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|Server Downtime / Maintenance & Technical Support:
Be sure to let your students know whom to contact for student technical support and what hours technical support will be available. At UHD, online technical support is available Mon - Fri from 8am - 5pm.
The UHDonline server is scheduled for downtime on the last Saturday night of every month. Inform students of this and avoid any class activity on these days if possible.
Information Technology will make every attempt to keep faculty updated when support and maintenance schedules must change. However, you can also refer to UHD’s Information Technology web site for status/system availability, documentation, etc.
Also, consider the impact of unscheduled outages when scheduling class activities such as tests or assignments due. Try to schedule them for regular support hours so your students will have the benefit of technical support if unexpected problems occur. Give students until noon on Monday to take a test rather than making it due at midnight on Sunday when a server problem is less likely to be quickly corrected.
Numerous problems have been reported by students using AOL's browser to access Blackboard Vista. Students using AOL’s browser should minimize the AOL browser before using Blackboard Vista and use Netscape or Internet Explorer instead. They may also encounter problems when taking quizzes.
|Online Quizzes & Surveys:
It is important that online exams have time limits (and assignment submission deadlines) that expire at noon on a weekday so technical support will be available for students accessing the system at the last minute. Students invariably wait until the last minute to submit these items! Also, be aware that certain Internet Service Providers, especially AOL, may log students out for inactivity during a long exam. Recommend that students contact their provider's tech support staff for assistance with this problem, or consider changing providers or taking exams on campus.
Remember that multiple choice and true/false tests can be graded by the system, but essay tests must be graded individually. Short answer quiz questions can be problematic due to typos, spacing, abbreviations, etc. Calculated questions can also present special problems. It's best to avoid these formats if possible.
TTLC staff can assist you with software utilities that will expedite the question bank transfer process. Please ask for more details if interested.
Many instructors treat online quizzes as open-book exams. Students often save or print tests despite all security precautions. Consider giving randomized questions from a large test bank to minimize the opportunities for unauthorized "sharing" of test questions. Contact the TTLC if you'd like more information on this topic.
To check whether questions have been entered properly in Blackboard Vista, create a single quiz that contains all the questions you wish to check. Either assign a password that only you know or create a release condition so that only your dummy student account can access the quiz. Make sure that question titles are included on the quiz (if desired) and that both scores and answers are provided as feedback. Login as a student and go to the quiz. Submit it without answering any question. Review the results, checking that the appropriate answer(s) are being graded as correct. When done, you can delete the quiz.
Try using anonymous online surveys to get student feedback about the course and instruction. Surveys with multiple choice questions are easier to review than those containing essay questions.
Clearly spelling out communication policies, expectations, and responsibilities for both students and instructors in the course welcome page and syllabus helps the course start out on a good note. Plan both the manner and timing for providing feedback for students. For example, state how quickly students should expect a reply to their email (2 working days?), and where students should look for help before sending email (ask their group, T.A., check FAQ list, etc.).
Many instructors choose to designate a portion of the main course page for announcements. Use a different color background for the announcement section so that it stands out better. Change the color when you add a new item. Post reminders, test feedback, encouraging remarks and similar things. Update regularly (minimum of once a week).
Chat room office hours often work best in the evenings. During the day students will be at work, school, etc.
A frequently asked question (FAQ) list that is accessible from the main web page will reduce a lot of individual student inquiries. When you receive more than two emails asking for the same information/clarification, you might want to add a hint or explanation to the FAQ list. Make sure to refer students to the list so that they become accustomed to checking it first.
A bulletin board works well for discussion of issues and peer critique of scholarly writing; students need to be given points for bulletin board participation and guidelines for what is appropriate discussion on the bulletin board.
Consider posting some reduced form of class notes online. Fill-in-the-blank study guides can be posted ahead of time for students to print and bring with them to class. PowerPoint slides can be posted before or after a lecture and are especially useful when they include tables, graphs and other data-intensive images that may be difficult for students to absorb during the lecture.
Try creating a bulletin board forum that allows for anonymous posting for discussion of value-laden or sensitive topics. If the anonymous setting is not the default, take extra care in explaining how the tool works. Remind students that not all personal experiences and feelings are necessarily appropriate for group discussion and that they must be respectful towards each other.
|Copyright, Permissions, Etc.:
Be sure that anything that you post on your web site meets the guidelines for copyright, fair use, etc. And, be sure that you have the appropriate documentation to prove it. To protect yourself and the university, it is important to maintain documentation for everything you use that is not original, even products obtained as freeware. In addition, if you are using links to other sites, you should request permission to do so. This is a courtesy and generally you will get a very positive response!
It is helpful to schedule assignments and activities so students will be required to visit the course at least once a week to discourage procrastination. Such structure is very important in an online course.
It is important to plan for problems, such as students who cannot access their email, students getting locked up halfway through a timed on-line quiz, etc. Be flexible and have a backup. If you are suspicious of the reported problem, most courseware programs include student-tracking routines that can be used to investigate and verify some types of problems. Also train your students on how to deal with common problems and establish reporting protocols and procedures.
If materials (lessons, homework, readings) are posted online, it is much easier for students who must travel, who are sick, or otherwise unable to get to regular lecture periods, to get the learning materials that they would otherwise.
Graphics are useful to convey an idea. One or two carefully selected, clear images are generally sufficient.
It is important to be very clear about what the student is responsible for learning, if you are providing links to external sites, indicate whether they are "supplemental" or contain "core information." Consider posting questions to be answered/considered with any external reference. (Such directed searches for information are called "quests" and there are excellent examples of online quests at sites run by NASA, Discovery Channel, etc.)
|Other Course Tools:
Students usually will not take advantage of Blackboard Vista or other tools that are not required as a portion of their grade. For example, if you want them to use the bulletin boards, make that a requirement for some of their group work and monitor their progress.
When using Vista, The grade book can be very popular. Students began to expect to see grades posted to Vista before assignments were handed back in class.
The calendar tool is an excellent way to keep students up-to-date without requiring revisions or addendums to the syllabus to be copied for everyone in the class.
Students enjoy the interactivity - links to other sites, graphics, animations, movies, and simulations. Their biggest complaints have been about multimedia related to download time. You might suggest that they download multiple audios and videos while they are doing something else and then they are on the desktop when they are ready to go.
|General Web Design/Structure:
Design for legibility. Avoid busy background colors. Keep the contrast between text and background colors high. Dark letters on a light background are generally best for both reading and printing. Do not use white letters on a dark background if you expect the student may want to print the material.
Don't use moving text, endlessly repeating audio clips, or animated GIFs that keep on going. These are often distracting. If you must include such an element, design it to stop moving or playing after a few seconds. Avoid blinking text.
Using frames is not recommended unless you have a strong reason for doing so. Frames are suitable for sites with a definite starting point but visitors cannot bookmark individual pages within a framed site.
Don't overload your page with large data elements (huge tables, large images, sound and movie files) that must be completely downloaded prior to the display of the page. These greatly increase download time. Make these elements optional (through links) or use delivery options such as "streaming."
Don’t over-design. Whenever possible, use default text size and font face. This lets users set their own preferences in their browser settings.
Scrolling up and down is generally accepted while scrolling left to right is considered problematic for the student. Remember that user’s screens do not all have the same resolution. Keep image widths under approximately 550 to 600 pixels to accommodate all standard monitor resolutions.
Remember that a web table does not start to display on the browser until all the information for the table is transferred to your machine. Long tables can cause delays. Replace long tables with a series of short tables when practical.
Many web pages start out as word-processed documents. To ease the transition to web-based format the TTLC offers a "Microsoft Word to Web" workshop.
Use standard link colors whenever practical: blue for unvisited links, gray or purple for visited links.
Unless your course is about cutting edge technology, you should probably avoid it! Expecting students to download a bunch of plug-ins, or requiring that they have the most modern, up-to-date, powerful computers can lead to problems.
Create a legend of icons, colors, or font faces/sizes that have specific meaning in your course and use these consistently to cue students. Make sure that you explain your system up front and that it is as intuitive as possible. Images do not need to be big - small clipart/line art can be very effective.
It is also helpful to have a special page of your course dedicated to software you require for the course, where the students can obtain it and learn the price range. Introduce this to the students as early on as possible. Possibly include downloads of required software on course web site or in a companion CDROM. Consider listing required software on your welcome page.
|References & Resources:
University of Washington:
Teaching and Learning on the Web: http://www.cudenver.edu/~mryder/itc_data/net_teach.html
Cyrs, Thomas and Eugenia Conway. 1997. Teaching at a Distance with the Merging Technologies – An instructional systems approach. Center for Educational Development, New Mexico State University
Sara Aase, Editor, University College Distance Education/UMR, University of Minnesota, email@example.com
Rhonda Steedman, University of Houston-Downtown
Yvette M. Dulohery, Dulohery.Yvette@mayo.edu
Steve Freeman, Assistant Professor, Industrial Education & Manufacturing Technology, Iowa State University, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sophia W. Hinga, University of Houston-Downtown
Ruth Litchfield, Dietetic Internship Coordinator, FCS ISU, Iowa State University, email@example.com
James Sangster, University of Houston-Downtown
Chip Thatcher, Assistant Professor, Human Development and Family Studies, Iowa State University
Lynda Williams, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark Henderson, University of Houston-Downtown
For additional information, please contact TLS Support:
Blackboard Vista Technical Support:
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Last updated or reviewed on 2/21/09