Instruction and learning during a Potential COVID-19 Campus Closing

The City College campus has resources that can be used in the event of a campus closing to continue instruction and learning. Remember that a course instructor who has reason to move a class from in-person to online instruction must receive permission from his or her chair, and chairs should coordinate these requests with deans. 

Course instructors should take some time now to decide which of the following technologies best fit the needs of your class, and test everyone’s ability to log on and use the system. Keep track of students who have no way of connecting from home or another safe space, bearing in mind that most of these work with smartphones as well as with computers. 

Below, you’ll find some of the tools we have for you to use along with instructional links on how to use them. Specific resources for students are located near the end of this document.

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous?

There are two options for instructors to facilitate class sessions remotely:

Synchronous: instructors and students gather at the same time and interact in “real-time” with a very short or “near-real-time” exchange between instructors and students.

Asynchronous: instructors prepare course materials for students in advance of students’ access. Students may access the course materials at a time of their choosing and will interact with each over a longer period of time.

Instructors may choose to engage their students synchronously or asynchronously depending on the course content or material that needs to be taught. There are many advantages and disadvantages to asynchronous and synchronous teaching options.

Advantages of Synchronous Teaching

Immediate personal engagement between students and instructors, which may create greater feelings of community and lessen feelings of isolation

More responsive exchanges between students and instructors, which may prevent miscommunication or misunderstanding

Disadvantages of Synchronous Teaching

More challenging to schedule shared times for all students and instructors

Some students may face technical challenges or difficulties if they do not have fast or powerful Wi-Fi networks accessible

Advantages of Asynchronous Teaching

Higher levels of temporal flexibility, which may simultaneously make the learning experiences more accessible to different students and also make an archive of past materials accessible. 

Increased cognitive engagement since students will have more time to engage with and explore the course material.

Disadvantages of Asynchronous Teaching

Students may feel less personally exchanged and less satisfied without the social interaction between their peers and instructors.

Course material may be misunderstood or have the potential to be misconstrued without real-time interaction.


Our learning management system, Blackboard, has a feature known as Collaborate Ultra. It is a powerful web conferencing tool that enables instructors and students alike to have “in class” experiences (Synchronous) from anywhere with a computer and internet connection. With Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, you can share live video from your web camera, PowerPoint presentations, use a whiteboard, and even record your online session for future reference.

You can access Collaborate Ultra from any course on Blackboard, and it does not require a license or accessory in order to function – if you teach a course or are an enrolled student, you are ready to use Blackboard Collaborate Ultra!

This is the Link for the Blackboard User Guides for information on how to use many of Blackboard’s features:

For specific information on how to use the Collaborate Ultra tool, follow this link

Again, it is important that you test this feature before you actually need to use it. Set up a trial with your students so that they become familiar with the use of Collaborate as well. Additionally, we have found that this product works best with the Firefox or Chrome browsers, so please let your students know. Students can also use the Blackboard app on their tablets or phones (IOS and Android).

Blackboard Assignments and Tests

There are two modules available in Blackboard for online submission of work: Assignments and Tests & Quizzes. Assignments are the easiest option to implement (see instructions here:…). Students submitting a Blackboard assignment either create their own document or write answers using a web form and it submit the assignment within the Blackboard site.

You can use the Blackboard Grade Book functionality to grade these assignments and send comments on them directly to the students. SafeAssign and Turnitin are options that you can use to check for plagiarism.

Tests and Quizzes are a separate functionality and allow for some limited automation of grading if you are using multiple choice/true-false/simple calculation formats. When writing a test or quiz on Blackboard, you first write the questions and then you add the questions to the test you are developing. Make sure to check the point totals for the questions and to test the test yourself prior to going live to verify that it is working.

A decent guide to running a test through Blackboard is available here:

Tips to avoid cheating:

  1. Set up a timer to limit exam time
  2. Turn on “Auto-submit”
  3. Set up “display time” so that all students will take the exam at the same time.
  4. Set up a password for each exam
  5. Select show question to students “One at a Time” – present one question at a time
  6. Prohibit Backtracking – prevent changing the answer to a question that has already been submitted
  7. Randomize Questions – randomize questions for each test attempt

After submission- select “correct”, “submitted” and “show incorrect questions' '. This is usually what is done for students to self-review their answers after submission and getting their grades. However, some students take screenshots of the answers. You could tell students that all online testing questions won’t be reused in other exams, and will be changed for the next semester.

Makeup exam questions need to be different from the original ones.

Notes: Sometimes the Blackboard App on smartphones and tablets don’t work well for taking exams, especially as it won’t show answers after submission. A laptop or desktop is a preferred choice.

An additional way to monitor for cheating is to have students take the test when they are in the Blackboard Collaborate session. You can achieve this functionality by giving the test a password and then requiring the students to log in to the Collaborate session to receive the password while making it clear that they must have their webcam engaged.

Note that it is very difficult to prevent students from using internet resources during an examination. One option is to explicitly allow students to use the internet (the open book exam model) while they take the exam. In these instances, a strict time limit is preferred. It is advisable to do some Google searches of the questions in your exam to see whether it is straightforward for students to copy/paste the correct answer (for essay questions) or quickly find the same multiple-choice question solved.

If you include any images in content you are creating for your students, please be sure to provide alternate text (now a standard option when you insert images in all word processors) for those who use screen readers.

Conferencing Applications

We also offer alternative conferencing software – BlueJeans and Zoom. We have limited licenses for these products and if you need to use one of these applications, please reach out to Academic Technology Services at to request assistance. Please know that Blackboard is our preferred tool as we have unlimited licenses for this product.

Presentations (PowerPoint, Prezi)

If you do not require the interaction that Collaborate offers, there are additional tools that can be used in a more simplistic manner (Asynchronous). With PowerPoint 2016 or higher (available through your O365 account), you can record your lecture on top of PowerPoint slides. You can record material over any of the slides in your PowerPoint deck, giving information that you might typically provide in a live lecture. The presentation can then be saved and shared on Blackboard, OneDrive or Dropbox. We recommend using Dropbox to store the files and posting the link on Blackboard.

Use the following link to learn how to use this feature - Please test the option out before relying on it in case of a campus closure. Set up a trial with your students to ensure they are able to play your lecture.

Academic Commons

The Academic Commons of The City University of New York is designed to support faculty initiatives and build community through the use(s) of technology in teaching and learning. It provides for the free exchange of knowledge among colleagues across the university is central to better educating the student body and expanding professional development opportunities for faculty research and teaching. Creating networks and support systems that are enabled by easy access to quality digital resources will nurture faculty development through sharing replicable materials and best practices.

The Academic Commons could be used as a teaching and learning tool between faculty and the students. The following Videos will give you a tour and show you how to set up a learning community and use Academic Commons. 

If you plan to use the Academic Commons, please make sure your students have set up an account and can access your blog.

Digital Content

CCNY Libraries has electronic resources available through our web site:

CCNY Libraries licensed digital collections offer a wide array of material types that could be incorporated into courses. These include articles, books, videos, image collections, newspapers, historical archives, music, and journals and magazines dating back to the 18th century.

To browse databases by subject use the All Subjects dropdown tab.

Open Educational Resources (OER), which are freely available text and course materials, are listed by broad general discipline areas here: These can substitute for physical books.

Handling Administrative Tasks

Remote Access to Systems - The “LOGIN” menu on the College’s home page can be clicked on to provide up-to-date links to access all our major systems, such as Blackboard, E-mail, Password Reset, etc. Using these links ensures that the address of a site is the most up-to-date.

Remote access to office desktop computers – In some cases, faculty and staff members may need a VPN account to work on their office computers from off-site. Some examples are:

  • A faculty member who needs access to large amounts of research data that must be stored on College servers for security reasons.
  • A faculty or staff member who needs access to special software that is installed only on the office computer.
  • A faculty or staff member who needs to work with confidential information, such as student grades or records, that cannot be stored on Office 365 or Dropbox.

Faculty and staff may request a VPN account using the following link Once access is granted, the user will receive an email with instructions about how to connect to campus resources using a VPN.

VPN is not necessary for faculty and staff who only need to access email, Blackboard, CUNYfirst, or want to access/share course materials and other non-private information. CUNY Dropbox and Microsoft OneDrive are a much easier way for faculty and staff to store and share documents that do not include personally-identifiable information.

Office Telephone Calls – Faculty and staff members can request to forward calls to an external telephone number. This request will have to be made to . Users can also update their voice mail greeting from off-campus to provide instructions to callers on how to best reach them by following the instructions on the voice mail web page,

Resources for Students

Follow the guidance of your instructors on how each of your courses will be handled. In all likelihood, you will have at least a couple of different ways professors will conduct their classes. You should be familiar with each potential method. 

Make sure you can access your resources remotely. These resources include Blackboard, CUNYFirst, Citymail, Office 365, Dropbox, and the CCNY website. Additionally, if you need specialized software to work on projects, make sure you have access to that software. The CUNY virtual lab provides access to several software packages. For information on the virtual lab, please go to

In addition to the software available in the virtual lab, there are other software packages available to students. The following link shows the software platforms available to you: and,

Adobe Enables Distance Learning Globally for Schools Impacted by COVID-19

Free Creative Cloud tools offered to students through May 31, 2020:

Communication is Key

If we must move to alternative instruction and use distance learning tools, communication is key to success. Please ensure that you communicate clearly the instruction methods and tools that will be employed. Assignments and how they are to be handled should be understood by your students. If tests are given during this period, realize that we do not currently have a way of proctoring or ensuring that a test is being taken without the aid of outside resources.

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