PCC is continually developing and enhancing its policies for distance education courses. Please refer back to this section of the handbook periodically for the most current information about how local policies and recommended best practices may affect online courses. 

The following sections provide a summary of PCC policies as well as suggestions about how to implement them in individual online and hybrid courses.

Attendance & Participation

All distance education courses currently follow the Pasadena Area Community College District policy for Attendance, Class Drops and Auditing courses.

Policy Guidelines

  • Students at Pasadena City College are expected to attend every session of each class in which they are enrolled.
  • Instructors may consider 3 tardies the equivalent of 1 absence.
  • Non-participants (in a class) are defined as students who have continuous or cumulative absences totaling at least 12.5 percent of the total hours the class is scheduled to meet. In a regular 16-week course, for example, a student becomes a nonparticipant when his or her cumulative absences reach the number of hours a class is scheduled to meet in a two-week period.
  • A student who stops attending but does not drop a class may receive a failing grade in that class.

What this means for Distance Education

Students in distance education courses are required to ‘attend’ class and participate just as if they were in a face-to-face course. This means that instructors need to set up guidelines for how much each lecture, reading assignment, discussion or project qualifies as a meeting during the course of a week/learning unit/course module. 

Students who do not participate in class, that is, who consistently do not complete assignments, quizzes, respond to forums or turn in other work, should be notified that they will be dropped from the class for non-participation.

Determining Participation Grades

  • Require a set number of course activities for each week. For example — a 3 unit course might require 2-3 activities each week on non-consecutive days.
  • Require a set number of discussion posts for each week. For example – a 3 unit course might require one discussion post and 2 comments to classmate’s posts for every weekly module.
      • In order to get full credit, provide examples and a rubric detailing what constitutes an adequate post or response.
  • Give weekly quizzes on course material.
  • Require timely completion of assignments.

Creating late work guidelines

  • Make certain students are clear as to where and when (day, date, time & time zone) to post their work for each assignment. For example – assignments might be emailed to the instructor directly but discussions posted in the unit/weekly discussion board.
  • Encourage students to check their grade book so that if they have submitted an assignment but it hasn’t been received, students can be aware of what they are doing wrong before it becomes a recurring problem.
  • Decide whether or not late work will be accepted. If accepted consider the following:
      • Specific final deadline for assignments.
      • Specific point value deduction for late assignments (letter grade/percentage/points).
      • Where students will post late work.
  • Be clear if late work will be accepted due to extenuating or ‘legitimate circumstances’.

The Federal government has not issued formal guidelines regarding what constitutes the “Last Day of Attendance” in the online classroom. However, because of the potential for financial aid fraud in online programs, the US Department of Education has recently determined that there should be “regular and substantive interaction between students and faculty” in online courses (Salomon and Murray).

What This Means for Distance Education

It is not enough to evaluate a student’s attendance based solely on the number and frequency of logins or through course statistics on the LMS. The new guidelines are meant to protect the institution from students who are receiving financial aid assistance but who are not participating in class. 

Although guidelines have yet to be created, instructors must drop students based on their participation in class. ‘Attendance’ (through logins) is not the same as participation. Participation means actively completing course activities in the LMS such as assignments, assessments, posting on discussion forums, etc. Participation policies must be clarified in the online syllabus.

Policy Guidelines

  • Each instructor is required to drop all students who fail to attend the first meeting of a class if they have not made prior arrangements with that instructor, and may drop students who arrive late at the first meeting of a class or who fail to attend the second meeting if they have not made prior arrangements with that instructor.
  • Each instructor is required to drop all students who become nonparticipants by the census date. In a regular 16-week class the census date is usually Monday of the third week of class. (For all other courses, see the official policy to determine the census date or contact the Registration Office.)
  • After the census date and before the final drop deadline for the class, each instructor has the option of dropping students who, in his or her judgment, become inactive in class.
  • Prior to the final drop deadline, a student may drop a class by submitting the approved form in the Registration Office, or by using the telephone or on-line registration system.

What This Means for Distance Education

The face-to-face policy of ‘attending’ the first class, particularly for students who are new to distance education may present a problem. There are often students who, either because they are unaware of the policies or overwhelmed by the technology, may login to the course but might not complete any of the assignments on the first day. 

It is therefore important for online and hybrid instructors to create a coherent and well-defined course drop policy and to articulate this in the initial email and welcome letter sent to the students prior to the course start date as well as in the online course syllabus.

The College’s drop policy is quite clear for face-to-face instruction, but less so for online and hybrid courses. Because of this, it is important to clarify what constitutes the ‘first day of class’.

Establishing a Drop Policy

  • Create a course Check-In Assignment, such as a discussion forum, an introductory email students send to the class, or a self-assessment. Simply having the student login for the first day of class is not enough. New Federal guidelines on How to Avoid Scholarship and Financial Aid Scams state that student logins no longer count as participation.
  • State the last day for Check-In to occur. For example – the second or third day after the course begins.
  • Require students to complete ALL assignments in the first learning unit by the due date.
  • Be specific as to the exact day, date and time of your drop deadline. Include time zone information (eg. PST/EST) so that there is minimal confusion for students.

If a student has not checked-in, it is best to send an email before the drop deadline to inform them that they are in danger of being dropped if they do not respond by the deadline.

As with face-to-face classes, after a student is dropped through the PCC system, changes will automatically appear in the LMS. Updates occur about every 2 hours during the times that the MIS system is open.

Policy Guidelines

  • Students may add classes with an approval signature from the instructor. The instructor’s signature indicates that there is room in the class and the student has a reasonable chance of catching up.
  • Students will not be allowed to add a full-term class after the second week of the term.
  • The new unpaid wait list process will take affect Spring 2011. Students on a registration wait list are not required to pay for the class until they are added by the instructor.

What This Means for Distance Education

Students will have to go through the same procedure to add distance education courses as they would for face-to-face instruction. The unpaid waitlist policy simply means that students do not have to pay for their units until they are officially enrolled in the course. 

Inform students in the order that they appear on the waitlist by email that they can add the course if there is still space available. Make certain that the email states a day, date, and time (include time zone) they must add the course by.

As with face-to-face classes, all student are put on an unpaid waitlist.

Before The First Day of Class

The system automatically provides students with the add code sent to them directly by email. After a student receives their add code, they have 24 hours to register for the course. Students from the unpaid waitlist are added in chronological order so as to be fair and equitable to all students.

On The First Day of Class

Rosters are loaded with the add codes included. Instructors can then provide students on the waitlist with the add code. The students have 24 hours to add the class, at which point, if they do not, the next student on the waitlist may be contacted. Students from the unpaid waitlist are added in chronological order so as to be fair and equitable to all students. This procedure also holds for courses that start after the first day of the term. Add codes will not be released to the instructor until the first day of the course.

Once the student adds themselves through the PCC registration system, changes will appear in the LMS. Updates occur about every 2 hours during the times that the MIS system is open. It is important to remind students that they will not be able to login to CANVAS until they are loaded into the system and that this process may take up to 24 hours.

Grading Policy

All distance education courses follow the Pasadena Area Community College District Policy for Standards of Scholarship.


On The First Day of Class

  • It is the policy of the Pasadena Area Community College District that appropriate evaluation of each student’s academic performance is an integral part of the student’s learning experience at Pasadena City College. In the absence of mistake, fraud, bad faith or incompetency, the faculty instructor (tenured, non-tenured, or adjunct) is the final authority on the assignment of grades. Procedures for grading, awarding credit, including credit by examination, and appealing decisions shall be understandable, fair, and consistent with State laws and regulations.
  • Courses shall be graded using the grading system established by Title 5 regulations.

What This Means for Distance Education

As with face-to-face courses, grades in online and hybrid courses are an indicator of student achievement and learning. Because the nature of instructor-student contact is different in the distance education environment, course grades and progress reports become an ever greater part of the learning process. 

Evaluative feedback from the instructor allows students to be aware of their progress in the course and directs them toward fulfilling learning outcomes.

In addition, state and regional accreditation guidelines for regular effective contact require that instructors in distance education courses apply the same course quality standards to their online and hybrid courses as they do to their face-to-face classes:

…portions of courses delivered through electronic means (need to) adhere to the same principles of academic quality and integrity (Distance Learning Manual 11).”

This means that students should receive the same type, amount and frequency of feedback from assignments and tests as they would were they taking a course on-campus.

CANVAS has many tools that streamline the online grading process for instructors and help notify the instructor of students who many need additional support in the course.


An all-in-one grading system, SpeedGrader allows instructors to see when assignments were submitted as well as grade assignments within a special browser. This browser has one frame for the assignment itself (converting it, regardless of format) and then another frame which allows instructors to give written, audio or video feedback to the student. Rubrics can also be linked to assignments in SpeedGrader. The SpeedGrader app can be downloaded from iTunes for your iPhone/iPad and for for use on-the-go.


The Gradebook lets instructors view grades for all the CANVAS classes they are teaching, notify students of their grades in a variety of formats, and inform instructors of student performance — particularly those students who may need additional help. The Gradebook also allows instructors to create custom grading and weighting scales, compare data across course sections and download grades for offline use.


CANVAS has an interactive Rubric tool where instructors can create and use course rubrics directly within the SpeedGrader.

Course Statistics

In the Settings section of the Course Menu, instructors can view overall course statistics such as page views, log-ins and assignment submission data. 

Student Interactions Report

In the Grades tool the Student Interactions Report shows instructors current, final and ungraded assignments.

All instructors using CANVAS are required to submit their grades by college deadlines and in accordance with current PCC protocol. It is a best practice in distance education for instructors to archive their grades and grade documentation for each online and hybrid course section from the LMS site. For this reason, all Gradebooks in CANVAS must be downloaded and archived.

Academic Honesty and Authentication

Academic honesty and student authentication (verification of a student’s identity) in distance education often go hand in hand. Because of the lack of face-to-face classroom time, it can be difficult for instructors to know if the student enrolled in the class is the actual person who is logging in and turning in their own work. The following sections provide information about PCC’s policies on academic honesty and some suggestions for ensuring academic integrity and authentication in the online environment.

All distance education courses currently follow the Pasadena Area Community College District policy for Student Conduct and Academic Honesty.

Policy Guidelines

Conduct prohibited by the College:

1. Dishonesty, such as cheating, plagiarism, fabrication, or knowingly furnishing false information to the College or its officials; intentionally or knowingly helping or attempting to help another commit an act of dishonesty.

2. Unauthorized use of computers and telecommunication resources, including but not limited to:

  • Unauthorized entry into a file to use, read, or change the contents, or for any other purpose;
  • Unauthorized transfer of a file;
  • Unauthorized use of another individual’s identification and password;
  • Use of computing facilities to interfere with the work of another student, faculty member or College official;
  • Use of computing and telecommunications resources to send obscene or abusive messages.

What This Means for Distance Education

The guidelines for academic honesty in face-to-face courses also apply to students in online and hybrid courses. Plagiarism, disruptive behavior (such as improper discussion posts or poor netiquette) and taking an exam for someone else are all violations of student conduct guidelines. 

There is little evidence to suggest that online and hybrid students are more likely to cheat. In fact, the few studies that have researched this issue found that online students were less likely to engage in academic dishonesty than those in face-to-face classes. In part this may be because of the nature of the distance education environment where, because of regular effective contact guidelines, instructors often have more interactions with individual students.

Students who are able to learn at their own speed and who are provided with many different forms of alternative assessments may also be less likely to ‘panic cheat’, that is, impulsively cheat during an exam (Stuber-McEwen, Wiseley & Hoggat).

Perhaps the biggest challenge in the distance education environment is student authentication. Using PCC’s LMS secure login system and incorporating best practices for regular effective contact — such as getting to know students and their writing styles — are effective means to help to ensure that students registered for the course are truly the ones contributing to it. For instructors teaching hybrid courses with proctored exams on campus, this may be less of an issue than for those who are teaching fully online courses for high stakes exams.

Creating Guidelines for Academic Honesty

  • Clearly explain what constitutes cheating, plagiarism and proper netiquette.
  • Establish classroom guidelines in your online syllabus for the types of behavior that are appropriate and inappropriate.
  • Provide students with standards for groupwork and how those differ from unauthorized collaboration on class projects.
  • Let students know what the consequences will be for academic dishonest behavior.

Preventing Plagiarism

  • Raise students’ awareness by designing rules for academic honesty and classroom behavior as part of an initial class activity.
  • Provide external resources on how to avoid plagiarism (for example, Purdue OWL’s page on plagiarism).
  • Give students examples and/or provide activities describing how to properly cite sources and how to paraphrase properly.
  • Ask students to provide their source material as part of each formal writing assignment.
  • Create a range of authentic assessments in the course design that measure critical thinking skills and knowledge integration instead of relying solely on objective tests.
  • Use test banks which randomize questions and answers on objective tests.