Assigning Faculty for DE Courses

According to the Pasadena Area Community College District Policy for Distance Education, faculty must be well-versed in online teaching pedagogy in order to teach distance education courses. This means that faculty should have either completed the New Online or Hybrid Instructor Training or, in lieu of training, have been cleared to teach by the Distance Education Department because of prior online teaching experience or coursework.

Faculty who have not been cleared by the Distance Education Department cannot teach online or hybrid courses. This applies to full-time and adjunct faculty members alike. Assigning generic STAFF to any distance education course section in the Schedule of Classes does not comply with district policy.

While the Distance Education Department understands that this may place some undue constraints on staffing, this policy is in place to make certain that online and hybrid course delivery meets Federal, state and WASC quality standards for online instruction. Contact the Distance Education Department for any questions about or assistance with faculty training concerns.

Schedule of Classes

In addition to assigning faculty trained in online instruction to distance education course sections, it is also necessary to use a standardized footnote to describe online or hybrid courses.

Standardized Footnotes

  • Demonstrate PCC’s compliance with Federal, state and WASC guidelines for online instruction.
  • Establish a comprehensive college-wide protocol for logging in to all distance education course sections.
  • Make it easier for students to understand what is required of them to login and complete their Check-In Assignment.

Title IV Considerations & Footnotes

Recent Federal and WASC guidelines to prevent financial aid fraud mean that initial student logins to distance education courses no longer count as student participation. Several online programs in the community college system have recently been targeted by financial aid fraud schemes in which a ‘student’ registers for an online course, logs in, and then drops the course after financial aid funds have been dispersed.

A letter sent in October 2011 by the Department of Education calls upon post-secondary distance education programs to put more stringent measures into place to make certain that students are not just enrolled in courses, but also actively participate:

…institutions [need] to take steps necessary to ensure that students are academically engaged prior to disbursing Title IV student aid funds. If students do not begin attendance, Title IV funds must be returned (34 CFR 668.21(a))(Runcie & Ocha).

Because of these new legal requirements, footnotes for fully online courses at PCC need to be explicit about:

Course Check-in Assignment

Students must Log in to Canvas and complete the required Check-In Assignment for the class no later than the date published in the Schedule of classes, or else they should be dropped for non-attendance.

Course Communication

After the initial Welcome Letter is sent through LancerPoint to the student’s email address, all other communication with instructors must originate from within the CANVAS LMS (the INBOX). Instructors can no longer require students to contact them via their personal email. This is so that PCC can provide documented evidence of regular effective contact and student participation in learning activities, such as a posting in the discussion forum, a syllabus quiz or other form of self-assessment.

Additional General Guidelines about Footnotes

  • All scheduled (regular or irregular) meetings with a date/time/classroom must be scheduled in LancerPoint and NOT listed in the footnote.
  • Any optional meetings should not be in the footnote. These should be outlined in the instructor’s course welcome letter and/or syllabus.
  • The instructor’s PCC or personal e-mail addresses should not be in the footnote. Students can look instructors up in the Directory prior to the term. LancerPoint will provide the instructor’s e-mail in the student’s course schedule once the student registers.
  • NO TBA hours should not be associated with online or hybrid courses. Labs should be scheduled for hybrid courses or designed in the curriculum of fully online courses.

Standard Online Footnote

Students MUST log in to the course at to complete an introductory assignment by (11:30 PM on the third day after the course begins), or they will be dropped from the class.

Hybrid Footnote

In the past hybrid footnotes would list meetings for orientations, assessment or irregularly-scheduled class meetings. These are currently line items in LancerPoint and therefore do not require a separate footnote.

Welcome Letter and Online Syllabus

In the face-to-face classroom a large part of the first class meeting is spent introducing the course, going over the syllabus, getting to know the students and answering any questions that arise about the course content or assignments.

Since students do not have this type of contact with the instructor or with other students in fully online classes and limited face-to-face contact in hybrid classes, they may often feel isolated and uncertain of what they need to do. In order to establish rapport with the students and to incorporate general best practices for distance education, instructors must introduce the course and login information with a welcome letter before the course begins.

  • Informal tone
  • Briefly introduces the course
  • Describes first week
  • Tells how to login to the LMS
  • Formal tone
  • Details course learning objectives
  • Describes the entire semester
  • Is posted on the LMS

The Welcome Letter

  • Helps students unfamiliar with the distance education environment understand course expectations.
  • Tells students how and where to login.
  • Lets students know where to go for technical help and support.
  • Establishes rapport and promotes regular effective contact with the students early on.

Welcome letters should include:

Course Information 

Course name, section number, Course dates, Instructor name/information, Contact information (phone number & email)

Course Type: 

Fully online or hybrid – for hybrid, place and date of first meeting.

Contact Information

  • CANVAS Inbox location
  • Where to post questions
  • Email format

Login Information:

Additional Information

  • Distance education student resource(s)/website
  • Information about accessibility & link to DSPS website
  • Self-assessment for online learning links

The Online Syllabus

The online syllabus differs from its face-to-face counterpart. It still follows the main structure of the traditional syllabus, but, because it is the main source of information about the course, it needs to include a greater amount of detail.

  • Gives students information about the course assignments and texts.
  • Provides a map for the course on the Learning Management System.
  • Sets up guidelines for class participation and grading criteria.
  • Explains the course schedule in detail.

The online syllabus should include three main elements: the contract, map, and schedule.

The Course Contract is the core of the online syllabus, providing students with information about academic policies and expectations. In short, everything they need to know so that they can access the course content, understand course policies, and complete assignments.

  • Course information
  • Course description
  • Student Learning objectives
  • Course requirements
  • Course communication
  • Course participation policy
  • Course assignments
  • Grading criteria
  • Other course policies
      • Academic honesty
      • Add/Drop
      • Late work
  • Accessibility statement & resources
  • Additional resources
      • Tech support
      • Student resources
      • Distance Education website

The Course Map helps students understand site navigation. In many online syllabi, this is often embedded within the text of the contract components. For example: “You can respond to the Discussion Board by clicking the DISCUSSIONS link on the Course Menu.” It is also possible to include a separate section in the syllabus with a guide to important links.

Where to find:

  •  Lectures
  •  Assignment
  • Formal & informal discussion
  • Additional resources

Where & how to post:

  • Assignments
  • Discussions
  • Course questions

The Course Schedule in an online syllabus is similar to a face-to-face syllabus. It includes a description of weekly lessons, readings, activities, discussions, projects and assessments. Because there is so much additional information in an online syllabus it is also particularly helpful to call special attention to Important Dates in the semester. It is also useful to give students a general weekly timeline for when lessons are released and activities, discussions and assessments are due.

  • Important course dates
  • Weekly schedule
      • Reading due dates
      • Lecture release dates
      • Quiz dates
      • Discussion due dates
      • Other assignment dates

Course Check-In Assignment

The course Check-In Assignment is a mandatory requirement for all distance education courses that do not have an initial on-campus orientation. If students do not complete this assignment, they must be dropped from the course.

A check-in assignment:

  • Satisfies the Add/Drop requirement that students attend the ‘first’ day of class.
  • Ensures that the students registered for the class are ‘attending’ class.
  • Provides documentable evidence of establishing regular effective contact with students from the beginning of the course.

The course Check-In Assignment is a legal necessity — it is no longer enough to have students simply log in to the LMS. This assignment is a way to make certain that students actually participate fully in class, that is, they do more than simply register for classes, log in once and then stop ‘attending’.

There is no standardized course Check-In Assignment for PCC distance education classes, which means that instructors have some flexibility in terms of the type of assignment they can develop for their courses. All assignments, however, must take place within CANVAS and must be completed no later than 24 hours after the date the course begins.

Assignment Examples

Syllabus Quiz
A graded quiz on the contents of the online course syllabus (policies, projects, etc.).
General questions/survey about the course content so that the student can get an idea of what the course will be about and instructors can get an idea of how much their students may already know about the course topics.
Community-building activities that help students feel more comfortable and connected in the classroom. These could be as simple as a self-introduction, an answer to an open-ended question posted in the discussion forum, or the popular Two Truths and a Lie Activity. Check out this online resource for more ideas about icebreakers.
Needs Analysis
A questionnaire about students’ background, basic knowledge of course content and learning preferences. This can easily be created as an ungraded quiz in CANVAS or as a series of questions that students send to you through the CANVAS Inbox.
Students can create and post a plan for their learning during the course of the semester.