Distance Learning Training and Resources for Educators

Anatomy of an Online Course

course image

Being a  educator in the year 2013 is NOT anything like it was in 1987. Not only do we have to know our course content area and be able to teach it effectively. Now we have to be able to teach effectively in a whole new (cyber) environment and be able to weave seamlessly between physically seeing (teaching) our students and communicating (instructing) them totally online.

new skill sets

This takes new sets of skills and a heightened awareness of the challenges the online environment presents us. Harnessing (mastering) this instructional technology and methodology is going to make you more marketable as an educator.

There is no doubt teaching online is a challenge. You must go into it with your eyes WIDE OPEN. The first few years moving your traditional courses over to the online environment takes time and effort climbing the learning curve. There’s no getting away from this reality. The good news is…the more you teach online, the easier it gets. Once you’ve built your online courses and develop a solid grasp on how to manage and teach via the web things get progressively easier.

online teaching

There really are no shortcuts at the very beginning of this process. You have to build your courses and transition yourself and your teaching methodology over to being comfortable, proficient and effective in the online environment.


Essentially you have to totally RE-THINK how you are going to teach because what works in the traditional classroom doesn’t usually work for the online environment.

Step #1 – Gather all the course content (assignments, lectures, videos, web resources, Powerpoints, etc.) you have and begin organizing it by week. If you are teaching a 16 week semester you have to take a good hard look at your syllabus and course outline and then break (pace/distribute) the assignments, projects, assessments and learning outcomes up over a span of 14 weeks. Leave the first week for course familiarization and last week for wrap-up and exam or final projects.

blackboard vs. moodle

Step #2 – You have to become proficient with the course management system (CMS) your college is using before teaching online. That means taking workshops and taking time practicing adding content and learning the various functions and applications within the CMS (Blackboard, Moodle, WordPress, Angel, Campus Cruiser, etc.) Please note…all CMS’s do the same thing! They are online tools for delivering and assessing course content. If you can learn one CMS you can quickly learn another – it is like driving Buick vs. a Honda.

Step #3 – Once you are proficient with the tools and applications in the CMS and get all your course content loaded, organized and designed within a design scheme then you want to have someone look it over to check if the course expectations are communicated clearly. Sometime we know are material so well we just assume we are being clear when in fact we may assume too much. All course expectations, assignments, discussions and assessments must be crystal clear with no grey area.


Step #4 – Introspection, brainstorming and Soul Searching Time! You have to visualize (analyze) each assignment, assessment, project and course expectation then consider how you teach them in the classroom/studio and then problem solve just how you are going to deliver and assess them in the online environment. There is no one size fits all solution to this and your teaching style plays a role in how you go about it.

e-learning vs. classroom

Step #5 – Once your class is completely migrated from classroom to online its time to be baptized in fire and teach online. Best approach would be to start with a hybrid/blended course (partial online) and work your way to totally online. You are going to make mistakes and will learn from them.
Every time you teach online you will get better, more efficient and comfortable working in that environment.  Effective and efficient workfow and file management are also very important variables when teaching online. They can make or break your effectiveness and keep you from losing your mind from being inundated by student assignments, discussions, e-mails and giving viable feedback. Migrating your traditional classroom courses over to online delivery takes a great deal of thought,  rethinking and planning and should not be taken lightly.

The goal for all of us is to replicate as best we can our unique, creative and dynamic approach in the classroom into the online environment.


I am in the process of creating a step by step procedure for incorporating Google Hangouts into your online courses. It is a great new and free tool to help you teach and engage students. If you have any tips or resources for me to add for using Google Hangouts for educational purposes please post them in comments.

Click here to check it out!

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It hit me hard this morning that I am actually retiring from my teaching and Distance Learning administrator positions in less than 3 days. I can still remember when I was hired for my first position with a Community College back in 1979. I had recently been discharged from active duty as a military photojournalist and somehow stumbled upon a job opening at Central Carolina Community College in Sanford NC looking for someone with photography skills. I was working in a low pay darkroom job making next to nothing so I submitted an application and remember being surprised when they offered me the position as Audio/Visual Technician 33 years ago. I got my first taste of working in academia back at that small college in Sanford and it was soon after that when I decided to use my G.I. Bill and go back to college and earn my Masters of Fine Arts degree from East Carolina. I realized pretty quickly that I was not going anywhere in the educational system without a masters degree so I only stayed in that first state job 2 years before heading to Greenville and enrolling in graduate school at the School of Art.

I’ve been working for Community Colleges and other state agencies ever since, even while going to Graduate school back in the early 80’s I kept a part-time job working in a media center at Beaufort Community College.

Its been an amazing career journey and consider myself extremely lucky to have had so many exciting opportunities and learning experiences since leaving Long Island for the US Army in the early 70’s. Over the years I’ve meet some wonderful people and made many great friends who have contributed to my growth as an artist, photographer, teacher and eventually administrator for distance learning. Being the Distance Learning Director here at CCC has been a great challenge and incredible learning experience. Education has changed so rapidly over the years. The evolution and growth of distance learning has played a big role in the direction of education and will continue to be a major factor at all levels of teaching and learning.

I actually have no real intentions of retiring from work in general. Pursuing my art, photography, writing and painting are going to be a big part of my next career journey. Also applying everything I’ve learned about distance learning and teaching art and photography in the online environment into the private sector.

Life is as exciting as you want to make it and I don’t look at retirement as an end – I see it as a new beginning and look forward to having more time to pursue those things that truly interest me like my own personal photography, making art and taking what I have learned in the past and applying these varied skill sets to my future.

I am handing over the Distance Learning position at Carteret Community College to Mary Walton who I am sure is going to do a great job moving the college forward in all aspects of distance education. David Hisle will be taking over this blog and I wish them both the best of luck and success.

I want to leave you all with a web site and video that I think offers some valuable insight into the future of education. It can be looked at as scary or a little intimidating for those of us working in the traditional college environment – however I believe we must move forward with our eyes wide open as to the changes coming due to the incredible power of the internet and digital technology. Check out Epic2020  (The Video below is also on the web site)

Creating an Accessible Course – Click Here for All Workshop Powerpoints, Agenda and Materials

Durham Technical College

9:00 – 10:00 – Fundamentals of Accessibility
10:00-11:00 – Designing for Accessibility
11:00 – 12:00 – Selecting Accessible Online Content
12:00 – 12:30 – Lunch
12:30 – 2:30 – Creating Accessible Content with Office 2010
2:30 – 4:00 – Creating Accessible Videos/ Podcasts

I must admit I was pleasantly surprised at how much I learned about ADA compliance during this one day workshop. I walked away with a heightened awareness of what I must do to get my online courses in line with ADA compliance and the information I need to assist my faculty to make their courses compliant as well.  It is not as overwhelming as it may initially seem. In fact many online faculty are already incorporating many of these course design techniques in our classes already.  Much of ADA compliance is just good common sense like using readable fonts for your course content and good contrast when incorporating color.

The following are the notes submitted by our Distance Learning Advisory sub-committee for ADA Compliance from Carteret Community college.

Distance Learning Advisory Committee member for CCC Rick Hill said the following about the workshop.

“I have a better understanding of DL accessibility and its impact on our faculty.  Many of the course requirements are sound educational concepts regardless of section 508 requirements and should be implemented.  Other requirements will be extra work on our faculty, and I am not convinced that it is entirely necessary.  There are times when you can have too much of a good thing, and, requiring so much effort to serve such a small population, is one of those times.   Seated courses are accommodated as needed, but we have to do what have to do.

The tools available to assist faculty with this process such as the WAVE site will help.  I do see our adjunct faculty needing extra help and close supervision for compliance.

Our faculty and support staff are good with disabled students.  It would take something strange for litigation from a student.  Where I see a problem is the College web site.  It should be a prime focus of our accessibility efforts.  I can see someone from the DOE checking our home page for compliance well before they monitor an on-line Psychology course. ”

The following was submitted by Mary Walton our Director of Business and Service Technologies

Section 508 agencies to make electronic and information technology accessible to individuals with disabilities

You can use alternative access only if equivalent access is not feasible. Alternative has to achieve the same learning objectives

• Accessibility guidelines
color contrast, accessible fonts and text formatting, structure and formatting, hyperlinks

• Select basic, simple, easy to read fonts Sans Serif  Examples–Arial, Verdana, Tahoma

• Use limited number of fonts/colors on same page (no more than 3)

• If using varying font styles, limit the use to headings

• Avoid small font sizes

• Limit use of font variations such as bold, italics, and all caps

• Never use color alone to convey information.

www.vischeck.com (will let you see how a file will look for color blind scenarios)

• You can use color for formatting text, but can not refer to color only in directions on how to interpret that text. (ie: instead of saying text in red, use bold and red) Don’t use color alone for emphasis!

• Avoid blinking and animated text and excessive text effects. Can use for decorations, but not for a title, announcement, etc.

• Establish a hierarchy structure for your text content. Use true heading styles, etc for sections

• View the document in Word in Outline view to see if the hierarchy exists. Using styles makes it easy for navigation with a screen reader. Without doing so, the screen reader has to read through the entire document to find content.  Headings allow a student to navigate to what they’re looking for more easily.

• Alternative text descriptions should describe why the image is being used. For example, if it is simply decorative, null or a simple word describing it is fine, but if the image has purpose the description should describe why the image is being used.

• In PowerPoints or Word, etc,  in addition to alt text, you should describe the image and its purpose on the screen under the image.

Hyperlinks. Don’t use Click here for your link. The link should convey where the link is going, why it is provide, and what else happens. (goes to xyz site and opens in new window or same window, etc.)

• Also provide a copy of the URL in case the link does not work, but do NOT make that an active link. Also, don’t have to say link in your description, the screen reader will automatically tell them.

• Any link that goes to an external website should be set to open in a new window.

• File naming conventions. Documents require interpretation by a server, browser or LMS.

The following are the notes I took from the workshop.
Student has to get same content –may not be delivered the same way.

    Color contrast (good contrast)
    Accessible fonts and text formatting
    Structure and formatting
Do not use the textures on BB buttons.

Light background – dark font –vice versa

Font – must be easy to read!
    Don’t use decorative fonts
    Don’t use lots of fonts and colors
    12 point font smallest you want to go.
    Don’t use color alone for emphasis!
    Avoid excessive text effects!

Alternative text-images and alt. text.

• Text description of image. How am I going to use the image?
• Be specific with alternative text.
• If image is complex, long description.  Describe the image and what it means on the page. Still need to put alternative text as well.

Hyper links – How we set those up.
    When using links where and why using link.
    Describe link not just click here and not describe.

File naming conventions – short and sweet
    No more than 32 characters
    No spaces – avoid symbols – lower case letters.
    Make an effort have a plan is key – show good faith on ADA

Designing your course

Strive for Universal Design
    Address Different learning styles
    Online accessibility course is offered by the VLC
    Podcast (Video) Script can be used as transcript for your video. Include this under video

What is Universal Design?
    Representation option for displaying information? Good design meets the learning needs of all students.

• Basically good teaching principles

• Provides options for comprehension

• Multiple means of action and expression.

• Consider how students send you assignments. Have them send you audio files and/or videos and put in YouTube instead of a  research paper.

• Provide options for physical action.

• Give students more options like submitting videos and podcasts instead of text based documents.

• Study guide at end of each module is very helpful and is a universal design technique.

    Consider giving students Audio feedback – audacity- Google voice – messaging system
    Call – leave message send link to Moodle of the voice recording
    Find content that is already accessible. No need to reinvent the wheel. This will save you lots of time.  Do searches in YouTube for closed captioned videos.

Helpful and Informative web sites for ADA Compliance
Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool

Art Beyond Site web site for Blind on Art.
Art Education for Blind
Bringing art and culture to all
Contrast Checker
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines WCAG
FireFox Add on

Web Accessibility in mind – web site Color checker

Test web content for accessibility

The next step for the DL Advisory Committee is to create a plan and a time line to move Carteret Community College closer to ADA compliance until we get to full compliance.

This link below will take you to my latest professional development 90 minute webinar that addressed Best Practices and some teaching strategies for teaching on moodle. I focus more on the actual teaching issues that technical issues in this webinar.


This link will take you to my recorded Webinar that addresses meeting distance learning standards dictated by the CCC QAP (Quality Assurance Plan) I am also attaching my powerpoint that went along with the webinar. I suggest watching this before submitting your moodle course (courses) for review. You have to COPY and PASTE this long link into your browser address bar to access the recorded Webinar. It takes a minute to download.


Click here to download moodleqap
Click here to download challengesspe1

Click Here to Download DLWorkflow

This coming Monday and Tuesday I am presenting with Roberto Muffoletto Director of the Vasa Project at the North Carolina Community College Faculty Conference in Raleigh NC.

We had so much to cover in our Challenges for Faculty Presentation I am posting my PowerPoint here and asking those who attended to comment about the presentation and/or add to the list of challenges we face or post any solutions you may have to the ones we shared.

Click Here to Download Challenges POWERPOINT Presentation


If you have any SOLUTIONS to any of these issues and challenges please post them here! Lastly try to stay POSITIVE as you navigate this new terrain.