Online Learning Tools

Use these guides and tools to make the most of online courses.

Online courses present unique challenges. Without the regular, in-person meetings of classroom learning, students have fewer opportunities to connect with classmates and professors. Online courses require students to exercise more discipline in setting their own schedule, to take more proactive steps to engage with the course material, and to actively seek out opportunities to work directly with classmates and professors.

The following guides and tools can help you adjust to an online learning environment so that you can get the most out of your online courses.

Online Learning Basics

  1. Create a Workspace: Designating a specific area of your home as your workspace will help you focus during lectures, study group sessions, and while doing homework. It's important that you separate the workspace from other spaces in your home. If you don't have room for a physically separate space (like a dedicated desk or a home office) use consistent routines to create the separation. For example: if you work at your kitchen table, create a routine where you set up all of your supplies every morning and then put everything away at night. The process of setting up and then taking apart your workspace each day can help you transition between "work mode" and "rest mode". Note that your bed should never serve as your workspace because this can interfere with healthy sleep.
  2. Manage Your Time: Without the routine of attending class in the same room on the same day at the same time each week, you will have to be even more proactive than usual with your time management for online courses. This is especially true for situations where the professor does not require the class to meet virtually on a set schedule (for example, using pre-recorded lectures that students watch on their own time). At the beginning of the semester experiment with the day of the week, time of day, and duration of time that you set aside for each online course. This will help you discover what schedule actually works best for you. Once you find out what is most effective for you, lock that schedule into your planner or calendar and stick to it as if you were attending the course in person.
  3. Use All Of the Available Resources: CSN makes so many resources available to students that it can be overwhelming at times. You may not even know what you have access to, even if you've been a CSN student for a long time. Make sure that you are fully supported in your education by taking the time to get familiar with the many resources available to you. Begin with those things your professors provide: course syllabi, study guides, and resource lists. Review all of the resources provided on this webpage. CSN has also assembled a detailed list of resources that includes general and covid-specific resources provided by the college, local government, and the community.
  4. Familiarize Yourself With the Technology: If your online course requires you to use technology that is new to you, it can be extremely difficult to get comfortable enough to actually focus on the coursework. CSN has assembled step-by-step guides for the most commonly used programs at our institution, including Canvas and Microsoft Teams. Read further on this webpage for additional technology guides.

Navigating an online class can be a challenge, especially if you’re feeling unsure of how to communicate with your professors successfully in a digital environment. This quick guide will show you how to easily build rapport with your professors by using proper netiquette, so you can spend less time worrying over emails, and more time focusing on your education.

What is netiquette?

Netiquette is a combination of the words “internet” and “etiquette”. Netiquette is the code of proper behavior for online communications such as email and discussion boards.

Why is netiquette important in an online class?

A college environment is professional and respectful, much like a workplace. Students, faculty, and staff are expected to communicate with each other respectfully and courteously, not only in person but online too. Using proper netiquette and communication skills can help you develop good working relationships with your professors, feel more confident in your interactions, and set you up for success throughout your courses and beyond.

How do I apply netiquette in my classes?

Netiquette should be applied any time you communicate with your professors (or your classmates in writing). Whether you’re writing an email or posting on a class discussion board on Canvas, make sure that you format your message to include a greeting, the body of the message, and a closing.

When writing the body of your message, always use complete sentences and proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Including emojis can be appropriate, as long as they are used sparingly.

This format is formal and professional, but it doesn't have to be complicated. Here’s an example:

Good morning Professor Jones,
I’ve been reading through the material for Chapter 6, but I’m stumped on what question 15 on the homework is asking for. Will you be free sometime this week to go over this together?
Thank you,
Mary Smith

You can adjust this basic template to communicate with anyone, regardless of the situation.

Additional examples of appropriate greetings and closings:
Greetings: Good morning/afternoon/evening, Hello (name), Greetings
Closings: Thank you, Sincerely, Warm regards, Best regards, Regards, Best wishes

An online test or exam can require slightly different preparation than an in-person one. In addition to studying the course material that will be covered in the test, you also need to be proactive about understanding the logistics of actually taking the test. Here are some questions to ask yourself ahead of each online exam so that you can ensure you are properly prepared.

  • When will the test be available?
  • What is the due date? (date, time, time zone)
  • Is the test offered only on a particular date and time?
Time Allotted
  • Is the test timed?
  • If so, how much time is allowed?
Number of Attempts
  • How many attempts are allowed?
  • If more than one, is there a penalty after the first attempt?
  • Will the grade be the higher of the two scores or an average of both scores?
Question format
  • How many questions will be on the test?
  • Will the questions be multiple choice, fill in the blank, essay, etc.?
  • Do questions have to be answered in sequence or can students skip questions and return to them later?
  • What technical requirements should the students' web browser and computer meet in order for the exam to function properly?
  • Does the test require students to download Respondus Lockdown Browser or other similar programs?
  • What is the instructor’s policy regarding technical problems?
Grades and Scores
  • Will scores be provided immediately after the exam is submitted?
  • Will students be able to see outcomes for specific test questions?
  • How can students access grades and instructor feedback following the test?
Additional Resources & Tips

Taking Tests Online: Strategies for Success
Exam Preparation Tips & Test-Taking Strategies

Online Study Groups

Starting a study group for the first time can seem daunting, but it only takes 3 simple steps to get started.

Contact Your Classmates

Your first step is to let your classmates know that you are looking to start a group. You can do this yourself by emailing the class directly or reaching out to your professor.

If you plan to contact your class directly, make sure your message explains what your goals and needs are for the group, how many people you hope to recruit, how often you’d like to meet, and how people can contact you about joining. Some students might be more likely to relate to a fellow student in need! Not sure how to start? Try using this template and adjusting as needed:

Hey Class!

My name is (insert name). I’m a (insert major) major at (insert school). I’m interested in starting an online study group for this course. I'm looking for 4 to 5 other students to get together every other week to do test prep together and workshop each other’s writing assignments. We will meet in our study group through an online platform at a time that is most convenient for each participant. Below are the best ways to contact me:


I’m really excited to hear from you all and start this new semester together!
Stay Safe,
(insert name)

If you don't feel comfortable contacting the whole class yourself, you can always ask your professor to post an announcement on Canvas or email the class to share the opportunity to form a study group. Some students might be more likely to read a message directly from the professor.  When you send the request to your professor, make sure to include all of the details you want to be provided in the announcement, including how classmates can contact you. Below is a sample email you can copy and paste, and adjust as needed.

Hello, Professor (insert name)!

I'm very excited to start your class this semester. I'm emailing you because I am interested in forming an online study group, and I was hoping you could post an announcement to the class.

I am looking for 4 to 5 other students to get together every other week to do test prep together and workshop each other’s writing assignments. We will meet through an online platform at a time that is most convenient for each participant. Interested students can reach me by phone (insert phone number) or email (insert email address)

I appreciate your help!
(insert name)

Choose a Platform

Once you have a group of interested students, work together to choose an online platform for your meetings. Your group needs to identify a platform that everyone can easily access, and which will function well for the group’s needs. You can use this guide to help you make your decision ((link to video platform guide)).

Set Your Schedule

Try using a tool like Doodle Poll or Google Forms to figure how when and how often everyone in the group can meet. Then, take advantage of Outlook calendars to send invites to the group for each session. Make sure the invites include a link for the video conferencing platform where appropriate and consider including any details about the topic or tasks for each session (I.e.: studying for the final exam, feedback on outlines, reviewing weekly reading)

Get your new study group off to a great start with 3 easy steps.

  1. Get Acquainted: You’ll be working together and supporting each other for a whole semester, so take a few minutes to get to know one another. Introduce yourself, share your major, and talk about some of your goals and concerns for this course. Then, try an ice breaker or other game. This will help your group shake off some awkwardness and make it easier to jump in and get to work.
  2. Make a Game Plan: When you start a study group it is important to establish the group's collective goals for the semester. Ensure that all your teammates have either a physical or digital copy of the syllabus, then read through it together.  Identify due dates for assignments, special projects, and exams (this is where planners or a shared calendar will come in handy). Now, decide on some common goals for your time together. For example: will your group focus on preparing for tests together, workshopping each other’s writing assignments, discussing reading assignments? Identifying the purpose of your meetings will ensure that everyone is on the same page and knows what to expect and how to prepare for each meeting.
  3. Divide Up the Work: The benefit of a study group is sharing your skills and knowledge to help each other learn more effectively. Once you know what the professor is requiring of you for the class and have agreed on some common goals for the group, you can decide how to distribute the labor. Start by having each person share their strengths and interests. Based on everyone’s answer, you’ll be able to identify how each person can help the rest of the group better understand the material. For example: if one group member is deeply interested in the reading for a particular week, they might enjoy leading the group discussion of that reading. Or, if another group member is highly skilled at breaking down complex concepts, they can help lead the group through their process to help everyone improve that skill.

Looking for programs to help your study group succeed? This guide provides information on five popular programs that make it easy to stay in touch with your classmates and on top of your assignments.

How to Choose the Right Conference Software for Your Study Group
Different programs provide different functions, and what will work best for your group depends on what the group will be working on. Here are a few questions that will help you assess your options and choose the one that will work best for your group.

  1. What class(es) are you studying for? Certain applications offer specific features which allow for a more interactive environment more conducive to conducting a study group. If you are studying for chemistry, for example, it may be beneficial to consider a feature such as a shared whiteboard that can allow the group to handwrite chemical formulas and equations. What features will be useful for you and your group when studying together?
  2. What devices are the members of your study group planning to use for the conferences? Group members may have access to different devices and platforms. It is very important to consider what is and is not accessible to your team when choosing an application.
  3. Is there a plan for brief check-ins as well as more in-depth and collaborative conferences? It may be useful to consider a simpler application option for the former, and a more feature-heavy application for the latter.
  4. How will you be scheduling the conferences? Some applications allow for an integrated calendar. However, some may find it easier to create a separate group text/email for reminders of scheduled conferences. Consult your team on which form of scheduling would work best for everyone.
Proper Video Conferencing Etiquette
  1. Make sure your lighting is bright enough for you to be clearly seen.
  2. Angle your camera that shows you as if the viewer were sitting across a table from you.
  3. Dress appropriately.
  4. Try to maintain an organized and tidy background. Some software provides the option to blur your background or use a background image to provide greater privacy.
  5. Mute yourself when you are not speaking/sharing- this avoids contributing to any background noise that can be distracting and disrupting to the conference.
  6. Be on time for scheduled meetings.
  7. Prioritize the meeting; avoid distractions such as television, phones, pets, etc.
1. Facetime

Cost: Free (Included on Apple devices through cellular data or wifi)
Platform: Mac/iOS
Maximum Number of Participants: 32
Accessibility: Closed captioning unavailable
Key Features: Video and voice chat 
Overall Impression: This application’s best aspect is its wide availability and simplicity. The Facetime app comes standard with all Apple products and does not require downloading an additional app or creating a profile. Facetime is great for quick communication on the go but does not have file sharing features or integration with other useful applications, such as a calendar.

2. Google Hangouts

Cost: Free
Platform: PC/Mac, iOS, and Android apps available.
Maximum Number of Participants: 150
Accessibility: Live closed captioning is available
Key Features:

  • Video, voice and text chat
  • Screen sharing

Overall Impressions: Google Hangouts is a simple and easy-to-use online meeting platform, but does not have features such as file-sharing or syncing calendars. If you want to step up your video calling sessions without being overwhelmed with a lot of options, Google Hangouts is a great option, as long as at least one person in the group has a Google account.

Start using Google Hangouts
View the step-by-step guide to set up a Google Hangouts study session

3. Skype

Cost: Free
Platform: PC/Mac, iOS, and Android apps available
Maximum Number of Participants: 50
Accessibility: Live closed captioning is available on certain devices
Key Features:

  • Video, voice, and text chat
  • Screen sharing
  • File sharing
  • Conference recording
  • Calendar integration with Outlook
  • Background effects
  • Create polls
  • Can connect your Spotify and OneDrive accounts

Overall Impressions: Skype provides useful features for study groups like file sharing, screen sharing, polls, and calendar integration to keep yourself and your team on task. Calls are simple to set up. If you want more functionality than Google Hangouts, Skype's bright, easy-to-use interface provides it while still being user-friendly.

Start using Skype
View the step-by-step guide to set up a Skype study session

4. Zoom

Cost: Free with the basic plan, for information on other plans and pricing, click here
Platform: Mac/PC & iOS/Android
Maximum Number of Participants: 100
Accessibility: Live closed captioning unavailable. Zoom allows a member of the call to type captions in real-time. 
Key Features:

  • Video, voice, and text chat
  • Screen sharing
  • File sharing
  • Conference recording
  • Calendar integration
  • Whiteboard

Overall Impression: Zoom has a good balance of features and simplicity which makes familiarizing with the program easy. The 40-minute limit of conferences with the free Basic Plan may be too short for some groups and could function as a useful limit for groups looking to keep meetings short. At least one member of the group must create a Zoom account in order to start meetings, and each member of the group must download the free app to attend each meeting. The meeting host has the ability to decide what features the participants have access to, such as screen sharing and text chat, as well as the ability to remove a participant if need be.

Start using Zoom

5. Microsoft Teams

Cost: Free (available to all CSN students via Microsoft Office on goCSN)
Platform: Mac/PC & iOS/Android
Maximum Number of Participants: 250
Accessibility: Live closed captioning is available
Key Features:

  • Video, voice, and text chat
  • Screen sharing
  • File sharing
  • Calendar integration
  • Background effects
  • Full app gallery with hundreds of apps to integrate

Overall Impression: This program provides more functionality than any other program in the guide, including hundreds of compatible apps in the gallery that can be added as needed. This increased functionality comes with increased complexity, which new users may find overwhelming. Start by using the basic functions until you are comfortable with the program. Then, when you are ready to explore more complex functions, consider using this free training from Microsoft.

Click here to start using Microsoft Teams

Useful Technology

MyCoyoteSuccess is a series of video workshops available to CSN students for free covering study skills, career planning, emotional intelligence, and much more. The guide below provides a summary of each workshop and includes additional details like video length and whether the video includes activities and supplemental materials. Browse the workshops by topic to decide which ones will be most helpful to you.

MyCoyoteSuccess Video Guide

You can access MyCoyoteSuccess through GoCSN. Just click on the MyCoyoteSuccess tile. You may be asked to sign in (use the same credentials you use for goCSN). You'll be redirected to the Learner Dashboard. From there, click Student Success Workshops to get started!

Go to MyCoyoteSuccess Videos