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ENG 1010: English Composition: Faculty Version: Updates and Ideas about online instruction

Bulletin Description: Workshop in expository writing: strategies of, and practice in, analytical reading and writing about texts.

FAOs about the COVID-19 situation

My class was going so well!!  I am so disappointed! What can I do?

Remember that the majority of us are doing this for the first time.  This goes for students as well. So cut yourselves and your students some slack.  Build in time for tech issues. Remember to be patient, flexible, and as clear as possible.  Our teaching will be different; there will be missteps as well as successes. And that’s okay.


I am worried about my students’ mental health as well as my own!  Are there any resources?

Right now, most of Brooklyn College's staff is working remotely.    Check here for information about Personal Counseling.


Where can I find updates about Brooklyn College? Can and should I go to campus?

Brooklyn College tweets!  Updates are also on the BC homepage. Check the Coronavirus update website for the most current information about everything.



FAQs about the transition to online instruction

Will my students be able to work online? Do they have laptops, tablets, or smartphones and the data plans necessary to support this new kind of teaching?

It’s very possible that students won’t have the necessary tech.  You should email the students a survey to find out what they have.  Ask if they have a desktop, laptop, tablet, and/or smartphone. Make sure that you ask if they connect via wi-fi or a data plan.  Will they be able to read, post, and listen to class materials? Will they be able to chat (text, voice, or video)?


What platform should I use to shift my course materials, discussion, and office hours online?



Blackboard is one-stop shopping.  It has everything and it is supported by Brooklyn College and CUNY.  Note: I am providing links to tutorials. I haven’t screened all of them, so let me know if they are useful or not.


If you are already using Blackboard, please continue to do so.  Blackboard has a lot of functionality that allows for both asynchronous and synchronous instruction –  a place for a discussion board as well as Blackboard Collaborate Ultra (under Tools), which allows for video, audio, and live chat chats (online or call-in for those with no or limited internet access), along with the simultaneously sharing of a whiteboard, course documents, polls.   It is also supported by Brooklyn College, which means that you can get help when you need it! That is very important. 


If you are not on Blackboard and don’t have an online platform for a class blog or anything else, I strongly recommend that you start using Blackboard.  It will take a bit of time to get up to speed, but many of your students will be familiar with it already.  And your class already has a site.


Many of you are using LibGuides to house your readings.  I recommend that you add Blackboard for your class discussions and chats. 


In short, I am strongly recommending that all comp instructors use Blackboard for class discussions, both asynchronous and synchronous, the submission of papers, live chats, etc.  It is very possible that we will administer the final via Blackboard (more on that later).


However, if you are really attached to a platform that you and your students are already using, please let me know. 


Will the English Department provide any support for this transition?

Yes!  We will have a virtual workshop early next week with our very own Professor Minter.  He will guide us through Blackboard and any other platforms and answer questions next Tuesday from 1:00 to 2:30.  We won’t be doing this via Blackboard, so you can work on your own site simultaneously. We will meet via video and text chat.  I will send you all an invitation once we confirm the best way to meet. Please respond to the email so we can add you to the chat ahead of time.  


How can I hold office hours?

You can set up a meeting through Blackboard Collaborate Ultra.  Students can join you there.


Will observations take place this semester?

I don’t have the answer to that yet.  Stay tuned.


FAQs about communication

Who should I contact about comp-related issues?

Feel free to check in with Esther and me anytime.  We will be working remotely, but we both will have virtual office hours.  We will be available to discuss this transition, but also other business, including plagiarism, classroom management, grading, balancing literature and writing instruction, etc.  Stay tuned for an email about how to meet us online.


Who should I contact about everything else?

Everyone in the department has email.  Please reach out if you have non-comp related questions.


How can I communicate with students?

Hopefully, you will all have your students’ emails (not just the BC emails but the ones they actually use).  If not, log into WebCentral on the BC website and pull up your roster, which now has emails and phone numbers.  You can call students to ask them update their information if you do not hear from them.  


What if I forgot my password?

If you have forgotten your passwords, follow these instructions, courtesy of the Center for Teaching and Learning.

Will the English Department provide additional support over the course of the semester?

Yes!  We will have weekly virtual meetings (optional), which we will record and make available to you. More info to come. 


Will the Center for Teaching and Learning hold workshops or provide support?

Yes!  I hope to collaborate with the Center for Teaching and Learning to do a composition-specific workshop.  Stay tuned! Also, there is a ton of great information on its website, specifically the Digital Toolbox page. 


What happens if Blackboard crashes, especially if I am trying to hold office hours?

You should be prepared to use other chat or video platforms, including Zoom, BlueJeans,  Google Meets, Slack, Discord, or WebEx (which, as of today,  is available for all CUNY folks via the CUNYFirst login).  You can get support for some of these platforms from the Center for Teaching and Learning.


Where can I store my class material?  

CUNY offers you a free Dropbox account.



A note of thanks to Geoff Minter and Esther Ritiau for help with this!  Also, many thanks to Maddy Fox, Richard Klein, and the Center for Teaching and Learning! for their great site!

And thanks to all the staff at Brooklyn College for holding down the fort!

FAQs about instruction

What is the new grading policy?

Students may convert any letter grades they earn in spring 2020 classes to Credit/No Credit, even after grades are submitted. A passing letter grade (A, B, C, or D) would convert to CR for credit, and an F would convert to NC for no credit awarded. (Cr/NC grades will not impact GPA.) For many students, this option will be a life saver. For more details, see:

Will this grading policy have an impact on the number of times a student may take 1010 or 1012?

No.  Classes that students take this semester will not count as attempts.  See

How can I help my students do research remotely?

The wonderful folks at the BC Library have put this together:

Can I replicate my in-class writing instruction online?

The short answer is that you can’t.  However, you can shift things so that writing instruction can happen in effective and productive ways.  The first thing you should do is consider the difference between asynchronous and synchronous instruction.   Many students aren’t able to connect easily; asynchronous instruction gives them the opportunity to participate in class without having to be on a video, audio, or text chat at a specific time.  Synchronous instruction allows students to be in the same virtual place at the same time. Some activities are better suited to asynchronous instruction and others to synchronous instruction. More on that below.

Should I update my syllabus, grading scheme, and course expectations?

Yes!  Please update your reading schedule, paper submission schedule, and course expectations (especially about attendance).  Remember transparency is of utmost importance now; it will help ease students into this new form of teaching.

What should those new expectations be?

You can still expect your students to participate actively in class-discussions,  deliver presentations, take quizzes, do a reading, but you should specify the difference between the online versions of these class elements and your earlier ones. If you are teaching 1010, you can inform students that there is no decision about the 1010 final exam just yet.


What kind of activities will work in the virtual comp classroom?

Here are six possible activities that will work well for composition classes.  We will create a google doc so we can update this as needed. We will also post this on LIbGuides.

1.  Writing Logs (from this useful Google doc): Create an individual discussion thread on Blackboard for each student. Have them write daily updates on how they’re progressing on the current assignment. You can provide a prompt for each day (post an outline, describe a source you’ve found, share your favorite sentence, pose a question about a writing problem). If you like, put students in small groups and ask them to read and respond to each others’ posts. (this option could easily be combined with another)

2.   Peer Review (from the same useful Google doc): Use Blackboard to create peer review groups.   Make a discussion thread prepared for each group. Ask individuals to write a brief introduction to their paper, and then provide a link to their paper (probably on Google Docs). Use a guided worksheet to help students provide feedback.   

3.  Text-based reading discussion (from the same useful Google doc): Assign a reading. Prepare a 5-minute screen-captured or cell-phone lecture framing the reading and how you want students to use it. Have each student write a 500-word reflection on the reading/lecture in a Blackboard discussion thread and post 50-word comments on 2 of their peers’ reflections.

4.  Presentations (from the same useful Google doc): Have students voice-record short versions of their presentations using PowerPoint slides, Google slides, or--in a pinch--their phone cameras and then post their presentations to a Blackboard discussion board. Ask each student to write a 200-word response to at least three other student presentations (ideally, tell them what you want their responses to focus on). You may want to provide alternate forms of response such as recorded audio and/or video. So that every presentation gets some feedback, ask students to reply to presentations with fewer than three existing responses.

5.  Question-posing paired with synchronous or asynchronous lectures (from the same useful Google doc): In Blackboard, ask students to identify 2-3 questions that they have about an assigned reading on that day’s discussion board. Provide a short lecture to address questions (pre-recorded or real-time via BBCollaborate, where you can  toggle between your face, a screencast or a whiteboard as needed.) Have students spend 5 minutes freewriting new questions they have about the topic in response to the lecture, choosing their best idea to post to that day’s discussion board. Ask students to engage in a large group conversation by providing a first response to one peer, and then continuing the conversation on at least two other threads. Be sure to model an ideal response (i.e. depth of engagement).

6.  Mini Research Reports(from the same useful Google doc): Write 4-5 discussion prompts, each of which will require students to do some research. Ask students to do individual research for two prompts and then post a response/description of what they learned. If you want, you can make the posts visible only after students post responses and then have them write a 250 comparison/contrast of their results and someone else’s. What do they learn from the contrast?

How can I best foster discussion, both asynchronously and synchronously?

Here are some discussion tips.  Pay attention, especially, to the importance of clarity, flexibility, and patience in all aspects of online instruction.   Also, remember to ask students to mute their microphones if you are in a group chat.  

How do I grade these different activities?

Try using rubrics so there is clarity about grades.  We will work on these together during our weekly workshops.  Here is a sample rubric for discussion boards.  Here is a rubric builder (note: I have not tried this out).

How can I tell students are getting anything out of the discussion and the reading or even if they are doing the reading?

Try entry and exit tickets. Here are some guidelines that can be adapted to online discussion.  Have students post these on the discussion board before or after class.  You can also try quizzes.

How will the English 1010 students take the exit exam?  What will it look like?

I don’t know yet, but it is very possible that all students will have to take it on Blackboard.  

How should I grade attendance?

That all depends on whether you are teaching synchronously, asynchronously, or both.  If you are teaching asynchronously, you can require that students post their work by a certain time.  If you are teaching synchronously, you can expect students to be in class with you virtually at a certain time.  However, please allow for tech issues, anxiety, illnesses, etc. I’m all in favor of being much more lenient with the attendance policy from now on.

What should I do about plagiarism?

Blackboard has anti-plagiarism software (SafeAssign) built in.  

What should I do about my library visit?

Helen Gorgas writes this: "If your library visit was scheduled sometime over the next few weeks, please reach out to your librarian so that an alternate plan for your students can be coordinated. Like all faculty, librarians are currently discussing other modes of content delivery so that your students can still learn about (and use) the research resources they need."

How do I address accessibility issues?

Blackboard can record meetings.  During these meetings, ask students to self-identify.  Here is another site that offers some reflections on accessibility during this time.  Please let me know if you have students with accommodations that may require different or additional support.

I have lots of additional questions?  Help!

Let me know!   I will continue to update this document.