Category: Distance Learning

Information Literacy Resources @ CUNY

From CUNY Academic Commons

With 20 libraries throughout the university, it’s not surprising that CUNY library faculty have created a wide variety of tutorials and guides for research, library materials, and information literacy. Here’s a sampling of the wonderful tools and resources available for faculty and student use in all disciplines, compiled by LILAC, the Library Information Literacy Advisory Committee. Please feel free to add to this list!


Getting Started with College Research This City Tech tutorial is a textual, click through introduction to starting the research process: reading about a subject, choosing a topic, identifying keywords, constructing a concept map, getting help from a librarian. As its name indicates, it’s strictly about “getting started,” and does not address how to take what you’ve learned and apply it to searching library resources.

Formulating a Search Strategy This is an excellent 5 + minute tutorial, (slides w/audio presentation) about how to create a search strategy using keyword concepts and Boolean connectors. It is clear and includes an 8-question quiz and a printable summary of the lesson.


Find a Book by Author in the Library Catalog A short (two minutes, no audio) Hunter College video tutorial about how to start at the library’s homepage and look up a book in the catalog by author. The tutorial is Hunter-specific, but could be used by any CUNY school, once inside the CUNY Library Catalog the directions are useful no matter which CUNY school you attend.

The LOOP The LOOP (Library Online Orientation Program) website provides a comprehensive introduction to the Brooklyn College Library. While much content is BC-specific, the Books and Articles pages in the Doing Research section contains tutorials relevant to all researchers. (A quiz is included, though it is only available to Brooklyn College students.)

Finding a Book on the Shelf Using the Call Number This clear and straightforward one-page guide from LaGuardia Community College uses images and text to explain how to use Library of Congress call numbers to find books in the CUNY libraries.


Guide to Research for Oral Presentations This Baruch College tutorial is a text-based introduction on how to use databases to find articles, how to evaluate sources, and how to cite them in oral presentations. With additional links to other resources, such as how to create oral presentations, steps of the research process, Boolean searching, etc.

Beginner’s Guide to Business Research This Baruch College video tutorial is an introduction to doing business research. It covers how to find information from two major sources: company websites and business databases. It also addresses the disadvantages of relying on the free web for company information. Includes a short quiz to test your business research skills.

Introduction to Mutual Funds This 30 minute video tutorial from Baruch College provides an introduction to mutual funds, including definitions, how and why to buy, and how to track mutual fund performance.


MLA Citation Guide This online guide to MLA Style for Students (7th edition) from LaGuardia Community College offers explanation of the elements of each citation type as well as detailed common abbreviations and in-text citation guides. What will prove helpful for users is the notation of the rule upon which each example is based from the MLA handbook should users require additional reference.

APA Citation Guide This online guide to the revised APA style manual from LaGuardia Community College offers a list with examples of all media, electronic, and print citation formats. It also includes a detailed guide to in-text citations and abbreviations. Each example is accompanied by reference and page to the source from the APA manual.

Building An On-Line Course

From CUNY Academic Commons


Building an Online Course

by James G. Lengel, Hunter College

As more and more teachers at all levels put their course materials online, as as we gain more experience with what works and what doesn’t in this environment, it’s a good time to share some suggestions and guidelines for building an online course, or for posting study materials online for a face-to-face course. No matter whether it’s a course in high-school geometry or college-level art history, whether it’s on Blackboard or Moodle or iTunesU or your own web site, here are some ideas gleaned from the leaders in the field.

Optimize the size of a unit of study.

I reviewed a single online unit from a high school course that was quite long, consisting of three sections and dozens of activities, amounting to about three weeks of work. For most students, this is too big a chunk to manage, and results in a long list of activities scrolling way down the page. Better to keep your units short, so that the entire list of assignment fits on one page, above the scroll, and that the work can be accomplished in a fathomable time, such as a week. Most folks in this business have settled on a week’s worth of work in each section or unit, with 8-10 assignments to be done. Following this rubric for chunking the content, a semester-long course would have about 20 units, and a quarter-course would have 10. Whatever unit size you settle on, try to make it consistent across courses and subjects so that students know what to expect.

Always provide reasonable instructions.

Don’t just list a provide a link to an assignment, and don’t just tell students to “go and read this chapter.” Each assignment in an online course should provide a short rationale and clear instructions, such as, “Read this passage from Orwell’s 1984, and as you do ask yourself how the scene might be different if today’s technologies were brought into play. This will prepare you to answer the questions in the next assignment.” Tell them what to do, provide a little guidance, and tell them why they’re doing it.

Balance self-correcting and teacher-evaluated assignments in each unit.

Frequent student responses to content, and frequent evaluation, are keys to successful online learning. Each unit should contain both self-correcting activities such as quizzes, as well as teacher-evaluated assignments such as essay questions. If a student must do at least one responsive assignment in each unit each day, and if the teacher checks this each day, the student is more likely to stick with the program.

Let them do the work right on the screen.

Wherever possible and feasible, have students provide their responses right in a text field on the web page. Avoid displaying questions in Blackboard or Moodle, and asking them to go off and write their responses in a word processor. Better to pose the question, and place a text field right under it for their response. This makes it much more likely that they will actually do the assignment. And it makes it easier for the teacher to use the learning management system see who has done it, to view their writing, and assign a grade to their results. It avoids sending files back and forth by email, and avoids printing on paper.

Use advance organizers.

Rather then sending students off to do some readings, then afterwards assigning them with questions about the reading, consider giving them the questions first, and then send them off to the readings with the questions in mind.

Put the due dates right on the assignment.

Don’t make them go off to a calendar or schedule page for guidance on how to pace themselves. List the target date for each assignment right in the instructions. This is easiest to do if you build week-long units, and you can use days of the week as the pacing: “Read this passage from Orwell’s 1984, and as you do ask yourself how the scene might be different if today’s technologies were brought into play. This will prepare you to answer the questions in the next assignment. (Tuesday).” If you follow this method you’ll never have to change calendar dates when you teach the course again next semester.

Consider including creative assignments.

Balance the quizzes and essays with assignments that require students to draw diagrams, write screenplays, record podcasts, construct slide shows, create photo essays, and produce short videos. All of these can be created on a computer and turned in online through the learning management system. One creative assignment in each unit might be a reasonable goal and would go a long way toward increased student interaction and 21st-century learning. Call it the Project assignment.

Consider some simple labels for each type of assignment.

Avoid unnecessary wordiness by settling on single-word descriptors for each of your item-types. The pages would be easier to use and visually cleaner if long-winded titles such as “What are my goals for this Medieval Civilizations unit?” became “Goals”, and “What do I already know?” became “Pretest” and “What do I need to do in this section on Muslim Civilizations?” became “Assignments.” In this way, the structure of the unit becomes clear: Goals, Pretest, Assignments, Learnmore, Project, Posttest. If everyone used these same labels consistently, the students would find it easier to follow the work.

Online assignments can extend learning beyond the classroom, make it easier for teachers and students to work together, and provide more flexibility in the time and place for learning. As we use this method with our students, we will continue to learn how to improve it.

For more ideas on the topic of online learning, see:

  • Online Education: What’s the Buzz?
  • Supply and Demand
  • Publishing on the Web for Teachers

This article published here with the permission of the author. Jim Lengel is a visiting Professor, Hunter College School of Education (October 2008)

Learning Online

From CUNY Academic Commons


Learning Online

by Jim Lengel, Hunter College and Boston University

A new, startup high school in New York City was putting it’s curriculum together over the summer. As in most states, biology is a required course for all students. The favored biology textbook, published by Holt and well-aligned with the Regent’s exam, is listed by the publisher at $105 per copy. That’s one hundred five dollars and no cents. For a book for a ninth-grader. One of many necessary to float him through the curriculum. (Or sink him with a backpack full of weighty tomes.)

It’s no wonder the school decided to provide the biology course, as well as the rest of the curriculum, online. You want to learn biology? Connect to the school’s Moodle server, click your biology course, and see the assignments from your teacher. Click on the introductory reading, and you’re connected to the appropriate chapter in the Holt textbook. You can connect from school, from home, from the library, from your iPhone. Do the same for World Civilization, Math, and English — though physical, hold-in-the-hand books, in the form of novels, are allowed in the latter. the school has weaned itself from textbooks, and also from much paper and pencil.

Providing learning materials online is growing at the high school level, a reflection of what’s already happened at many colleges. Not just textbooks, but assignments, quizzes, exercises, problem sets, articles, discussions, presentations and podcasts. In most cases it’s the same content made available more efficiently; in some cases it allows new forms of learning to take place. In the new high school, each faculty member has put all of the necessary learning materials for each course online. From there, students can work on it whenever and wherever they have the opportunity.

What does this mean for the teacher? As we plan an online course, how should we think differently about learning? After helping educators at a variety of schools and colleges and companies to build and improve online learning experiences, I share in this article some of the key discoveries about this mode of learning.

Quality Content

Generally, what you put online must be more carefully crafted than what you say in the lecture hall, and more precise than what you hand out in the classroom. Students expect readings, assignments, and quizzes they see on the computer to be better thought out than what they see in the classroom. The diagram quickly sketched on the chalkboard will not suffice for an online illustration; it should be re-drawn on the computer so that its concepts are immediately clear. Remember: when students confront your teaching material online, you are not there in person to explain it, or provide further details: the document they see must cover all bases. Each piece of content posted online must be self-contained and self-explanatory, so that students know exactly what they are supposed to do and have all the support they need to do it.

Think of it like a can of soup. If you are at home, in your own kitchen, you can put a bowl of soup on the table for your guests, and if it’s not exactly right you can fix it: add some salt, warm it up, thicken it a bit, put a dollop of butter in it, suggest they try it with crackers, and explain how good it is for them. But if you need to prepare and preserve that soup for someone going on a trip, you’ve got to make sure it’s just right, so when they open it and eat it all by themselves far away, it tastes just right, with no explanation needed

Small Chunks

Today’s students do not spend hours at a time with a single activity on the computer. And the act of reading on the computer (or iPod) is different from reading from a book or paper. The setting, the technology, the habits of mind, all tend toward short increments of time, multiple distractions, and multimedia expectations. You can’t simply post your hour-and-a-half lecture to the web site, or paste the 20-page full-text article to Blackboard, and expect it to have the same impact as in the classroom or in the journal. It’s better to divide your content into manageable chunks, pieces of information that can be confronted and understood in 15 or 20 minutes rather then 50 or 80.

So find within that long lecture five or six key concepts, and develop a five-minute podcast for each one. Use subheads more liberally in your writing. Read a bit, then ask a question that requires an answer to be submitted online. Better to build the students’ work around six short assignments rather then two long ones.

Active Assignments

It’s not what you do, it’s what they do. In the classroom the teacher is at the center; students focus on the professor; it’s what the faculty member does that makes the difference. Not so with online work. The only thing you get to do is prepare the content and pose the assignments; from then on, learning is dependent on what the students do. So the key to successful online courses is to craft a set of activities for the students to do: read this, look at that, ask yourself this, write that, discuss all of it together with your classmates. The clearer and more active the assignments, the more likely your students are to follow the course of study.

Think of your online course as a series of verbs; begin each item with an action word that directs the student to do something. Read. Consider. Compare. Discuss. Browse. Defend. Explain. Think. Find. Comment. Reflect. And for each assignment, make them produce something: a short answer, a contribution to a discussion, a response to a quiz question, a well-founded essay.


Whenever possible, illustrate the ideas from the course with media that go beyond the written word. Think of the many ways your academic ideas can appeal to the eye and the ear, the two great gateways to the mind. It’s much easier to do this online than on paper, so take advantage of maps, diagrams, images, illustrations, paintings, photos, animations, graphics, drawings, sounds, music, voice, and visuals. Socrates and Plato used all of these in their academy. So can you. You can make them yourself, license them from the textbook publisher, or find them freely on the Web. Or ask your students to help you construct them. The software tools for finding, gathering, organizing, creating and editing multimedia learning materials are more powerful and easier to use than ever.

Multimedia works. It helps students understand ideas. It provokes new kinds of thinking about old concepts. Not just multimedia presentations of the teacher’s ideas, but multimedia reports from students. Consider assigning projects that require students to express their ideas in several media at once.

Frequent Evaluation

Research on student engagement finds that many small evaluations work better than a few big exams. Students learn more this way, remember it longer, and find it more useful. The more opportunities your online course provides for students to turn something in, and have it evaluated (by you or by the computer), the better. So add some self-correcting quizzes to your course. Require a weekly (if not daily) response to a course assignment form every student. This keeps them connected, and notifies you of students who are falling by the wayside.

Most of the systems used to manage online learning, such as Blackboard and Moodle, make it easy to construct these kinds of evaluations, and to organize the results for you online so that feedback and grading is easy accomplished.

The Learning Sequence

The teachers in the new start-up high school are learning to structure their courses for an online environment. They are now thinking of each course as a sequence of activities that students go through as they learn the material. For instance, the biology teacher has divided his course into weekly sections. In each section students follow a carefully-crafted sequence of online activities:

  • Pre-assessment. A short, two- or three-question self-correcting quiz to see what he already knows (and doesn’t know) about the subject.
  • Close reading. A serious and detailed look at the key concept, often guided by an essential question.
  • Written response. An opportunity for the student to summarize the key idea in her own words, and get online feedback from the teacher.
  • Wide browsing. Moving beyond the text to explore numerous (and perhaps conflicting) online sources bout the concept.
  • Discussion contribution. Responding publicly in writing to the questions posed by the teacher and commenting on the contributions of classmates.
  • Collaborative work. Contacting and conversing with classmates online to create a short presentation of ideas.
  • Capstone project. Putting all that you have learned about this concept into a paper of presentation, and submitting it online.
  • Post-assessment. A self-correcting five-or six-question exam, with questions drawn from the state mastery test, that shows how much you have learned.

As online learning grows, we will all learn more about what works best. But by following the guidelines above, you have a better chance to develop an effective course of study.

For more ideas about online learning, take a look at Online Learning: What’s the Buzz?, Distance Learning, Learning Objects, and Supply and Demand.

This article published here with the permission of the author. Jim Lengel is a visiting Professor, Hunter College School of Education (October 2008)

Web-Based Assignments

From CUNY Academic Commons

Web-Based Assignment Design: Principles and Possibilities

This site has valuable information and links to sites with comprehensive guides and excellent examples.

Examples of (and Resources for) Effective Web-Based Assignments

Virtual Resource Site for Teaching with Technology  The assignments at this site are organized according to particular kinds of learning activities (e.g., problem solving, object and document analysis, data gathering and synthesis, case studies, virtual labs and field trips, collaborative learning., etc.). Each is associated with one or more interactive tool, and information about each kind of technology—what it is and how to use it—appears in the technologies section of the site.  An interesting example of one of these assignments is from a World Literature course at Georgia Perimeter College:  Where in the Hell Is Dante Alighieri?

E-Pedagogy This site lists assignments (and links to the coursesfrom which they come) in the areas of Literature, Literary Theory, Composition and Rhetoric, and “(Cyber-)Cultural Studies.”

Computers in Higher Education Economics Review   The “downloadable” assignments on this site use a variety of m edia to teach economics; the site also provides all the statistical resources students will need.  It’s part of the IDEAS database, which runs on a server sponsored by the Society for Economic Dynamics and hosted by the University of Connecticut.

This Computer Information Systems course at Marin Community College (CA) has interesting online assignments and tutorials to help students accomplish them.

Webquests  A WebQuest is an inquiry-oriented lesson format in which most or all the information that learners work with comes from the web. This site includes a WebQuest on Creating WebQuests and Sources and Resources for Designing Webquests

University of Michigan’s Center for Teaching and Research on Learning provides examples of faculty uses of technology in teaching.  One example is a course on Teaching Intermediate Spanish using Technology, in which students have to create a virtual tour of a Spanish city by integrating and annotating the web sites provided by the instructor.

Temple University’s Library Guides have suggestions for figuring out how to approach assignments in every discipline and tips for finding, evaluating, and using relevant sources.   Here’s an example of one of these guides (that includes detailed descriptions of the assignments)  for a philosophy course on Pragmatism

Temple University’s Subject and Course Guides include explanations of the concepts and key terms, compilations of relevant databases and resources, summaries of recent news and research, and so forth.  Here’s an example of a course guide for assignments on Market Research

The UCSB English Department’s Knowledge Base Wiki which “collects and makes available the various interests, talents, and resources of the English Department community” at the University os Santa Barbara, CA.  You can find assignments from many of their courses on the Assignments page of this site.  Also excellent is their Guide to Online Writing and Speaking Resources, which includes links to comprehensive guides for composing and editing writing and for creating and delivering oral presentations.

Back to Resources for Teaching and Learning with Technology

Blackboard Course Design

From CUNY Academic Commons



Online Course Design

From CUNY Academic Commons