).
- If you wish to include material or settings from a previous semester course, go into
the new Canvas Shell course settings and click Import Course Content. You can then select the components of the current course you would like copied into
that container and even convert dates.
- Be sure to check Announcements. Any announcements without Delay Posting dates will
be sent out as soon as the course is published.
- Use the pre-semester checklist each semester.
- Students for each section are automatically added into your container each semester
(included late adds). Use WebAdvisor to drop students.
- At the end of the semester, after your course is over, use the post-semester checklist.
WebAdvisor/Colleague (Cuyamaca's electronic roster): This is the only way to view and manage your student
rosters (see tutorials below). Login usually has the same Username/ID as your email/network
password, but can have a different password. View all online student rosters with
daily updates by A&R. Enter final grades through this online system. Teachers should
also save Canvas Grades into Excel for printing and electronic storage.
Students will automatically be added to Canvas courses daily by WebAdvisor. Be sure
to alert your students to correct email addresses in WebAdvisor. To add guest lecturers
or others to your containers, use the Canvas Request form.
- add students into your containers automatically daily
- will set student status to Inactive when the student is dropped
- will create a student account in each container for each faculty member (identified
as Test Student in gradebook) so that you can view your course as a student
- WebAdvisor Help for Faculty
Course Schedule Notes:
- The semester before your class begins, be sure to write and submit any notes that
you wish listed in the notes section of the college course schedule. These notes can
include instructions about your orientation, whether students should email you before
the first day of class, your college web page, contact information, etc. (see this example of class notes or look in the Cuyamaca Schedule's online classes).
- You must submit these to your Chair, Coordinator, or Dean immediately following your
class assignment (the semester before the course is scheduled to begin
- Your notes will be listed in both the online and printed schedules
Overall Timeline for Course Development:
- Before a class can be offered as online or hybrid, a special form needs to be approved
by the curriculum committee.
- At the start of the prior semester:
- Get course and section approval (by Chair or Coordinator)
- Submit Course Schedule notes
- Months before the semester begins:
- The container will be automatically created
- Build your course within this container (include content and assignments)
- When registration begins:
- Students automatically added by WebAdvisor
- Start of the semester:
- Publish course
- Begin teaching class
College Email and Cuyamaca Access:
- email: first.last@@gcccd.edu (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- network login (for faculty web page creation, other areas on the college site):
- username: first.last (john.smith)
- [ may sometimes require "gcccdedu\" before username (gcccdedu\john.smith)]
- password: PIN (birthdate - MMDDYY - on the first login, then can be changed)
Cuyamaca Web Standards
- Canvas login (same as network login):
- username: first.last (john.smith)
- password: PIN (birthdate - MMDDYYYY - on the first login, then can be changed)
- Can change first name (display name) in Canvas - use the Canvas Request form.
- If the server should go down or have problems, you should call the Help Desk and report the outage: 660-4395 (on weekends record a message and it will be intercepted
and action taken within the hour). You can also email the Help Desk at email@example.com
Student Canvas Login:
- Username: first.last (e.g. john.smith)
Password: Your 8 digit birthdate (e.g. 07151985).
The password can be changed after students login (make sure they use any changed password in future course logins)
- Login help:
- Cuyamaca Students 619-660-4395
- Grossmont Students 619-644-7383
- Student accounts are available one day after they register for a class, but they will
not see their online Canvas class until the instructor has published it.