Stay the Course!

Effective March 23, 2020, UMS universities will transition all in-class academic instruction to online or other pedagogically appropriate distance modalities that do not require in-class presence for the remainder of the Spring semester. This page is developed by USM’s Center for Technology Enhanced Learning and provides ideas and resources to help prepare. Feel free to contact with any questions about this page. Also, if you have not done so yet, take this short survey before March 15 and attend a virtual training session.

Important Student Considerations

Before you make decisions about course schedule, activities, homework, exams and tech tools for your temporarily online courses, begin with the following student considerations.

Proactively check with your students

Proactively check with your students about their needs and schedules, and add a degree of flexibility to course schedules and deadlines. A university closure may coincide with widespread closures of businesses and schools. Closed schools and child care centers – or sick family members – can make your adult students daytime caregivers and make it challenging for them to accomplish course work. 

Communicate with all your students in advance

Communicate with all your students in advance and create a contingency plan. Recommend printing out non-textbook materials and downloading media onto their smartphones or tablets before a closure. Consider using a mobile-friendly technology to teach your course. Be available to them over email and Zoom.

Your students may be sick and in quarantine at home. This may or may not affect their progress if their illness is mild and they use a home computer. However, if they typically depend on computer access away from home (such as their workplace, a university lab or the public library), then they will not be able to participate in your course.

Use online technologies that the help desk can support

If your students do not have any experience with online courses (or some unfortunate experience with online courses!), then they may find the transition overwhelming.

Our recommendation is to use online technologies that the help desk can support, such as Zoom, Blackboard, and GSuite. This will make sure that we can answer student questions. As an added bonus, these technologies are FERPA compliant, a critical consideration in any case, but even more so when accidentally disseminating sensitive student information is a real possibility. Even though you may be comfortable with other platforms (social media, skype, etc.), your students may need to learn them and their privacy will be subject to these companies’ terms.

And finally, remember that you can always provide extra support to your students via phone (or Google Voice) and virtual office hours in Zoom.

Selecting the Right Technologies

Below are some of the common methods of face-to-face instruction and assessments, and the appropriate system supported tools that can help you stay the course. NOTE: All things being equal, we strongly recommend choosing the tool that you are familiar – and ideally comfortable – with. Your confidence can make a world of difference to your students. The Resource section directs you to basic tutorials about Zoom, Blackboard, and GSuite.

Course Materials & Activities

ActivityToolTech NotesDesign Notes
Live lecture and class discussion, including small (collaborative) group work. Zoom; Google DriveYou can record each class meeting to the cloud. 

Google Docs, Spreadsheets and Slides can serve as workspaces both during and after each session.
Recordings and Google Docs can serve as a proxy if students cannot attend live for the reasons listed above.
Live lecture with a demonstration or annotation Zoom; Open Educational Resources (OER)Zoom: You can annotate a shared whiteboard, image or slides during class, or record a short lecture beforehand. 

OER: Find existing demonstrations and other material on Khan Academy, MERLOT, PhET, YouTube, etc. Consult
this library page for more.
Asking students to refer to hand-picked OERs or a short pre-recorded Zoom lecture before class can free up time that can be spent toward discussions and problem solving.
Class presentations and assistant-led (TA’s, GA’s or Learning Assistants) activities ZoomEveryone already has access to Zoom, even students. They can present live in class, record individually for an assignment or record a session with an assistant.Consider modifying assignments or changing deadlines to accommodate student access to technology and learning curves.
Pre-lab workOER; Blackboard; Google DocsSome lab demonstrations and simulations may be found online and these links can be shared with students via Blackboard’s Content area or a shared Google Doc.Blackboard can also serve as a place for asynchronous Q&A about the videos or simulations. These questions can help you pick up the thread when you can teach in the lab again. 

Pending access to a physical lab, create online assignments for students based on the online simulations.
Essay-type questions, papers, image-based assessments, etc. Blackboard; Google Drive; USM emailSend details of the assignment via USM email or Blackboard announcements. To collect submissions, set up a dropbox in Blackboard or receive them as emails or Google Docs. Blackboard’s drop box is a convenient way to keep track of all submissions and generates a confirmation for both you and your students for added peace of mind.
Tip: Set up an easy-to-distinguish naming convention for all files.
Group workZoom; Google DriveZoom: Ask students to meet online in their own meeting rooms.

Google Drive: Just like class activities, group assignments can be created in Google Drive.
Students who do not work online may find online group work challenging. Share a helpful resource like this.

Moving & Securing Your Exams & Quizzes Online

Keep in mind, none of the following solutions are going to be perfect. These are extraordinary circumstances which call for creatively leveraging the resources already at our disposal. These options will greatly minimize academic dishonesty by ensuring each students’ exam is unique.

NOTE: For multiple-choice questions, Blackboard does the grading according to the parameters you specify so you will only have to manually grade essay-type questions.

Getting Questions

Having a large pool of questions to choose from greatly increases your options for minimizing academic dishonesty. You can write these yourself, but if you are using a textbook, there is a good chance it comes with a test question pool that can be imported into Blackboard. Either check the book’s publisher website, or let CTEL know and we’ll see what we can track down for you. 

Randomized Question Selection

We can help you build an exam which pulls a random set of questions from a designated pool for each student.

Randomized Answer Order

Blackboard exams can also be set to shuffle the order of the answers to multiple choice questions.

Randomized Question Order

Even if you can’t pull together a large pool of questions, you can still set your exam to randomize the order of the questions as they appear on the exam or quiz.

Time Limits

Blackboard lets you set a time limit for exams, but you can also set exceptions for specific students who may have an accommodation through the Disability Services Office.

Respondus Lockdown Browser & Monitor

The University of Maine System has recently completed an agreement with Respondus to enable us to offer a technology solution for academic dishonesty in Online Exams. Adding Respondus Lockdown Browser to your Blackboard Exams will cause them to display in fullscreen on students’ devices, prevent them from minimizing the window, and disable their browser’s navigation, copying, and printing controls for the duration of the exam. Respondus Monitor takes exam security even further by using students’ webcams and artificial intelligence to remotely proctor the exam. It will even provide you with a report on the student’s behavior during the exam to allow you to assess if any academic dishonesty has occurred. 

Lockdown Browser and Monitor are already installed and ready to use in our instance of Blackboard. Visit the Lockdown Browser guide for instructions on using it and what you need to communicate to your students.

Alternative Exam & Quiz Options

The following options can be used in combination with the above, or as alternatives to exams to make academic dishonesty pointless, or impossible.

Lower the Stakes

Students cheat because they perceive the risk of being caught and the effort required to cheat as more tolerable than the consequences of a poor grade. Therefore, one solution is to reduce those consequences. For example, if your final exam is worth 30% of the course’s final grade, change it to 10%, and give more weight to other assignments. These lowered stakes may make the effort of cheating less desirable than simply taking the exam or quiz honestly.

Allow Them to Use Their Textbook/Notes

Students can’t cheat if “cheating” is allowed. Do this in combination with the next item for a truly challenging assessment that will help you understand how well your students understand your content.

Ask More Challenging Questions

In order for this to be an effective strategy, however, you will likely need to craft more difficult questions that can’t directly be answered from the book or notes. It can be very difficult to create multiple-choice questions with sufficient difficulty, so you may wish to switch to essay-type questions with specific scenarios.

Consider a Project or Paper Instead

If you are able to clearly define what you want students to be capable of doing as a result of taking your class, it may be possible to replace your exam with an Authentic Assessment such as a project, presentation, or even a paper that in some way allows them to demonstrate those skills.

Ask them for Personal Relevance

It’s difficult to fake something that originates from students’ own lives. Whenever possible, attach your content to your students’ lives. Ask them to demonstrate how a particular concept applies to them, and their goals.

Still not sure what to do about your Exam? Contact CTEL and we’ll help you brainstorm!

Science Labs

The University of Maine System has formed a partnership with Labster, a company which makes virtual science lab simulations. You can learn more about their products from the Labster website and browse the selection of simulations they have available. If you would like to use some of their simulations for your course for the remainder of Spring 2020, fill out this form as soon as possible. CTEL will send the information to Labster and we’ll work with you to get your selected simulations added to your Blackboard course sections.


Using the tools already offered by the university also reduces the inadvertent barriers technology may pose for students in your courses that may have physical or cognitive disabilities. Awareness is your most important tool, both in terms of being inclusive, and as an educator. The same consideration you give the materials and tools you use to teach will enhance the learning experience for ALL of your students, not just those with different physical or cognitive needs. To put it another way, being aware of and putting accessibility into practice is the essence of good teaching and inclusivity.

Even if a technology is endorsed as being “accessible” by the university, the things you create with that tool may not be. We have a full Accessible Content Guide on this site, but for the sake of urgency, please keep the core concepts below in mind as you prepare to teach online

Electronic Text is your touchstone

At minimum, provide all your content as selectable, electronic text. Avoid PDF’s. Distribute Google Docs, HTML in Blackboard or other web platform, or even MS Word files and email. This is not to say the PDF’s are not accessible, it just requires extra work and extra software to ensure that they are.

Visual information

Know the difference between electronic text and digital images of text. The latter are not accessible on their own without some additional electronic text alternative. Many programs and websites have ways of allowing you to provide this, but the most sure-fire way is to directly reference the image in the accompanying text and provide a functionally equivalent description.

Audio & Video

There are a few things to keep in mind to make audio and video accessible. Audio should be accompanied by an electronic text transcript (not in a PDF) that includes bracketed descriptions of non-spoken events, such as sound effects. Video is more complex, and what is necessary for accessibility varies depending on the content. For A simple lecture video with no on-screen diagrams or visuals, captions alone are fine.

If there is visual information shown on the screen (pictures, charts, etc) the narrator should vocally describe them thoroughly that is functionally equivalent. Once captioned, the on-screen visuals will have an auditory alternative (the narration) and an electronic text alternative (the captions created from the narration).

Getting help with digital accessibility

If you are unsure if you are providing your learning materials in an accessible manner, the university has multiple resources available. The Disability Services Office works directly between you and your students to ensure accommodation. CTEL can also help you proactively determine if your materials are accessible to students with disabilities and show you techniques to ensure that the materials you create in the future are accessible as well. While we have provided the most basic information here, we also have a full Accessible Content Guide that goes into much more detail, and approaches digital accessibility from the context of teaching.

Technology Tools


Read about G Suite. Includes Google Docs, Google Drive, etc. You can also learn about it on the UMS Learning Academy.


Set up your Zoom account, create a meeting room and direct your students to use it as participants. Read more about getting started with Zoom here.

Zoom for Lecture Recording

Zoom can also be used to create lecture videos, or your students can create presentation videos and share them. Read about using Zoom to record on this page.

Tutorial Resources

Click the following link for the FULL Frequently Asked Questions for Blackboard and other Tech mentioned on this page.

At minimum, though, we suggest reviewing the following items:

Why can’t students see my Blackboard course?
If students are reporting that they can’t see your course in Blackboard, you likely need to change its availability setting.
By default, your Blackboard course starts as “unavailable” to students. There will also be no students in the enrollment list. This allows you time to set up your course before they can access it. MaineStreet will add students to your course automatically the day after it has been made available. Try to make your course available at least one week before the start of the semester to allow enough time for the system to add your students to your course and to accommodate anxious/ambitious students who like to check in early.
View Video
Blackboard’s YouTube video, How to Make your Course Available to Students, covers these steps.
Once you’re ready to open your course for students, you’ll need to manually change its availability setting before they can access it. Here’s how:
  1. Go to the course you want to make available.
  2. Click the Customization link in the “Course Management” section of the left-hand menu to display its options. (If you don’t see the Customization link, click the Control Panel link to make sure all of its menu options are visible.)
  3. Click the Properties link. A page with your course’s properties options will be displayed; scroll down to find the “Set Availability” section.
  4. Select Yes for the option next to “Make Course Available.”
  5. Click the Submit button at the bottom-right corner of the page. Your course is now available, and students will be automatically enrolled in it from MaineStreet within 24 hours.
If students officially drop your course in MaineStreet, they’ll be automatically dropped from your Blackboard course as well. Students who have dropped your course will still appear in its Grade Center, and any work they submitted will be saved in Blackboard, but they’ll no longer have access to the course site.
Screenshot showing where a link to a course's properties is located in Blackboard
Steps 2 & 3: Navigating to your course’s properties options in Blackboard
Screenshot showing the location of a course's availability settings on its properties page
Step 4: Changing a course’s availability settings on its properties page
Why can’t I make changes to my course in Blackboard?

If editing options aren’t appearing when you’re in your Blackboard course, it’s likely that Edit Mode has been turned off.

Before you can make changes to your course, Edit Mode will need to be turned on.

  1. Click the Edit Mode button at the top-right corner of any page in your course. Options for adding content will now appear.
  2. Click the Edit Mode button again when you’re done making changes. This will allow you to see a less cluttered interface and focus on other tasks like grading, participating in discussions, etc.
Screenshot of the location of the Edit Mode button in Blackboard
Step 1: Locating the Edit Mode button in Blackboard

How do I add a file on my computer?

“Content areas” and “content folders” are effectively the same thing in Blackboard. The main difference is that content areas appear as links in your course menu and are created in the course menu’s options, but content folders do not appear in the course menu are created within a content area. Yes, it’s silly. Blame Blackboard.

  1. Navigate to the content area or content folder in which you want to add your file.
  2. Hover over the (a) Build Content menu button so that its dropdown menu opens, then select (b) Item.
  3. Enter a name for the file you’re adding in the “Name” textbox, e.g., “Course Schedule.”
  4. Enter information about the file in the “Text” textbox. If your file doesn’t have more than a page of text, copy and paste it into this textbox. Although this might seem redundant since you’re also attaching the file itself, it allows students to simply read your file’s text directly in Blackboard without having to download the file.
  5. Click the Browse My Computer button in the “Attachments” section.
  6. Select the file on your computer.
  7. Click the Submit button.
Avoid using the File option in the “Build Content” menu. It doesn’t allow you to enter a description, and your file will not be viewable on some students’ computers. The method presented here allows your file to be compatible and accessible for everyone.
Illustration of Step 2.
Step 2a & b: Options for creating a new “Item” within a content area

How do I add a discussion forum?

The discussion tool is the primary way for you and your students to interact asynchronously in a course. Every Blackboard course has a discussion board that contains a collection of forums. You and your students can post “threads” to a forum, which others can then add replies.

If you intend to use a discussion forum as a graded assignment, make sure you set a point value for it in the forum options before students start posting to it. See Step 7 for instructions.
In the following steps, we actually start by creating a LINK to a discussion forum then create the actual forum in the process.

  1. Go to a content folder in your course.
  2. Click the Tools button to open its dropdown menu.
  3. Select the Discussion Board option. The “Create Link: Discussion Board” page will open.
  4. Click the Create New Forum button. The “Create Forum” page will open.
  5. Enter a name for your forum in the “Name” text field.
  6. Enter instructions for your forum in the”Description” textbox. You may want to highlight and copy this text to the clipboard for use in Step 12 (Ctrl+C on Windows; Cmd+C on Mac).
  7. Click Grade Discussion Forum in the “Forum Settings” section if you intend to grade participation in this forum, then enter a number in the “Points Possible” textbox.
  8. Change any of the other default settings in the “Forum Settings” section if you’d like.
  9. Click the Submit button at the bottom-right side of the page. You’ll return to the “Create Link: Discussion Board” page, which will display your new discussion forum in the “Select a Discussion Board Forum” list box.
  10. Click the name of the new forum you created.
  11. Click the Next button at the bottom-right side of the page. The “Create Link: Discussion Board” page will change.
  12. Type a description in the text box labeled the same. You might want to now paste the same text you used for the forum’s description in Step 6.
  13. Click the Submit button.
Discussion Board Diagram
All Blackboard courses have a discussion board that contains Forums. Forums are composed of user-posted threads to which other users can reply.
Creating a Discussion Forum
Steps 2 & 3: Creating a discussion forum
Screenshot showing the location of the Create New Forum button
Step 4: Locating the Create New Forum button
Screenshot showing options for creating a link to a new discussion forum
Steps 10 & 11: Creating a link to your new discussion forum

How do I add an assignment?

Blackboard’s assignments tool allows you to create a digital folder in your course into which students can submit their work. When you create an assignment, a column is automatically added to Grade Center for it for you.

Creating a Basic Assignment

  1. Go to a content folder within your course.
  2. Click the Assessments button to open its dropdown menu.
  3. Select the Assignment option. The “Create Assignment” page will open.
  4. Enter a name for your assignment in the “Name and Color” textbox.
  5. Enter information for the assignment in the “Instructions” textbox.
  6. Enter a number in the “Points Possible” field in the “Grading” section. This is required. If you’re unsure about what number to enter, use “100.”
  7. Set any advanced assignment options, which are below the “Grading” section. These options are outlined in the set of instructions below.
  8. Click the Submit button.
Adding an Assignment to a Content Folder
Steps 2 & 3: Adding an assignment to a content folder
Screenshot showing the location of steps 6 and 7
Steps 6 & 7: Specifying a points value for your assignment and locating advanced settings

Selecting Advanced Options for Assignments

  1. Attach any external files your students will need to complete the assignment under “Assignment Files.”
  2. Set a due date in the “Due Dates” section.
  3. Click Submission Details to set the following options:
    • If you are using groups, you can make this a group assignment under “Assignment Type.”
    • If you want to allow students to submit an assignment more than once, enter a number in the “Number of Attempts” textbox. (Great for allowing students to practice difficult concepts with minimal penalty for being wrong!)
    • If you want to turn on plagiarism detection, select SafeAssign under “Plagiarism Tools.” (Read more about SafeAssign.)
  4. Click Grading Options to set the following options:
    • Anonymous Grading hides the names of your students while you grade to avoid implicit bias.
    • Delegated Grading can be used if you are co-teaching or have a teaching assistant to give them responsibility over grading this assignment.
Advanced Assignment Options
Steps 1-4: Selecting advanced options for an assignment

How do I create an announcement?

Announcements are an ideal tool for communicating time-sensitive material to students, such as reminders about upcoming due dates or changes to your syllabus. They appear in the Announcements section of your course menu and can be optionally emailed to all of your students.

View Video
Blackboard’s YouTube video, How to Create Announcements in your Course, covers these steps.

  1. Click Announcements in the course menu (if it isn’t already set to be the first page that opens in your course).
  2. Click the Create Announcement button. A page with settings for your new announcement will open.
  3. Type a title for your announcement in the Subject textbox.
  4. Type the body of your announcement in the Message textbox.
  5. Select whether the announcement is date restricted, i.e., it’s only viewable after and/or until a specific date. If it is, click Date Restricted, then enter dates in the textboxes that appear.
  6. Select the Send a copy of this announcement immediately next to the Email Announcement option if you want students to receive a copy of your announcement via email.
  7. Click the Browse button if you want to create a link to an area in your course.
  8. Click the Submit button on the bottom-right corner of the page.
If your course does not have an Announcements link in its course menu, please see Blackboard’s How to Add a Tool Link to your Course video for a step-by-step demonstration on adding one.

Where can I find grades in Blackboard?

A Grade Center link appears in the left-hand menu in your Blackboard course under the Course Management heading.

When you click Grade Center in the course menu, a few different options appear:

  • Needs Grading displays all outstanding items, i.e., assignments, discussions, manually graded quizzes, etc. that students have submitted but you haven’t graded yet.
  •  Full Grade Center shows every grade item’s column in your Grade Center and gives you access to all of its settings.
  • Assignments and Tests show only these two types of grade items.