Distance Learning Technology Primer
It is critical to your success in a distance learning (DL) course that you have the right technology and are able to use and maintain it.
The following sections will help you set up your home environment, learn to use the tools that you will need, and come up with a contingency plan should something go wrong.
You should have a computer that you use regularly to access your DL course, and on which you can install any software that you will need during the semester. Your system might need headphones, speakers, a microphone, and a printer (also paper and cartridges). Plan to keep the system stable for the duration of the semester (do not install or remove software during the semester). Make sure that you have virus protection software, and that you follow precautions to keep your home environment secure.
You will be using your computer to access the web, and so an up-to-date browser (for example, Internet Explorer or Firefox) is a critical piece of software that you will use to access both MyCCRI and the Blackboard learning management system (LMS). You might also require plug-ins in order to access special files such as PDF's, audio, and video files.
It's possible that your professor will have specific hardware or software requirements for the course, or will be using an LMS other than Blackboard. Check these requirements as early as possible, and install and test any software or hardware that is needed for your course.
Here are links to the CCRI Information Technology (IT) pages on hardware and software requirements to use MyCCRI and Blackboard, as well as links to commonly required plug-ins and an automated browser check for Blackboard:
This government page called OnGuard Online offers tips to keep your computing environment secure:
Finally, if your professor requires any particular software be installed, make sure you install and test it well before the semester begins. These requirements and instructions will come from your professor.
You are responsible for setting up and maintaining your home computer environment in a DL course.
There is a mobile version of Blackboard, called Blackboard Mobile Learn. The IT pages on Blackboard Mobile Learn can help you download and install the app, so that you can interact with your Blackboard course from your mobile device.
You will use MyCCRI to register for courses, check your grades, print your transcript, and pay for your courses, among other activities. This is IT's page for MyCCRI documentation:
Most DL courses at CCRI use the Blackboard learning management system (LMS). CCRI's Blackboard documentation page contains tutorials for logging in, working in your course (for example: checking grades, submitting an assignment, working in groups), and communicating (for example, posting to the discussion board and sending email):
CCRI email is an official communication medium at CCRI. You are, therefore, responsible for all messages that come to you through your CCRI email. Learn how to use it here:
Your email is Office 365, which includes cloud storage called the SkyDrive. You can store a backup of your work on the SkyDrive. Learn how to use it here:
You will also have access to Office Web Apps, which allows you to use versions of Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote through your Office 365 account. Documentation is here:
You should have a working knowledge of word processing and presentation software. Microsoft Office Word and PowerPoint are supported at CCRI and are available in the on-campus computer labs. Microsoft's documentation for these applications is here:
A free alternative to the Microsoft Office suite is the open source OpenOffice suite. The documentation includes videos contributed by users. OpenOffice functionality is similar and the file formats are compatible (although not 100% compatible). You can download and get help with OpenOffice here:
Create a folder system on your hard drive for your online courses. This will make it easier to organize and retrieve the files for your courses.
Learn how to make the best use of your browser.
There is always the possibility of a technological failure. CCRI's servers could go down. You could lose power, or you could lose a component of your computer system (such as a hard drive crash). If you prepare for such emergencies, they do not have to be catastrophic. The following recommendations will help you recover from any system failures that occur during the semester:
- Have a backup plan for where you will work if you can't use your primary computer system. Check out the lab hours at CCRI and your local library, or find out if a friend or family member can let you use a computer in an emergency. Download any apps that will give you access to resources from a mobile device.
- Back up all of your work, preferably off-site. You can copy all of your course files to your SkyDrive account. You might also have other cloud storage that you can use, such as Google drive. You can also back up to a removable hard drive or flash storage. Plan to do this on a regular basis (for example, every night or at least every week) and follow through.
- Print your syllabus and any course materials that you will need for the upcoming week, so that you can work offline if necessary.
- Plan to complete and submit assignments early.
- Check in periodically with CCRI's system status page, so you know when planned down times will occur and what systems will be affected.
- Print out all contact information for CCRI and for your course, so that you can contact support services and your professor in the event of an emergency.
If you want or need to learn more about computing technology, consider the COMI 1100 Introduction to Computers course, which is offered both on-campus and online.
Your home system
You are responsible for your home computer system. Make sure you have contact information available for your Internet Service Provider (ISP) in case you have issues with any hardware you rent or your Internet service. Keep install disks for your operating system and all software you've installed from disk in a safe location, and maintain a list of all software you've installed from the Internet. This will make a system recovery easier, should it be necessary.
For issues with CCRI services such as MyCCRI, your CCRI email account, and Blackboard, contact the IT Help Desk.
If you are using other online services, such as a publisher's website, locate the tech support area of the website, bookmark it, and record a phone number in case you lose access.
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