Information Competency Gavilan College Spring 2006
Module 30
What is the online classroom?


What is the online classroom?

    Online classes are conducted over the internet. They generally use the web to allow communication between teacher and students, and amongst students. Depending on circumstances, classes can be partially or fully online. Some classes lend themselves to this format more than others, and the capabilities of technology continue to change that line.

  1. Intro to iLearn and online classes

      At Gavilan College, the majority of our online classes are conducted at the website . This website runs software called Moodle . Teachers also use their individual web sites, (located on the faculty web server, ) to provide their own material. Other websites and software are used as well, such as PowerPoint presentations, Microsoft Word, and other video sharing sites, and more.

      An online class has the same requirements and academic rigor as its corresponding face to face class. The units earned are the same as well.

      It isn't currently possible to complete an entire Associate's Degree online. Some classes, such as Small Group Communications, or Physical Ed, are only feasible in person. However there is an ever-growning range of classes online. Faculty are encouraged to design or transition their own classes to the online medium.

  2. What is possible?

      Lots of types of communication are now possible online, but some important differences from face to face classes exist.

      Group discussions take place on "forums" or a bulletin board. Conversations occur here, but they don't take place in "real time". That is, contributions to the conversation might be spread out over hours or days.

      "Real time" conversations (generally known as "chat") also take place. The limitations of typing mean that chatting is not as appropriate online as it is face to face.

      Voice conversations are beginning to be a possiblity, but remain experimental. Conference calling type interaction is now commonly done on the internet, but still requires more computer power, more internet bandwidth, and more computer expertese than we generally expect from the student population.

      Many types of assignments are done in online classes. Essays, question/answer sheets, fill in the blanks, and other types of traditional schoolwork, along with due dates and grades, are commonly conducted in online classes. Written assignments are the easiest to set up, but some drawing assignments (for example, weather diagrams for the meterology course) are turned in to the teacher using fax machines or plain old mail.

      Quizzes, exams, and tests are also conducted in online classes. A variety of formats are available, such as multiple choice questions, fill-in-the-blank, essay questions, matching, and others.

  3. What isn't possible?

      First things first: Absolute accountability on high-stakes testing isn't available online, with any software. This is a limitation of the medium, not of our software. Our software has a variety of ways to make cheating harder, but please recognize that it simply isn't possible to verify a student's identity 100% over the internet. Your teaching strategy should recognize this limitation and account for it.

      Some ways to reduce this limitation might be to:

      1. Use more journal or reflective essay prompts than multiple choice quizzes.
      2. Do more-frequent, lower-stakes quizzes
      3. Make the midterm or final exam(s) on-site.

      What else is different? The online classes seem to take place all day long, on all days of the week, rather than sticking to a regular schedule. As a teacher, you will impose the structure of deadlines and other dates, but you'll also find that classroom activity is more difuse than classes that meet weekly. Conversations spread out over hours or days, sometimes moving quickly, and other times seemingly stalled. The teacher's art of stimulating lively discussion and debate in class is still critical, but the methods are very different from a face to face class. Be preapared to start learning these new skills.

  4. How to get an iLearn account and shell

      So you want to experiement with an online class? You'd like to begin setting up your existing face to face class with an online component? Great!

      The first thing to do is get yourself a "shell" for the class. A shell is the virtual classroom, for any given course. You can request a new shell (as many as you'd like) from the Distance Education Program. The quickest way to do it is to fill out this form. You can also send email to with any questions or special requests..

      Once you have your shell, you can log in to and begin building your course(s). You will begin to learn how to post web pages, discussion forums, assignments, quzzes, lectures, and other forms of online interaction.

  5. Online vs. hybrid vs. web enhanced classes

      In order to be clear about what is required of our students, we settled on 3 forms of "online-ness" of classes here at Gavilan.

      1. Online Class

          An online class is conducted completely online. Meetings may be offered, but they may not be required to pass the class. It should be possible for a student to attend an online class from anywhere on the planet.

      2. Hybrid Class

          This is a mixed online / face to face class. Both components are required. A student must be able to attend the required sessions in person, as well as log on to the online portion in order to pass the class.

      3. Web Enhanced Class

          This is primarily a face to face class, with some material offered on the web as well. In general, the online portion is highly recommended, but the majority of class hours are spent in the physical classroom. It is intended that the online portion of a web-enhanced class shouldn't exclude students without computers: the college offers hundreds of public computers in labs on all 3 campuses.