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Orientation: Getting Started With Online Learning

What Do I Need to Know About Technology?

NOVA Online courses rely on the use of email to facilitate the communications among instructors and students. You have been assigned a Virginia Community College System (VCCS) email account and are required to use it for any course-related email communications so your privacy can be ensured as required by law.

To find out your VCCS email account, go to

NOVA Online's courses are offered via Canvas. Canvas is a course management system that helps your faculty structure online courses for you.

In order for you to log on to your online course offered via Canvas, you need to have a myNOVA user id and password.

You need to have the following required technology for your Online Courses:

  • Reliable access to VCCS email.
  • Reliable high speed access to the Internet (with a current browser).
  • A webcam for proctored exams.
  • MS Office software - NOVA provides access to a free subscription-based Microsoft Office 365 for active students. For further information see - Student Software then scroll down to Other Software.
  • Access to additional software such as Adobe Reader, RealPlayer or Windows Media Player, etc.
  • Computer and web browser that are compatible with Canvas products. The Computer & Systems Resource webpage will check and verify that the key web browser components are installed, configured correctly and up-to-date on your computer.

Computer Skills are critical to your success. You should know how to:

  • create a new folder
  • save a file
  • cut, copy and paste
  • find a lost file on your hard drive
  • download a file
  • send and receive email (with and without an attachment)
  • participate in a class discussion forum
  • post materials and submit assignments in Canvas
  • use an Internet browser to search for information on the Web
  • set bookmarks for Web pages
  • save an image from the Web and create a new folder for it
  • view audio and video files

If you have a question, you can call the NOVA Online Hotline for assistance at 703-323-3347 or 1-888-4DL-NVCC.

Asynchronous - communication in which interaction between parties does not take place simultaneously. Asynchronous learning is usually referred to as learning anytime, anyplace.

Bandwidth - information-carrying capacity of a communication channel.

Browser - software that allows one to display pages from the World Wide Web.

Computer Conferencing - a form of distance learning where faculty and students create and respond to questions, messages, or articles; sometimes a "threaded," or connected discussion takes place.

Course Management System - a software program, such as Canvas, that contains the features necessary for a student to take a Web-based or web-enhanced class - email, discussion areas, assignment area, assessments, chat, and external links.

Discussion Forum - a place on the Internet which revolves around a common theme, such as the Beltway Sniper, and to which users are drawn because of their common interest; an assembly of documents or notes about a given topic on the Internet.

Face-to-Face - term used to describe the traditional classroom environment.

Home Page - a document with an address (URL) on the world wide web maintained by a person or organization which contains pointers to other pieces of information.

Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML) - code used to create a home page and used to access documents over the WWW.

Listserv - an e-mail program that allows multiple computer users to connect onto a single system, creating an on-line discussion.

Netiquette - people navigating in a virtual environment must follow proper protocols and have good online "manners" generally known as netiquette, or etiquette on the Net.

ISP - Internet service provider, a service needed by users who are going to access the Internet from home or work unless they are connected directly to the Internet through a local area network (LAN). Examples are AOL, Erol's.

Server - a computer with a special service function on a network, generally receiving and connecting incoming information traffic.

Synchronous - communication in which interaction between participants is simultaneous.

Virtual Classroom - an online discussion forum where most of the conversations relating to the coursework take place (either synchronously or asynchronously).

"Netiquette" is an abbreviation for "Internet etiquette"--simply, basic rules of the road for the "Information Superhighway." Online learning involves much communication using email, bulletin boards, chats and other methods.

  • Anonymity - While anonymity is often, and justifiably, desired in many Internet communications, maintaining your identity is essential in an online course. If at any time you have concerns about your privacy in an online course, please let your instructor know. Make sure you include your name on all your emails as some messaging systems will not include this and many email addresses do not indicate the name of the sender.
  • Brevity - Very few people want to read long messages. Other than for special situations, try to keep most of your communications brief and to the point. Others will thank you, and you'll be equally grateful to everyone else.
  • Communication - Use the Subject Line. Make your entry in the Subject Line concise and informative. Focus on one subject per message and always include a pertinent subject title for the message; that way the user can locate the message quickly. Include your name at the bottom of email messages. Be careful when using sarcasm and humor. Without face to face communications, your joke may be viewed as criticism.
  • Emoticons - Emoticons are simple sideways faces, also known as smileys. Here are a few examples:
    :) happy face
    :( unhappy face
    ;) wink
  • Inappropriate material - Suggestive or pornographic content or links do not belong in online courses, nor does anything promoting hatred or discrimination.
  • Large files - Avoid sending unnecessarily large files and attachments. Many of those cute screen savers and computer games circulated via email place a heavy load on email systems and create large downloads, particularly for those who are on slower modems or using older computers. They often may also carry malicious content such as viruses.
  • Privacy - It is simple to forward a message you have received from someone else. However, unless it is clear you have their permission to do so, check first. This is particularly important when you post a private message sent to you from someone else to a public bulletin board or email list.
  • Readability - Try to format your messages with lots of breaks and headings. One long paragraph that fills some else's full screen with no breaks will very likely not be read. Watch for errors: a careful read as well as a spell-check will solve most problems--lots of mistakes are extremely annoying.
  • Shouting - What is shouting? THIS IS: TYPING A MESSAGE IN CAPITAL LETTERS IS TYPICALLY UNDERSTOOD AS THE EQUIVALENT OF SHOUTING AT SOMEONE. It is perceived as rude and will usually result in a request by others to "Stop yelling" or worse, a "flame"--a flurry of angry responses that will bombard your email inbox.

Take this post-test to see how much you know about technology for online courses.

1. Which of the following statements about the VCCS email system is true?

2. In order to communicate with your instructor and other students in an online course, you need to use your

3. In order to be successful in an online course, you should have which basic computer skills?

4. You've discovered that an email containing confidential information that you sent to another student has appeared on a public bulletin board. What basic rule of "netiquette" has been violated?

Important Dates

Be sure to review the Important Dates each semester to prevent possible automatic withdrawal from your class.

View Important Dates