Online Learning: Faculty


Course description

This description can be found in the College Catalog and Departmental Course Syllabus, and is likely already in your syllabus. It should include information about what content the course will cover and what it will prepare students for, as well as prerequisites for taking the course.


Course objectives

Clearly posting objectives in a prominent location on Blackboard (e.g. course information section) helps to remind students what their learning goals are and what they should be able to accomplish through this course.  These objectives also set up a marker for students to measure their progress against.  NOTE: For further explanation on the difference between Learning Objectives and Learning Outcomes refer to CCSU Libguides.


Course syllabus

The syllabus should:

  • Conform to Office of Academic Affairs (OAA) guidelines
  • Be uploaded as PDF (This improves portability and platform-independent access to the information.) Students may have trouble opening MS Word documents if they don’t own a version of the software or have an older version. It’s simple to convert a document into a PDF in MS Word.


Contact information

Typically, this is the first opportunity for faculty to post a self introduction and contact information. Details include several methods for communication and availability:

  • A short biography with relevant information about teaching style, research interests and expectations about the course
  • A photograph (or a representative image) of the instructor
  • Contact information and procedures including office location, relevant phone numbers, and e-mail addresses
  • Information about turn-around times for replying to emails or voicemail
  • A policy for communicating with students in the event of a system failure

Textbooks and requirements

What do students need to be able to prepare for and participate meaningfully in the course?

  • Textbook(s)
    • Electronic course pack in PDF and/or HTML format
    • Information on required textbooks, including acceptable editions and their ISBN numbers
    • Purchase information and links for required textbooks (where applicable), including the price for both new and used versions
    • Textbook availability at the college library
  • Other classroom materials
  • Required hardware and software


Online participation policy

In an asynchronous course, students need to develop strong time management ability. For this reason, students need to understand how much time they should be participating in the online course, so they can plan a realistic schedule for participation.

  • What is the expected pace of student attendance and participation?
  • How often do students need to visit  and actively participate on Blackboard? For example: Students are required to visit the virtual class and contribute in a discussion forum at least two days a week to be considered present.


College-wide policies/statements

These CUNY and college-wide statements describe policies that pertain to Academic Honesty and Integrity, Academic Integrity in Online LearningGrading Policy, Accessibility and more. They are included in a page titled CUNY/Hostos academic policies and should already be included in the Blackboard course template. They should not be modified in any way.

General support section

This section contains contact information for various academic resources, and includes the following pages:

  • Campus Resources
  • Blackboard Support
  • On-campus Blackboard Support

You’ll find them in the Blackboard course template, and they should NOT be modified in any way.

Minimum technology requirements

Students are informed about technology and applications that will be used to participate in the course, as well as the level of digital literacy required to succeed.  This includes reference and direction on accessing the ‘Are you Ready?’ student online course preparation.

Course specific support section

What other forms of support may be needed to help students better comprehend course content, reach learning objectives, and successfully complete the course?

Point students to external websites that could offer them extra practice exercises relevant to the course of study, help them understand the material in different ways, or support them to develop skills that are essential to completing assignments but not relevant specifically to the course content. Examples include Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab (OWL) for support with essay writing and Khan Academy for lessons in math, science and history.


Course timeline and schedule

The dates for each and every course topic, learning unit, and assessment are provided in enough detail so students can maintain their own calendars to keep track of due dates.

Point students to external websites that could offer them extra practice exercises relevant to the course of study, help them understand the material in different ways, or support them to develop skills that are essential to completing assignments but not relevant specifically to the course content. Examples include Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab (OWL) for support with essay writing and Khan Academy for lessons in math, science and history.

Learning units

A learning unit is defined as a distinct group of learning activities and course content created by the instructor to guide the progress of students through a structured presentation of materials. Learning units may be organized by textbook chapter, module, course week, topic, theme, or by some other method, but it is suggested that each learning unit should be approximately equal in terms of amount of content covered and time required for completion.

Each learning unit includes:

  • Learning objectives
  • Activities
  • Resources
  • Assessment

Learning units can be thought of as an organizational structure for presenting course content. They may be organized in individual folders and made available within the Course Content section on Blackboard. As an example, each Learning Unit may have a video lecture, required reading, supplemental multimedia sources to foster deeper learning, assignments, quizzes, and exams.


Multimedia Elements

Consider the best use of multimedia sources to help students reach learning objectives. Using a lecture capture tool like Panopto offers students the advantage of experiencing your presentation of content through video recordings available for review at any time.

Other online resources including videos, podcasts, and websites can supplement reading material in ways that support deeper learning, exploration and elaboration for students. They can be used to illustrate course topics and complex concepts in the reading assignments; they can also be used to prompt students to apply their content knowledge in a myriad of contexts.  Additional resources include Blackboard’s mashup tool and Kanopy (available from the library).

If students perceive the content and/or context presented in these resources to be relevant to their own personal experience, values, and interests, they will feel more motivated to engage with it.


Accessibility of content

As an instructor, you want to reach as many students as possible and ensure that course content is accessible to learners with a range of abilities and needs; this is as important in a physical classroom as it is in an online environment. Designing accessible content is essential to implementing an effective online course.

This goal can be achieved often with some simple considerations for how content is posted. For example, when posting multimedia content, images need to be coupled with alternative text, and videos need to be captioned. PDF documents are often less accessible than Word files because text in PDFs may not be picked by screen readers.

Blackboard also has features and functions that can accommodate students with particular needs, such as offering extra time or attempts for tests for select students.

Instructors can also utilize the adaptive release option, which differentiates instruction for students, based on rules set by the instructor. Content targeting specific gaps or levels of proficiency can be unlocked when students meet certain criteria as they progress through the course.

Navigating the course

Optimal course navigation makes it clear for students where to locate what they need with minimum stress, so they can focus their energy on the quality of their course work. Clear menu organization and consistency of content layout throughout sections contribute to clear course navigation.

In addition, a clear explanation should be provided for students at the beginning of the course about how to locate and access various sections of the course.  This could take the form of a permanent announcement, which would sit prominently on the homepage and be the first item students see when they log in. It could also include a video introduction walking them through the Blackboard course interface.



Netiquette (or etiquette when on the Internet) refers to community guidelines that encourage socially acceptable  conduct in the online environment.

Establishing a safe and productive space to learn and experiment is essential to any learning environment. This is particularly true in an online course, because students are expected to frequently communicate their ideas in writing or demonstrate their work to the entire group.

How well do you establish and sustain a safe environment for students to contribute ideas and show work?

  • Establish Netiquette guidelines and send reminders when appropriate
  • Create opportunities for students to introduce themselves to the class (using a discussion board, blogs, or a Collaborate session)


Instructor Presence

Although students may not receive a lot of face time with instructors in an online course, cultivating a safe and engaging environment is as essential as in a conventional classroom. Student motivation and perseverance is correlated with how connected they feel to the instructor and the learning environment, and that doesn’t change with an online course.

Consistent and regular communication from faculty can establish and maintain a strong instructor presence. This could include (but is not limited to):

  • a self-introduction (perhaps as a video) to begin the course
  • regular e-mail communications about assignments
  • moderating a discussion board to ensure students contribute in a thoughtful manner

Providing clear details and timely, action-specific feedback for assessments also help students develop confidence in the instructor’s presence.



Faculty can post announcements to send important messages to their students. Periodic use of announcements helps to keep students alert in the course and serve as reminders for due dates. The following are some examples of appropriate use of announcements.

  • A welcome announcement at the beginning of the course
  • An announcement for each Learning Unit that includes clear start and end dates
  • An announcement for each assignment or assessment clearly stating due date and point value

An announcement for each assignment or assessment clearly stating the due date and point value. Reminding students about the value/ percentage of the grade is important.


Student collaboration tools

Oftentimes, the element students miss the most about being in a classroom is the social environment and interaction.

  • Do you create opportunities for students to get to know each other?
  • How conducive is the environment for collaboration?

Blackboard offers a range of tools to encourage communication and collaboration in an online course. Use at least 1 interactive media application for each Learning Unit: blogs, wikis, discussion forums, BB Collaborate Ultra.  ePortfolios is another way students can share their ideas and work.



These are activities that create an opportunity for students to introduce themselves to each other (using the discussion board, a blog, or a collaborate session). Supporting students in getting to know each other helps them feel connected to the course, and motivates them to participate in collaborative activities.


Online Assessments

Assessments are particularly essential to an online course because these are the primary tools for measuring student progress and are useful for learning how well students comprehend course content.

Assignments, quizzes, and tests can be set up online on Blackboard to mimic how they typically are presented in any course. With special features such as allowing students to attempt a test multiple times, or setting a time limit, or randomly organizing the questions, instructors can customize an assessment to capture a student’s progress at any moment in time.

Blackboard offers a range of tools that allow students to demonstrate their work and learning process for the entire class: Blogs, ePortfolios, Wikis, Discussion Board. Faculty can activate these tools and assessments and should include at least 3 of the following in a hybrid course, and 4 in an asynchronous course.

  • Assignments (essays, papers, lab reports, practice exercises, etc.)
  • Quizzes
  • Exams
  • ePortfolios
  • Blogs
  • Wikis
  • Individual projects
  • Group projects
  • Discussions
  • Rubrics

These assessments ensure students actively participate in an online course and inform faculty about their students’ progress. When instructors provide timely and actionable feedback to these assessments, students also increase their own awareness of progress.


Grading criteria

Do students understand how they will be graded, and how they can track their own progress on Blackboard? This information includes the following:

  • List of assignments, due dates and point values adding up to 100% of the final grade
  • General assignment submission procedure
  • Description of late work policy
  • Policy regarding extra credit, if any.


Tools to ensure academic integrity

Use tools to deter students from plagiarism. Blackboard includes tools such as SafeAssign and Turnitin to help instructors and students identify plagiarized content and uncited sources.

Both SafeAssign and Turnitin review students’ assignment submissions for originality by comparing them against existing works and papers. They can prompt students to properly attribute sources rather than paraphrase.

Visit these websites for more information about preventing cheating online.

OLC-Want to stop cheating online

Strategies to reduce cheating

Online Cheating

Giving tests in Blackboard-Best Practices

Additionally, please visit the Online Academic Integrity page to learn more about preventing cheating in the online environment.


The Grade Center

The Grade Center is a Blackboard feature that calculates and keeps track of students’ scores and progress. It also allows students to be able to see how they are doing in the course in real time, how they performed on all their assessments, and how close or far away they are from fulfilling the learning objectives.

The Grade Center shows the results of all assessments that students completed in a table. Faculty can enter grades directly in the cells, customize which columns can be seen, Calculation formulas are readily available in the Grade Center, easily computing each student’s final grades. It displays the information by student, making it easy to see how each student is progressing in the course. This data can be downloaded as a spreadsheet or in another format so faculty can keep an offline record.

Furthermore, the Grade Center allows students to see their own progress in real time. (They do not see other students’ scores. Only the instructor can view all student scores.) Posting clear instructions about how to access this information ensures students are able to see grades and any feedback offered by faculty in a timely manner.


Feedback, Surveys, and Polls

Are students offered opportunities to reflect on the course and their experience?

  • Use of surveys to collect student feedback can give useful information to address any areas for improvement in course design in future semesters. This is considered a best practice in developing online courses.

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