Effective DE Instructor Practices

Below are 6 procedures to ensure effective and compliant online learning environments for all types of Distance Education.

Before you begin to design your Distance Education Course for the semester, follow these 6 steps to ensure Student Authentication and a meaningful and compliant education for GCC Online/Hybrid students.

1. Prior to the first day, authenticate your enrolled students

(A) Produce a Welcome Letter
In order to establish rapport with your students and to incorporate general best practices for distance education, all distance education faculty will construct a Welcome Letter and email all enrolled students via PeopleSoft and Canvas 2-5 days prior to the first class meeting and post it in the course Canvas page as a document on the day of the first class meeting.

A 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 Letter should have the following information


  • Course name, section number
  • Course dates
  • Instructor name/information
  • Contact information: phone number & email


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


  • Required textbook(s)
  • Login information/link:
    o Canvas URL
    o Login instructions
    o Canvas support link
  • Getting started/orientation links/course Check-In Assignment
  • Attendance and drop policies
  • Syllabus link


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


  • Canvas Inbox location
  • Where to post questions
  • Course Communication Format - Course related communication between instructors and students must originate from within the LMS. This is so that GCC can provide documentable evidence of regular effective contact and student participation in learning activities.

(B) Create a Course Check-In Assignment

The course Check-In Assignment is a mandatory requirement for all distance education courses that actively engages them in the course. Alerting students of the Check-In Assignment in the Welcome Letter is vital for your students to understand the technical requirements of the course. If students do not complete the course check-in assignment within the time determined by CoDE and the Academic Senate, then they will be dropped from the class.

There is no standardized course Check-In Assignment for GCC distance education classes, which means that instructors have some flexibility in terms of the type of assignment they can develop for their courses.

A Course 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.

Recommendations for Check-In Assignments

SYLLABUS QUIZ: A graded quiz on the contents of the online course syllabus (policies, projects, etc.).

SELF-ASSESSMENT: 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.

ICEBREAKERS: 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, etc.

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.

GOAL-SETTING: Students can create and post a plan for their learning during the course of the semester.

2. Design, Design, Design!

When you design your course, keep the following suggestions in mind:

Initiated Interactions

  • Include substance for all types of interaction in the course design.
  • Utilize appropriate media for accessibility.
  • Design daily or weekly assignments and projects that promote collaboration among students.
  • Model course netiquette at the beginning of the semester with instructor-guided introductions. Netiquette – A term derived from ‘network’ and ‘etiquette’ which refers to the appropriate manners and protocol for communication in online interactions.
  • Pose questions in the discussion boards which encourage various types of interaction and critical thinking skills among all course participants.
  • Monitor content activity to ensure that students participate fully and discussions remain on topic.
  • Create a specific forum for questions regarding course assignments.
  • Ask students for feedback about the course on a regular basis and revise content as needed.

Frequency & Timeliness of Interactions

  • Establish guidelines for frequency of contact that are the same as in the face-to-face classroom.
  • Make known response time for student questions/inquiries and assignment feedback (e.g. 1-2 business days).
  • Maintain an active daily presence, particularly during the beginning weeks of a course.
  • Give frequent and substantive feedback throughout the course.
    Expectations for Interactions
  • Specify course policy regarding frequency and timeliness of all contact initiated by the instructor in the syllabus.
  • Explain course policy regarding student-initiated contact (where to post questions, assignments, etc.) in the syllabus.
  • Outline and explain netiquette in initial course documents.
  • Clarify important dates, such as assignment and assessment deadlines not only in the beginning but also throughout the course.

Absences from Interactions

  • Inform students immediately of course designee should an illness, family emergency or other unexpected event prevent continuing regular effective contact for a prolonged period of time.
  • Let students know when instructor-initiated regular effective contact will continue.

3. During the semester, initiate Effective Regular Authentic Contact (ERAC)

Instructors need to make certain that there are measures for instructor-initiated effective regular authentic contact incorporated into online and hybrid course design and delivery. Effective regular authentic contact means that instructors must keep in contact with students on a consistent and timely basis to both ensure the quality of instruction and verify their performance and participation status. Lack of activity in the course such as in the LMS or third-party websites indicates a lack of regular effective contact.

Establishing and maintaining effective regular authentic contact is an important aspect of delivering an online and hybrid course. It is not only a Title 5 requirement, but is also a practice that encourages and facilitates student-centered instruction and increases student learning outcomes. Therefore Distance Education courses cannot be offered in a self-paced format.

What does this mean for distance education?

Interaction in the distance education classroom must take place in four ways every week: 1. Instructor-Student 2. Student-Student 3. Student-Content 4. Student-Interface.

The following are examples of how to implement weekly interaction in the distance education classroom:

Instructor-Student Examples:

  • Personalized feedback
  • Interactions in discussion boards
  • Chat/IM
  • Synchronous Sessions / Videoconferencing
  • Flipped Classroom Instruction

Student-Student Examples:

  • Messaging via the LMS
  • Discussion boards
  • Chat/IM
  • Synchronous/Asynchronous Document Editing
  • Collaborative projects: group blogs, wikis

Student-Content Examples:

  • Modules on the LMS
  • Lectures (recorded/streaming)
  • Podcasts/webinars/screencasts
  • Videoconferencing/CCCConfer
  • Discussion boards

Student-Interface Examples (within Canvas):

  • Computer hardware
  • Internet browsers
  • Software applications
  • Modules on the LMS
  • Discussion boards

4. Understand GCC's Attendance and Participation Policy

All distance education courses currently follow the GCC Attendance and Participation Policy

GCC’s Policy Guidelines:

  • Students are expected to attend all class meetings. There are no authorized absences from class and irregular attendance may result in exclusion from classes.
  • It is the student’s responsibility to register properly for classes. A student who fails to enroll officially in a class will not be given credit for that class.
  • Students also have the responsibility of officially withdrawing from college or dropping from class when they stop attending, and of observing established deadlines. Otherwise, “F’’ grades may be assigned.
  • It is the responsibility of each student to know the attendance and absence policy of each class in which he or she is enrolled. It is the responsibility of each instructor to inform his or her class of the attendance and absence policies at the beginning of each semester.
  • Students shall be dropped from class for failure to attend the first class meeting during the first week of instruction if they have not made prior arrangements with the instructor.

Students also may be dropped for continuous or cumulative absences for the number of hours a sixteen-week class is scheduled to meet in a two-week period.

What does this mean 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. Therefore, it is important that online and hybrid instructors should be very clear in their syllabus about what constitutes participation and late work.

5. Understand "Last Day of Attendance" (LDA) and GCC's Drop Policy

In order to maintain a compliant DE environment, DE instructors must understand Federal and GCC's Drop Policies.

Federal Policy Guidelines

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 does this mean 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.

GCC’s Drop Policy Guidelines

Once enrolled in courses, students are not considered dropped or withdrawn unless:

  • They dropped the course Online via MyGCC, OR they dropped the course with an Add/Drop form in person at the Admissions & Records office.
    A grade of “W” will not be made on the permanent academic record of a student who drops or is dropped from the course or from college:
  • During the first two weeks of a semester-length course;
  • During the first week of a course which is at least five weeks in length and less than a semester in length; or
  • During the first 20% of a course which is less than five weeks in length

What does this mean 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 within 2 days of the course start date.

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 2 days prior to the course start date as well as in the online course syllabus.

6. Get to know your GCC DE Faculty Development Coordinator:

Julie Gamberg

Instructor Julie Gamberg
DE Faculty Dev. Coordinator
(818) 240-1000 x5345
Faculty Innovation Center (SV)
24/7 Canvas Help: (844)-600-4951

DE Certification + Recertification + Course Design + Pedagogy + Workshops