Making the Most of Your Virtual Learning Environment
Whether you are staying in your normal location or have to move to a new one, try to create a local learning space with the following characteristics:
- Maximum comfort . . . but not to the point that you fall asleep!
- Minimum distractions from sights, sounds, and social media
- Sufficient work space for reading, writing, and computer usage
- Access to needed course materials and supplies
You can think of your semester, your courses, and even individual assignments, quizzes, and exams as “projects,” and developing the ability to manage such projects is a key skill for academic and broader success. We encourage you to take a minute (and a half) to watch this short overview of the basics of project management, and think about how you will need to approach managing all your academic and personal “projects” for the rest of the semester.
If you feel you already have an effective approach to managing multiple projects, then you should probably stick with it . . . now is likely not the time to add more change to your life! However, if you weren’t feeling much in control of things before, then now is definitely the time to get organized as your courses shift to virtual learning with related changes in their operation, structure, and content.
A key step as your courses resume is to ensure you understand how they have changed with the move to virtual learning. Thus, we encourage you to answer the following questions for each of your courses in one place - essentially an inventory of change - based on information from instructor emails, Blackboard (or Canvas), revised syllabi, etc.
- Face-to-Face Components (lectures, discussion sections, laboratories, etc.):
- If being replaced by live Zoom sessions:
- When will these Zoom sessions take place?
- Have you set up your Zoom account?
- Will these Zoom sessions be recorded and posted? Where?
- If being replaced by pre-recorded sessions:
- Where and when will these be posted?
- By when should each session be viewed?
- If being replaced by some other approach:
- What is the approach?
- When and how will you access the sessions?
- What technology will you need?
- If being replaced by live Zoom sessions:
- Have any changes been made to remaining course assignments?
- Are there any new assignments? What are these and when are they due?
- How will assignments be presented, submitted, etc.?
- Assessment (Quizzes and Exams):
- What changes have been made to remaining quizzes and exams?
- How will quizzes and exams be administered, monitored, and submitted?
- What materials will be needed?
- Will Respondus Lockdown Browser, Zoom, etc. be required?
- Office Hours
- How and when can the instructor be contacted?
- Are there specific times when you can contact the instructor live?
This consolidated information can then be used to make all the needed changes to your current planning/calendaring tool. If you need to start using a planning/calendaring tool, we suggest keeping it simple with a paper-based planner or perhaps Google Calendar (see this Google Guide).
Face-to-face lectures, laboratories, recitations, etc. provided an external structure to your semester, and the transition of some of these to an asynchronous do-on-your-own-time means that you will need to revise and formalize a learning schedule that works for you, especially given any broader disruptions in your location, responsibilities, etc. Take some time to establish a formal “learning schedule,” perhaps in consultation with those around you, and then stick to it, using the “learning space” above as a location. If possible, close doors and put up signs like “Learning Session from __ to ___: Please do not disturb unless necessary.” Establishing shared expectations and boundaries will help balance your need to focus on academics with your and other’s needs and responsibilities.
This learning schedule doesn’t have to be a solo adventure! As appropriate, consider using video conferencing (FaceTime, Zoom, etc.) and social media work study with classmates. You can learn more about video conferencing in the above section on Zoom.
Two campus processes are designed to help students address problematic issues that may arise with their instructors, especially during this challenging time.
The informal process starts with having a respectful two-way conversation via email or Zoom with your professor. The hope is that this conversation will help resolve your issue without having to involve others. Faculty are here to help, and they can best do so when they hear from their students early, clearly, and respectfully regarding any issues, questions, or concerns with their courses. Students should exhaust all four steps below before proceeding to the formal process described below. Depending on your situation, if any of these steps feel inappropriate or uncomfortable, then please do not hesitate to contact Darrell Hess, the Student Ombudsman, by calling 619-594-6578 or emailing [email protected]
Step 1: Talk to your Professor or Instructor of Record
Often conflicts are a result of misunderstandings or miscommunications and can be resolved with a simple conversation. Approach the situation with an open mind and a positive attitude. Helpful hints for getting the conversation started via email are to provide an informative subject line including the course number, clearly outline the situation and your concern or question in the message, and to be patient by allowing 48 hours for a response before emailing them again with a friendly reminder that includes your initial email. Using email to schedule a Zoom session can also be a useful approach..
Step 2: Talk to the Department Chair
If the professor is unresponsive or you do not feel satisfied with the results of your efforts, you can then speak with the Department Chair of the particular department in which you are experiencing a conflict. Department Chairs know the professors within their departments well and have a strong understanding of the policies within that department.
Additionally, other students may be experiencing problems similar to yours, and it is helpful for the Department Chair to be fully aware of the extent of student concerns.
Step 3: Talk to the Assistant Dean for Student Affairs
If your situation is not resolved after connecting with the Department Chair, you may reach out to the Assistant Dean for Student Affairs (see the contact list below), a position held within each college. The Assistant Deans have a broad knowledge of the policies within their respective colleges, and they work specifically to enhance students’ college experiences.
Step 4: Meet with the Student Ombudsman
At any time, you can connect with the Student Ombudsman, who will work with you directly to help you figure out your options and the appropriate next steps. This student-focused resource supports students in addressing and resolving concerns or issues that may arise within the university.
The formal process involves pursuing a formal grievance with the SDSU Student Grievance Committee. You must exhaust all four steps in the informal process above before you can proceed to this formal process. The grievance procedure is rigidly structured, involving an investigation and may lead to a hearing. If you have exhausted all four steps, and you still do not feel satisfied, then you should speak with the Ombudsman about starting the formal process with the SDSU Student Grievance Committee. Information about the grievance process can be found online.
Contact Information: Assistant Deans for Student Affairs, who reside in each SDSU academic college, have strong knowledge of the policies within their respective colleges and are available to assist students. They are:
- Karey Sabol, College of Arts and Letters: [email protected]
- Kristie Dock, Fowler College of Business: [email protected]
- Patricia Lozada-Santone, College of Education: [email protected]
- Theresa Garcia, College of Engineering: [email protected]
- Kristine Catano, SDSU World Campus: [email protected]
- Jason Ramirez, College of Health and Human Services: [email protected]
- Miguel Rahiotis, Imperial Valley Campus: [email protected]
- Lanie Lockwood, College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts: [email protected]
- Estralita Martin, College of Sciences: [email protected]
- Michelle Lopez, Division of Academic Engagement and Student Achievement: [email protected]
- Andrew Bohonak, Assistant Dean for Graduate and Research Affairs: [email protected]
If you are accessing an instructor’s Blackboard (Bb) course for the first time, take some time to explore how they have organized the course content. If an overview document or video is provided, be sure to read or watch it. Instructors may also provide answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) as either an item in the left-menu or a Discussion Board (see below). Students are encouraged to seek answers to any Bb usage questions through the Bb Student Guide and consider the following tips prior to seeking help through the Library Computing Hub.
Announcements: Your instructors will likely be posting frequent Announcements to keep you up to date on their respective courses. Announcements for all your courses are shown in a dedicated region on your Bb Home page and course-specific announcements are shown front-and-center on each course’s “splash page.” Instructors may elect to have Bb send Announcements directly to your email. If so, note that the sender’s name in your inbox will start with the course, not your instructor’s name. Announcements are a key means for instructors to provide you with updates, so be sure to check them frequently to stay up to date.
Email: Most instructors will communicate with their students through email, so be sure that the email address you’re using is what’s listed in WebPortaland check your email frequently. All campus communications, including Blackboard, also use this WebPortal-listed address. Depending on how your instructor has set up their Bb course, you may be able to send emails from within Bb; if so, then look for an Email tool in the Bb left-menu and be mindful and appropriate in what you send to whom. Note that if you send an email through Bb, then a copy will automatically be sent to your email address.
If you are in one the SDSU courses piloting Canvas this semester, then your instructor will provide additional guidance on any changes to the organization of the course.
Zoom is the SDSU-supported platform for audio-video conferencing. All SDSU students are eligible for a free Zoom Pro account with their SDSUid. Please do not use a free Zoom account as it lacks the full functionality of a Zoom Pro account. Zoom works with Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Blackberry, and Linux, and allows users to connect via video, audio, and/or screen sharing remotely from any location.
The quickest and easiest method to set up your Zoom Pro account is to go to the SDSU Zoom site, login with your SDSUid, and follow the provided directions.
If your instructor is using Zoom, then they will provide a clickable Zoom invitation link via email, Blackboard (or Canvas), etc. You can learn more about joining a Zoom meeting and how to use the audio, video, and chat controls. Note that if your instructor enables additional non-verbal feedback for the Zoom meeting, then clicking on the “Participants” icon at the screen bottom will produce a pop-up window where you can raise your hand, respond yes/no, etc.
Zoom is a two-way web conferencing tool: If using audio, strive to find a location with minimal background noise and mute yourself when not speaking. If using video, ensure that you and your surrounding area are presentable, especially in case the video is on by default!
Respondus LockDown Browser is a web browser just like Safari, Chrome, or Firefox that works with Blackboard (or Canvas) to increase security and decrease crashes during exams by preventing window resizing, refreshing pages, switching applications, etc. Once started, students are “locked” into the test until they submit it for grading.
If your instructor is using Respondus for an upcoming exam, then secure access to a Windows- or Mac-based desktop or laptop and go to the SDSU Respondus Download page to install the browser.
Well before the exam, review the one-page student guide (Blackboard version; Canvas version) and watch the short overview video (Blackboard version; Canvas version) to ensure a smooth exam experience.
If your instructor provides a “practice” exam, be sure to explore it before the real exam to get familiar with the Respondus environment.
Turnitin is a tool within Blackboard that some instructors may activate for written assignments. Turnitin allows plagiarism detection, instructor feedback, peer review, and rubric-based grading. Your instructor may choose to use any of these features, and will provide you with instructions for how to submit your work and access any feedback and grades.
Typically, a Turnitin submission link will be associated with the Assignment within your Blackboard course. However, some students have been prompted to login directly to Turnitin when using Safari or sometimes the newest version of Chrome (v. 80). To avoid this potential issue, consider using another browser (e.g., Firefox).
Once your work is submitted by clicking the “Confirm” button, Turnitin will email a confirmation and a “!” will show for the assignment in My Grades. If you don’t see these, then you should resubmit the assignment, perhaps through a different web browser (e.g., Firefox) and ensuring that you have followed all the steps.
If your instructor is using Peer Review for an assignment, please note that:
- Assignments must be submitted before the deadline in order to be included in the peer review process;
- Students will not get a confirmation after completing a peer review;
- Submission confirmations will only be sent after the assignment’s due date and time
- Peer feedback will only be available for viewing after the peer review’s due date and time