Online Faculty Handbook & FAQ
Here is a full version of our DE Faculty Handbook, that includes processes, procesdures and policies.
Yes! It might be new to you, but we’ve been doing this online teaching stuff at Gavilan for 20 years now!
Remember – everyone knows this isn’t ideal. Me, you, your students, your boss – we all know this is a compromise for a challenging situation. Your students are going to be patient with you. And you’re going to be patient with them, and with yourself. That’s probably the most important technical advice I have. Go easy. Take one thing at a time. Remember there’s a human on the other end of the wire. Remember to take care of yourself.
Focus on your course material. Focus on what your students need to do to succeed. The technology is a tool. Use it when it helps you with your job. Look around and ask around about what is working. Get lost occasionally in the technicalities -- but remember to come back up for air and re-orient yourself to what the students need from you. Do not let the computer guide you. You guide it. When something goes wrong, its usually the computer’s fault. Don’t let it get to you.
Watch this highly recommended lecture by Tim Pychyl on procrastination. To recommend to your students. Of course.
Know where to get answers and help:
- Ask us: firstname.lastname@example.org
- For teachers: more instructions & answers at the TLC web site: gavilan.edu/staff/tlc
- For students: instructions & answers, and the orientation at DE website: gavilan.edu/student/online
- Official Canvas Documentation
These are recommendations from the staff in the Distance Education and other departments. We want you to have the best tools possible for your education. The items below are examples of what we’ve found useful. Before spending any money, please research your purchases thoroughly. They aren’t cheap.
Gavilan College may able to loan equipment to staff. To inquire, please email email@example.com with what you need and what your situation is.
My recommendation for the low-budget student or teacher is a Chromebook. Not only are they low-cost, they are extremely capable, and resistant to the viruses and problems that plague the costlier alternatives.
These will get the job done with a minimum of fuss. The downsides are that they work best when they have a full-time internet connection. The absolute cheapest ones are probably going to be frustrating with iLearn, but these mid-level models should work pretty well.
Please check out Collegebuys.org for faculty prcing through our California COmmunity College Foundation.
a1. Super – Budget
Many students are relying on their smartphones exclusively. While we don’t recommend this, we understand that you need to work within limits.
If this is you, we have one recommendation: a real keyboard. Attending college requires you to do a significant amount of writing. This keyboard (or one of many similar ones) will let you write assignments, messages, discussion posts, essays, and presentations at full speed.
Foldable Bluetooth Wireless Keyboard and Touchpad Mouse
b. Other items:
Sound quality is the quickest way to improve a video. Consider a condenser mic.
Laptops are great, but also they suck. When you sit and type, you want upper arms vertical, elbows at 90 degrees, and forearms horizontal. You also want the monitor at eye level. A laptop can’t do all this at once. Get a wireless keyboard and mouse, and a desk with a keyboard tray.
Ditch the wi-fi. Run an ethernet cable from your router to your desk. Many computers lack an ethernet port these days, but a usb one is cheap. Advantages: reliable, fast, one less source of problems.
Even in the first picture, the arms are in the proper place, but the center of the monitor should be at eye-level.
3. I’m nervous
- Take the GOTT.
- Get a Mentor
- Take any online class in August. Start something on coursera. Look at other California community colleges for something in august. Just expose yourself to it.
- Realize that you are basically a first-year teacher again. The first year is hard. You will grow and learn a lot this year, and it will be challenging but rewarding.
- Learn your equipment. A carpenter has a hammer and saw. Plumbers have pipes, solder, torches, drills. A therapist has a couch. You have a working computer, video camera, and good internet. You have computer programs and the web browser, and they’re a part of your livelihood, so invest in them, take good care of them, and learn how they work.
(Think of how much time you saved on commuting this week. Now go get a clean damp cloth, unplug your keyboard and mouse, and clean off all the gross stuff on them. Good job. Later today, track down a thumb drive & look at your documents folder and make a copy of anything that you think is important. Make backups.)
Frequently use the STUDENT VIEW (link on course homepage). Check links, and check that everything makes sense. Ask a family member or friend to take a look. Even better if they’re under 18. Listen to what they say.
4. What are some common mistakes new online teachers make?
- Forgetting to publish something. There’s multiple levels of publishing: the course itself. Each module. Each item within the module. Furthermore, FILEs can be unpublished on the FILES page, and similarly for ASSIGNMENTs.
- Not checking STUDENT VIEW. The link is on the home page of your course. See how it appears from the student’s point of view. Get in the habit of checking this whenever you re-arrange things.
- Making it too complicated. Keep it simple and strive to stay organized. Delete items you’re not going to be using. Follow a predictable pattern. Use the MODULES page to create a linear path through the course.
- Broken links.
- ASSIGNMENTS page = GRADEBOOK columns. The Assignments page includes anything that is worth points. If you don’t want it to appear in the gradebook, unpublish (or delete) it here.
- Default Assignment type is “No Submission”. Remember to change this to “Online Text” or “File upload”. Otherwise students won’t be able to turn in work.
- Give missing assignments a 0 score: Otherwise the grade won’t be calculated correctly. Any assignment with ‘blank score’ doesn't't’t count towards the course total for that student. After the deadline, mark missing assignments as 0 points.
5. The beginning of the semester:
Use the ANNOUNCEMENTs tool to send email to everyone. Note: for this to work, the course must be published. It may not be available yet, but it must be published for the announcement to be broadcast.
Announcements show up at the top of your course homepage, but more importantly, they get pushed out to the students’ email. And notifications appear on their mobile device if they use the app.
Your course opens automatically on day 1 (Monday morning) if you have published it. So publish it before the semester begins.
Want to open early? That’s great. Use the SETTINGS link and change the start date. (Important: right below the Start & End dates, is a checkbox labeled “restrict students to these dates…” Be sure to check that box.) Again, PUBLISH your course BEFORE the semester starts.
For the rest of the list, see our full Semester Start Checklist.
6. Looking out for the confused faces: Five ways to do it:
- Create frequent, short, low stakes quizzes before class / after reading (including inline video quiz)
- “Message students who…” in the gradebook
- Live zoom class / office hour. Polls in zoom.
- Analytics page. People page.
- How do I increase engagement?
7. How do I do effective, rigorous, assessment?
This is a big one, and a critical one, in terms of being a respectable school, serving our students, maintaining high expectations, and helping students to learn.
Jargon: Formative assessment – ongoing, low stakes – let you see “how someone’s doing” or if they “are getting it”. Summative assessment – final, high stakes. Show how much someone’s learned, and, ostensibly, show’s a student’s long-term information retention.
Guidelines & Ideas:
- [F] Use ongoing (formative) low stakes quizzes. You don’t have to call them that. But something quick that’ll show you and the student if they’re:
- keeping up with the reading
- understanding the work
- paying enough attention
- [F] Less frequently, use auto-graded multiple-choice, question bank based tests. Randomized; timed. (Optionally, include explanations to be given on wrong answers, & positive feedback and further info on right answers)
- [S] Reconfigure the midterm and final (Summative) tests to address a deeper level of knowledge. Ideas: Write on a topic. Structured debates (with a written portion). Slide deck & group presentation.
- [S] Portfolio material: The move online is provoking a deeper change to the idea of assessment. If you or your department have been considering a move to project-based assessment, or the construction of portfolios, this might be the right time to move forward with that.
8. Make best use of time in grading:
The idea here is to make your time on grading count as much as possible.
- Use the rubric. Master the use of rubrics in assignments.
- Use rubrics in peer review/grading – significant assignments go through a round of 2+ anonymized peer graders with rubrics before they get to you.
- Maintain a text document of common explanations to common problems / issues / misconceptions. Copy/paste from it, and always be adding to it.
- Assignment feedback is critical to learning, so be sure that your time gets used for that: teach them how to “feedback on your feedback” ie: have a system to re-submit or similar.
- Build in explanations for right & wrong answers into your quizzes. For a multiple-choice question, you can give a different explanation for each “wrong” answer. This is an incredibly powerful teaching tool. You have the ability to catch a student right when they show a mis-conception, and give feedback immediately. Research on learning shows that this is very effective.
- Move more work to forums or shared documents. Give feedback to 5 groups instead of 35 individuals.
9. Build a community
Learn how to record (Studio) on your phone or whatever little device. Take it out to the garden or somewhere nice where you feel good. Be at peace, talk to the birds and bugs, and then turn it on and record a 60-second hello/check-in with your students. Do it every weekend.
Allow yourself to show vulnerability in various ways. In 3rd-4th week, ask how the course is going, and ask for ways that the course and/or your teaching of it could be improved. Thank everyone who responds. You can use a survey (quiz) to let them do it anonymously.
Icebreakers. There are many many ideas floating out there on the internet. Do a little exploring and copy something that sounds fun and engaging. Helping a group to ‘gel’ is just as tricky online as it is in person. Keep an eye out for the right combination of jumping in versus staying on the side. Its an art.
10. Advantages to Teaching Online
Quite a few of your students are shy and intimidated by speaking in public, even in class. In an online forum, expect them to be able to share their thoughts and feelings more freely.
Similarly, in the forums, everyone has time to pause, reflect, and give more thoughtful answers without having to come up with something “on the spot”. Facts can be looked up, and ideas can be tracked down.
The speedgrader, while not perfect, is much much better than carrying around, handing back, and writing on piles of papers that you’ve collected from students.
Hint: if you want to make inline corrections and comments, be sure to have your assignment accept Files, not ‘online text’. This is the one that allows you to markup the actual submission.
Busy schedules vs. Procrastinators. Successful online students have always been the ones who take the opportunity to attend a class that couldn't’t fit into their schedules. Unsuccessful online students are the ones (like me) who need external deadlines and a structured schedule to force them to attend. Recognize that you’ll have some of each. The first type appreciates the flexibility. The second type – they’ll need to be held accountable to deadlines and would benefit from the short/low-stakes quizzes on the readings.
The same holds true for instructors. Your class can adjust to your schedule, but you need to make sure you actually make it happen. Recognize which type you are, and plan accordingly. If you need to block out a window of time each day, dedicated to a specific class, then do that. Don’t disappear. Don’t ghost.
More focus on content, not appearance: Especially for the Humanities, and especially during an election year: discussions online don’t carry the physical cues and stereotypes that follow. You and your students can focus on the content of each other’s arguments / positions / conversations, without (or with less) bias that comes from our clothing, body language, accents, etc.
11. Best programs for our tasks:
Most malware comes from:
The web browser, Zoom, iLearn, and iLearn Studio are our bread and butter right now. Focus on those to begin with.
- Your web browser should be Firefox or Chrome. It should be auto-updating itself.
- The most recent versions of Safari and Edge work with 95% of iLearn’s functionality. If you have an older computer, or issues that prevent you from keeping up-to-date, then we recommend using Chrome or Firefox.
- The Canvas Teacher app (apple, android) lets you do about 80% of tasks on your mobile device.
- It is best for messaging, timely responses, and simple grading.
- It is best for messaging, timely responses, and simple grading.
- We strongly recommend that you add the uBlock Origin ad-blocking plugin to your Firefox or Chrome web browser.
Other Software You Might Be Interested In
- PlayPosit: create interactive video/quizzes
- Studio: create engaging and interactive videos
- Student annotation: internal assignment feature
- Powerpoint. You’ve probably heard of it.
- Google Docs / Google Office Suite: If you haven’t experienced editing a document with 4 people at the same time, I highly recommend it. This will change your concept of how to do groupwork and collaboration.
- Audacity: Record and edit audio files
- OBS / Open Broadcast Software: The ultimate in streaming video or screencasting. When you outgrow iLearn studio, look here.
- Apps: Turn-It-In (plagiarism checking) Hypothes.is (shared highlighting and annotating documents). Labster (science lab simulations) Flipgrid. There are many, many more. Too many. Feel free to share what you have found useful, and ask firstname.lastname@example.org and your colleagues for recommendations.
- Google Voice: Lets you acquire a phone number for text messaging and voice mail, separate from your personal line.
12. What do I need to know about Office 365 and/or Google Docs?
Top things to know about the office suites:
- Office 365 is now the ‘official’ office software for the college employees. Outlook, Word, Excel, and Powerpoint are the main components.
- Each of these is available on the web as well. You can use these on any computer, regardless of whether it belongs to Gavilan or not. To access it, go to office.com and log in.
- You have an “EMAIL” username and password. It is different / separate from your G number and Pin. These are the 2 accounts that every Gavilan employee has.
- Use your G number for anything having to do with Banner.
- Use the “EMAIL” username and password for anything having to do with Office or Outlook (email).
The “EMAIL” username looks like this: phowell that is, first initial + lastname. (Very few people have a variation on this, when their names conflict with someone else’s.)
- Use your G number for anything having to do with Banner.
- As an employee, you are allowed to install the Office suite onto your personal computers (up to 5 installs) for work purposes. Start this process from the office.com homepage.
- In the web version, and when you install Office on your computer, you will see a OneDrive folder. When you save documents here, they:
- are backed up on “the cloud”
- can be shared with co-workers. This is big. Multiple people can edit and view the document at the same time, either locally or on the web. You never need to email different versions of documents back and forth ever again. Stop doing that.
- are backed up on “the cloud”
- Google Docs (and the rest of the google office suite) is the “official” software platform provided to students. Yes, it is different than teachers. Yes, this is annoying. Yes, there are interminable technical reasons for this that we just can’t change yet. They mostly have to do with security.
Even though it is yet another system, the concepts are the same. The buttons and labels are in different places.
Just like exercise keeps your body prepared to keep moving, and speaking English y Español keeps your brain perky, practicing different software tools helps you grasp the deeper concepts – beyond just “knowing where to click”.
What am I getting at? Office software has done a major evolution – for the first time in 25 years. Your students are already learning the new, collaborative style of doing things. Get yourself a Google account and meet them there.
13. Zoom & Zoom-bombing
The short version: The links you give out to your Zoom rooms are basically private. Only the people in your class are able to get them. The general public does not.
So the risk of “bad behavior” is limited to the students in your class.
The scary stories you’ve heard about – they’re mostly from public meetings, or at least larger university classes where some (naughty) student has posted the meeting address on reddit or something.
But what if something does happen?
The short answer is: Right click on the bad person, and choose “remove”.
Not complicated. Just ban people who don’t belong there.
Of course, there’s a ton more settings and things you can fine-tune. You can watch or read this introduction (to meeting controls in general).
You can also scroll through the many settings on your Zoom Profile Page.
14. How do I go beyond plain text pages, or zoom lectures
That’s great news! There’s a lot of next steps from here. Choose one, and see where it takes you.
Canvas Pages with pictures and embedded videos: Hopefully you’ve been making plenty of “Pages” in iLearn. You can do more than just text! Include helpful graphics, videos from youtube, and other features that make your ‘page’ into a multimedia experience. The DE Department is ready to help with the technical parts.
Mind maps are a fantastic way to “scaffold” information and concepts, and give your students a helpful overview. Try the site: mindmup.com. I made the picture above in about 4 minutes.
Powerpoint: Yes, it can be done badly. But it can also be done very well. Be concise. Be visual. Record yourself presenting the slide deck in under 10 minutes.
Prezi: This is a new concept in presentations: one big canvas, and you can zoom, pan, and move around your “slides” which are just different areas of the canvas. Sort of like a mind map meshed with a presentation.
Audio Recording: if you use Studio to make an audio recording, you can still use the automatic transcription. Students appreciate the change in format, as well as the flexibility to wash dishes, sweep, or lift weights while listening to your lovely voice.
Other apps and sites. So many, many apps and sites. Talk to DE and to your colleagues about what has been interesting or useful. Its easy to get caught up in flashy or trendy apps, but there really are quite a few that are useful enough to justify the time spent learning them. Some are even worth spending money on. Be open minded about these, but be frugal with your time and energy. Ask for your colleagues recommendations, but be skeptical of advertisements and sales pitches.
15. No, really?! We’re going to do this?
I can’t say it’ll be easy. Teaching online is a new skill. Learn to play to its strengths: remember that teaching and learning is all about communication, practice, time on task, high expectations.
In terms of technology: do the simplest thing that can possibly work. I was once shocked to see a humanities teacher conduct their entire class using nothing more than the discussion forum tool. At first I thought it was laziness… only later did I recognize it was genius.
- All the comments they made on essays were visible to all – everyone could learn from everyone’s mistakes. Time spent grading/commenting was maximized.
- There was no confusion about the different modules or activities. Simplicity. No fuss and no fancy software tricks. I cannot overstate the benefit to both student and teacher when the “mental software tax” is minimized like this.
- Students and teacher formed a community and shared everything to a high degree. This made the course more engaging, kept standards high, and influenced students’ motivation.
Teaching online is about engagement. You can call it substantive interaction. You can call it communication. But it is what makes your class different from a correspondence course. Or a list of things to do.
Your students are looking to you for your knowledge and expertise, and also your recommended reading and resources. In the past, this has meant the textbook. Now, there’s a whole internet out there. Please use it.
16. Checklist for Starting the Semester in an Online Class
- The first page the student sees, the home page, of my class is friendly and welcoming.
- There is a clear next step after student has read the home page.
- I have arranged the course navigation, so there’s no extraneous buttons.
- My course is published, and if necessary, I’ve set custom dates on the settings page.
- Basic info, such as time/day of synchronous meetings, and zoom link, are prominent. Students don’t have to search for it.
- I looked at the PEOPLE link, and the students are there.
- I checked my syllabus, module names, and other introductory material to make sure everything refers to the current semester, section number, etc. Especially if I’ve imported this class from last semester.
- The gradebook only shows assignments I’m using. If anything doesn't't’t belong, I’ve hidden it using the ASSIGNMENTS link.
- I used the ASSIGNMENTS link to double check all the due dates to make sure they’re correct.
- The point values on assignments, quizzes, etc, match what I’ve described in the syllabus or introduction.
- I’ve used the STUDENT VIEW link on the homepage to see how it looks from their point of view.
- At any point in the students’ progression through the course, they have an answer to the question “What am I supposed to do next?”
- If I have a cross-listed course, or two sections of the same class, I’ve asked DE to merge the shells so I don’t have to duplicate all my work.
- If I have a tie-in or LTI with a publisher or other service, I’ve verified that everything is working and synchronized between those two systems.
- If I want the help of an EMBEDDED TUTOR, I have contacted the Learning Commons and arranged it with them. I can see the tutor on the PEOPLE link.
- I have a notebook or a running word doc in which I will write down things I’ve learned about teaching online & the iLearn system, because I too, am a student of life.