Distance Education http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance Fri, 20 Jan 2017 23:03:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.6.1 Announcing Gear Up media sessions http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2017/01/announcing-gear-up-media-sessions/ http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2017/01/announcing-gear-up-media-sessions/#respond Fri, 20 Jan 2017 23:02:42 +0000 http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/?p=7392 gearup

Gear Up is an initiative by PCC Distance Education to provide the resources and tools that online faculty need to create media in their online courses. By attending a Gear Up media session, faculty who are willing to share a short video that they produce using the tools that are introduced, are eligible to receive either a headset or a webcam (limited quantity).

If your computer doesn’t have a webcam or microphone, this is a great way to get the hardware you need to create quick videos or audio recordings that promote student engagement in your online classroom!

We have three Gear Up Media sessions being offered Winter Term:

  • Gear Up: Audio/Video tools in D2L
    Using video note to create short videos and using audio/video inside Discussions and Assignments tool in D2L. These recordings are meant to be for single-term use because they are only stored for a limited amount of time.
  • Gear Up: Office Mix
    Want a simple way to add audio and/or video? Office Mix is a free PowerPoint add-in for Windows users that allows you to easily add audio and webcam video to presentation slides and then publish it to video. This is a great alternative to learning complex recording software and you can insert quiz questions if you like!
  • Gear Up: Screencast-o-Matic
    Screencast-O-Matic is a free screen recording that allows you to record your screen and a webcam video and publish it. It is limited to 15 minutes. You don’t need to download and install any software to use it. Requires Java plug-ins.

Click on one of the links above to sign up for a training. The sessions are only 30 minutes and are held on each campus! Look forward to seeing you there!


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Spring 2016 online student survey results http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2017/01/spring-2016-online-student-survey-results/ http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2017/01/spring-2016-online-student-survey-results/#respond Tue, 17 Jan 2017 22:01:49 +0000 http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/?p=7376 Here are the results of the Spring 2016 Online Student Survey. I’ve been trying to present them to our Distance Learning Advisory Council first, but the meetings keep getting canceled due to weather closures.

A computer screen with the word feedback on it

The survey asks online students about their preferences for interacting with the College, about their experience in online classes, and what worked well for them. Here are a few examples from the survey results.

Q1) As an online student, I prefer to receive information and updates from the college about available services via: (check all that apply)

Student survey results indicate that online students prefer to get updates from the college via email.

This is consistent with the results from 2013 as well. While the world cries that email is dead, our online learners rely heavily on on the mode of communication and would love it if all our college services supported it.

Q3)  “When I go online to view and work on my distance learning classes, I would like the navigation, layout, and general appearance to look the same from one distance learning class to another.”

Nearly 80% of students agree that consistent navigation and course layout are helpful.

While the results have changed a little since 2013, the overwhelming preference among students is for consistent navigation and layout between courses.  We’ve sung this chorus for years, but we’re also going to be updating the visual interface for D2L Brightspace in the coming year to give it a modern “lift.”

There’s a lot more in the full report. We’ll try to revisit some of the specific results in the coming year both on this site and in work groups.

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Other ways to display content in D2L http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2017/01/other-ways-to-display-content-in-d2l/ http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2017/01/other-ways-to-display-content-in-d2l/#respond Tue, 17 Jan 2017 18:00:13 +0000 http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/?p=7368 In my last blog post, I talked about ways you can use the style sheet in the D2L template to make really boffo-looking HTML pages.

But there are many other ways to display content in D2L.

First a few words about what I mean by “content”:

D2L has a standard link to the Content tool on the navbar, but you can link to almost anything in the Content tool, including traditional learning activities like Discussions, Assignments, and Quizzes. For the purposes of our discussion today, when I talk of “content,” I mean traditional files – the type of file that lives in your “Manage files” area – or a resource that lives elsewhere on the web, and which displays inside the Content tool in D2L. Maybe the simplest way to think of content is that it’s one of the choices in the top-half of the box that appears when you click the Upload / Create button:

upload / create dropdown menu





In Greg’s blog post in November, he pointed out that curating content on the web is just as valuable as creating your own content. But you can combine curation and creation by selecting “Create a link” and then linking to a Google Doc – either one of your own, or someone else’s doc that you have access to. The Google Doc will display nicely in the Content tool in D2L, like this:

how a google doc displays in D2L







Adding a Google Doc

If you want to display a Google Doc like this, simply follow these steps:

  1. From your Google Drive, open the document you want to display and click the Share button in the upper right-hand corner
  2. Under Link sharing, select the setting that says others can view, then click Get shareable link
  3. Now that the link is copied to your clipboard, go back into D2L and open the module where you want to display the page
  4. Click the Upload / Create button and select Create a Link
  5. In the Title box, type in the name you want students to see in the module (e.g. “Directions for homework assignment”) and in the URL field, paste the link to the Google Doc from your clipboard
  6. Click the Create button

Your Google Doc will now display in the frame of the page for your students – and the really nice thing is that you don’t need to know HTML in order to keep this page updated. As long as you keep the document updated in your Google Docs, it will always be updated for your students.

Keep in mind!

One thing to keep in mind: Use headings, lists, and other accessible formats that will allow users with disabilities to access these pages. Distance Ed’s accessibility guide contains great tips on how to make your content accessible.

Word docs and PDFs also display beautifully in D2L, but again you will want to create them so that they are accessible. And updating Word docs and PDFs is somewhat onerous, as you need to replace the source file with a new, updated file, unlike an HTML page or Google doc that can be updated on the fly.

Each format has its own advantages and disadvantages, but linking to a Google Doc in D2L has the fewest disadvantages of any approach I have yet seen. Try it and see how it works for you and your students.

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Google Drive integration http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2016/12/google-drive-integration/ http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2016/12/google-drive-integration/#respond Fri, 23 Dec 2016 16:58:34 +0000 http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/?p=7364 Now you can submit Google Drive documents directly to the Assignments tool in D2L!

With your PCC Google account automatically connected to your D2L account, you will be able to submit a file from your PCC Google Drive account instead of having to choose a file to upload from your computer. When you choose to submit a Google Drive document in an Assignments folder, a copy of the Google Drive document is made and saved in D2L. It does not alter or link to the original file in your Google Drive account.

Google Drive is now an option for document source

Why should I care?
  • You can do your work in Google Docs, Sheets, or Slides and not have to worry about saving your files.
  • You can work from tablets, laptops, lab computers, home computers, chromebooks, etc.
  • You don’t have to buy costly word processing software (unless required for your class).
  • You can work on documents collaboratively as part of a group project before submitting the work.
  • If you already use Docs/Drive, you don’t have to download/upload your documents to upload them to D2L Brightspace

Learn how to activate your account.

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D2L CD update 10.6.8 for December 2016 http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2016/12/d2l-cd-update-10-6-8-for-december-2016/ http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2016/12/d2l-cd-update-10-6-8-for-december-2016/#respond Tue, 20 Dec 2016 22:47:48 +0000 http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/?p=7355 This is the 1 year anniversary of PCC moving to the Continuous Delivery model for D2L Brightspace updates. Despite all of our concerns and hesitations, we’re pleased at how it has gone and D2L has continued to improve communication and documentation to support us as we prepare you for the updates. Granted, our staff are tiring of doing monthly testing cycles, but we continue to evaluate how to manage this process in a way that ensures quality assurance for our users. Thanks to our support team for their efforts.

This month brings quite a few new updates which we’ll touch briefly on here.

Link directly to an announcement with Quicklinks

You know how nice it is to link to something when you are referring to it? Then students don’t have to find where that thing was? Well now you can link to specific announcements from anywhere that you can edit content with the HTML editor. This is really useful if you want students to refer back to that announcement where you mentioned information on the final exam but they may have dismissed the announcement. With this release, Announcements are another option available in the Quicklinks tool.

You can select Announcements as a quicklink option

Dropped grades are indicated in User Progress

This update also adds an indicator to the grades section of the User Progress tool so you can see when a student’s activity that is dropped and is not included in the final grade. Additionally, the little colored bars at the top of the user progress (my favorite) don’t show dropped grades so you get a more accurate view of student progress.

grade items now display a warning if score isn't tallied in final grade

True/False question interface updates in Quizzes

The quiz creation tool interface is getting an update to make it more responsive and more pleasant to work with. Last month introduced an update to the interface itself which allows you to opt-in or -out of the new look and edit multiple choice questions. This month’s CD updates the True/False question type. Here’s the screen you’ll see the first time letting you choose if you want to opt-in or -out of the new look.

The new opt-in window in the quiz tool let's you opt out as well.

Instructor email when an assignment is submitted

Apparently there were a lot of requests to allow instructors to be notified by email when a student submits an assignment. That seems like a lot of email to me, but you can choose to add this feature if and when you’d like. When you set up an assignment folder, there’s an option to add a notification email address.

Grade exemptions – kind big

Have an exam or grade activity that you want to exempt a student from (e.g. Dog actually ate homework)?  Now you can do that, and it will show to the instructor and student in the grades, exclude the activity from final grade calculation, and release conditions will honor if a grade is exempted to release content to a student. Here’s a quick video to better explain this change.

Document viewer is improved

The document viewer – the tool that renders Office, PDF, and image files in the content and assignment area – has been updated to improve the experience when viewing PDF files and images. This update should more accurately reflect the content of these files. You can still download the files if you prefer to view the files in your native desktop application, which may be preferable for those of you working with complex equations.

Daylight update

We heard that you want to know more about Daylight. We’re meeting with D2L staff to go over the visual update called Daylight that is slated for release (but not adoption) in Q1 of 2017. We hope to learn enough to reasonably plan for and communicate with you all what the changes will look like and mean for our users. Stay tuned for more.

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Short videos improve instructor presence – Part I http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2016/12/short-videos-improve-instructor-presence-part-i/ http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2016/12/short-videos-improve-instructor-presence-part-i/#comments Mon, 05 Dec 2016 18:00:39 +0000 http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/?p=7318 Have you read Jeff’s blog post on video clips? He created 2-3 minute weekly video clips to introduce his students to the weekly topic, recommend additional resources for tricky concepts, and reminded them to contact him with any questions. Would you like to create more instructor presence in your course?

Since this is the last best practices blog post of 2016 and we have a long break where you prepare things for your course next term, I thought it would be a good idea to provide you with three simple options for you to get started with video!

Free video options Video clip icon - from Wikipedia
Option I: Video Note in D2L

D2L’s Video Note is a simple way to add video for your students. These videos are limited to 3 minutes, which can be just right! However, these videos are designed to be used for messages unique to a single class. This is because the videos are only stored for about 6 months and as of this writing, can’t be captioned. Lastly, You can’t use it to capture your computer screen.

Option II: Screencast-O-Matic

If you need to create a video longer than 3 minutes, Screencast-O-Matic will record up to 15 minutes. It’s a simple web-based program, so you do not need to download or install any software! All you need to do is creating an account and the video will be hosted on their server. The video can be downloaded and captioned too. You can use it to capture yourself using a webcam and your computer screen.

Option III: Webcam in D2L
Webcam icon - image from Wikimedia Commons

Webcam icon from Wikimedia Commons

If you are creating a video and you don’t want to be limited by time, you can use the “Insert Stuff” option in D2L’s editor, select webcam, and record your video right in D2L (You can use this for shorter videos too.) These videos are stored at our streaming server and PCC can caption these videos for you when an accommodation is needed. You can’t use it to capture your computer screen.

Editor’s note: The webcam tool can be finicky. Sometimes it’s easier to capture the video separately then upload it.

Still not sure which one to choose?

Here’s some information that would help you make the right decision if you want to add media for your course.

During Winter term, we are offering Gear Up media sessions. These sessions will focus on using video and audio tools. Attendee may be eligible for a webcam or a headset to get them started, with the expectation that they will share one of their short videos to inspire other instructors at PCC. Watch for these in our training calendar!

Still have questions?

Don’t worry, if you still have any questions or need more guidance, the Instructional Technology Specialist will be there to help you every step of the way.

In my next post: Short videos improve instructor presence – Part II, I will give you some tips on recording. Start creating your video and Happy Holiday!!

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Before you decide to proctor http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2016/11/before-you-decide-to-proctor/ http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2016/11/before-you-decide-to-proctor/#respond Mon, 28 Nov 2016 19:44:41 +0000 http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/?p=7313 Anyone who has attended a distance learning conference recently will tell you that the world of online proctoring is expanding fast. The list of virtual proctoring vendors has grown from the classic ProctorU and BVirtual to include several relatively new offerings like SmarterProctoring, Proctorio, Examity, BioSig, Kryterion, ProctorTrack… The list goes on and on. With all these products to choose from, it may just seem like a matter of selecting the right tool to guarantee exam integrity for online assessments. However, after a few years (yes, years) of working on this issue with various faculty and staff, I can tell you that nothing about proctoring for online classes turns out to be simple.

Is proctoring the best solution for your case?

This blog post is cautionary tale for instructors who are considering proctored exams for their online classes. Before you head down the proctoring path, I urge you to consider a few issues and really consider if proctoring is the right choice for assessment in your case. After all, there are lots of pedagogical approaches to assessment in the online learning world.

What’s so complicated?

In working with various faculty groups at PCC, I can see the thinking that leads them to consider proctored exams. Some departments have long suspected that some students were committing academic integrity violations in their online classes, while others are feeling pressure from transfer schools who frown upon transferring online credits. And in some cases, proctoring is the ultimate solution for user authentication during exams. Typically when a department or individual instructor arrives at this conclusion, the planning usually starts with the classic – “We’ll just make them come to campus for the midterm and final exams.” Things spiral out of control from there.

While it’s true that if you tell your online students, “The proctored final exam will be on Friday at 3pm during finals week at the X campus in room 123.”, most of your students will plan to attend that exam session (especially if you give them plenty of notice). Even this straightforward scenario has its complications – How do you manage to reserve a classroom on campus during finals week for a class that doesn’t usually meet on campus and has no predetermined final exam schedule? How do you find a time for this exam that doesn’t conflict with exams for your students other classes? Did you remember to tell your students to bring photo ID? Did you consider your technology needs? What are your expectations during the exam and what will you do if they are violated? Will you allow a bathroom break? And is that guy in the back row looking at a smartwatch with a cheat sheet on it, or just checking the time?

However, since these are online classes, there will always be a few students who for reasons of time or location, cannot attend your proctoring session. How will you accommodate their needs? The logical option is to allow them to make up their exam at a PCC testing center. Problem solved, right? Were you aware that there is a testing center at each PCC location? This is fantastically convenient! Were you also aware that each testing center has their own unique set of practices for handling proctored exam arrangements? That some testing centers allow drop ins while others require appointments. And they each have their own preferences for working with instructors to transmit exam materials and criteria? Also, some testing centers just don’t have the capacity to handle the demand for their services during finals week. What if your student can’t get an appointment before your deadline? With a little luck, support and plenty of preparation you can successfully navigate all of these testing center complications.

But what about students who just can’t make it to a PCC campus during business hours? Either they live too far away or their work/life obligations don’t allow them the freedom to come to campus during regular hours. There are several classic answers to this issue:

  • Testing centers at other colleges
  • Professional testing centers
  • Private proctors
  • Virtual proctoring

And, as you might expect at this point, each of these options has their own unique set of complications and logistical nightmares to consider. And like I mentioned before, it may seem like the ideal solution is just to select a virtual proctoring vendor and let them handle all the arrangements. But after having worked with a few of these vendors now, and hearing about experiences at other schools, I can guarantee you that none of these tools come without significant cost, training, technology setup, and support headaches.

So you still want to proctor?

It is possible that despite all the issues and complications we have discussed, proctoring may still be the best option. It happens, and sometimes for good reasons. But before you merrily skip down the proctoring path, remember that preparation is key! Make use of the tools and services at your disposal.

Consider the timeline – If this is your first time requiring proctoring for your online class, we now have a training for that! The training takes about 2 hours and must be completed during the term (or break) prior to when your class begins. Contact me if you’d like to sign up. This is not a process you can start after the term begins.

Be sure to check out the Proctoring for Online Classes Checklist, this list will keep you on track with all your important training, communication, and exam preparation tasks. You will also want to take a look at the Proctoring Tips for Online Instructors document for a quick overview of proctoring issues and links to support for instructors who are trying to coordinate their exams. The most important advice I can give to instructors who are new to proctoring is to plan ahead and don’t procrastinate.

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D2L CD update 10.6.7 for November 2016 http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2016/11/d2l-cd-update-10-6-7-for-november-2016/ http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2016/11/d2l-cd-update-10-6-7-for-november-2016/#comments Fri, 25 Nov 2016 16:24:51 +0000 http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/?p=7307 November’s Continuous Delivery update adds a few items worth noting. These updates are live in D2L Brightspace as of today!

Rubrics & Assignments

The Rubrics window in assignments now defaults to open in a new window. Previously, the rubric opened in one of two ways. Now, it defaults to opening in a new window so that you can view the rubric while grading the assignment. Apparently this was important enough to enough other users that it was addressed as a fix.

User Progress is now Class Progress

Nothing major here other than a slight name change for consistency.  It’s one of my favorite tools, so go check it out.

User progress is now class progress

Quiz question editor update

As part of the coming Daylight overhaul (more later), and general recognition that the quiz tool is hard to work with, the interface is getting a redesign. The next time you go to create a new quiz question, you’ll see the option to enable or disable the new interface. Here’s a quick view of what it looks like.

Quiz interface updates make it look like a tool from this decade.

I still prefer using Respondus when working on questions, but I’m old fashioned.

HTML Editor updates

As of the last Continuous Delivery update, the HTML editor was updated to the latest version of the TinyMCE software. In this update, a majority of the formatting when copying from Word will remain. No changes are needed on your part.

Intelligent Agents

Scheduled intelligent agents now deactivate when a course ends or is made inactive. This is a good (and seemingly obvious) feature. You can now easily delete (and restore) multiple agents at a time, making it far simpler to manage your catalog of time-saving, student success-improving agents. What? You’re not using Intelligent Agents? You should! Here’s a quick primer.

Daylight preview

a preview of the new daylight interface. It has more pictures and less pinstripe.
Daylight is the interface overhaul that D2L has been working on for the last year. They are still a little ways away from it being stable enough to share widely, but we’ve been poking around on our test server. The update is very “light,” and it’s responsive to screen size, so the pages and layouts all adjust accordingly for whatever device you’re on. We haven’t shared many images because they are still actively working on it. Here’s a teaser of the main home page on a mobile device.

We are going to start developing a new DL and campus course template in January when we’re more certain about the more permanent design of the interface. We want to create two new templates that are consistent enough that students don’t get confused between campus and online classes, but so that the campus template is simple enough for casual users of the D2L Brightspace platform. We’re eager for the update to improve the mobile experience, and frankly, eager to reboot the existing blue pinstripe theme. It’s starting to feel rather dated.

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Default font size in D2L too tiny? http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2016/11/default-font-size-in-d2l-too-tiny/ http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2016/11/default-font-size-in-d2l-too-tiny/#respond Mon, 21 Nov 2016 18:00:59 +0000 http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/?p=7296 Do you wish that the default font size wasn’t so small in D2L?  Do you wish there was a way to change that without having to adjust the font size on everything?

Well you can!

D2L allows users to customize their default font size to suit and it is really easy to do!


  1. Click on the action menu next to your name from the mini bar
  2. Select Account Settings
  3. Change the Font size to Medium, Large, or Huge – depending on your preference.
  4. Click Save and Close
Is this better?

Creating a user specific default is a really good idea. This is because each user of D2L is different. If you change your font sizes for each message/description and a student has their setting to “Huge,”  then the fonts in D2L are really “Huge!” By setting your default sizes this way, each user has control over how they view text in  D2L.

Changing setting to Huge

Now, this doesn’t mean that you can enlarge a font a little bit to distinguish it as being visually different than the rest of the text, but be careful!  If you have your default settings as huge and you decide to “increase” font size to let’s say 14pt, the text will come out smaller – since the “Huge” default font size is larger than  14pt.

Font size visual comparison

As D2L continues to be updated, changes to the inherent D2L font size will also be change.  If you are someone who uses different font sizes in your D2L classroom, you may find yourself having to fix those at some point in the future. But, if you increase the default font size, then you will not have to worry!  Any changes to inherent fonts in D2L will automatically be updated!


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WeBWorK integration with D2L Brightspace http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2016/11/webwork-integration-with-d2l-brightspace/ http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/2016/11/webwork-integration-with-d2l-brightspace/#respond Sat, 19 Nov 2016 01:30:10 +0000 http://www.pcc.edu/about/distance/?p=7289 An example of a WeBWorK activity in D2L

WeBWorK inside D2L. We actually recommend that you open it in a new window, but that’s harder to make in to a compelling screenshot.

WeBWorK is an interactive homework platform hosted by the PCC math department to support math instruction. Over the last couple years, several dedicated instructors have built a library of dynamic questions for several course levels so that students could use the platform for practice and for assignments as part of their math classes. There are several publisher platforms that offer online practices as well, but WeBWorK is available at no cost to the student.

We worked with Alex Jordan late this summer to evaluate an integration between D2L Brightspace and WeBWorK. The integration at that time allowed for a single sign-on between D2L and WeBWorK so that students didn’t have to log in to access their homework problems. This kind of integration is frequently requested, but doing the integration is never as simple as you’re led to believe. We have developed a 3rd party integration evaluation process to ensure that integrating with an external platform doesn’t create issues for students, faculty, or us as an institution. We reviewed the security of the platform, the user agreement (none, in this case), the usability and accessibility (including a test by a screen-reader user), and finally a technical integration evaluation.  WeBWorK passed each with flying colors, so we enabled the single sign-on integration just before fall term.

Today, we met again to investigate the option to do grade pass-back. This functionality is relatively new. The integration itself is based on Learning Tools Interoperability (or just LTI to us dorks), and relatively recently, both D2L and WeBWorK’s developers built in support for version 1.2 of the LTI specifications which allows for grade pass-back.webwork activity grade in the gradebook

Our testing revealed that the grade pass-back can be relatively complicated. Setting up a single “cumulative” grade column is very easy. But setting up grade columns for each activity is far more complex. In fact, it has enough challenges that we’ve decided not to support it yet. But we are going to enable “overall” grade pass-back. And it’s not that we think our instructors aren’t capable, it’s just that the integration needs some more time to gestate so that it doesn’t create more confusion.

The cumulative grade, or course grade, shows you approximately what percentage of the WeBWorK activity score has been completed, and at least gives the instructor a sense of how each student is progressing through the homework content.

So very soon you will be able to get more details on the Math SAC’s spaces page, but you can get details on setting up the simple Single Sign-On integration now with this WeBWork integration howto page.

If you want to evaluate the integration with another tool, please contact me.

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