What you need to succeed at Williamsburg
Studying at Williamsburg is like backpacking through a mountain range: you need good gear to have a good time! Not only that—you must also know how to use your gear quickly and effectively. This page is a complete breakdown of both the tools and skills you need to excel in the online learning environment at Williamsburg.
First and foremost, you need a solid Internet connection.
- Download speed no less than 4 MBPS (megabits per second). Quite literally, everything you’ll do at Williamsburg is going to involve the Internet. It’s hard for us to overstate the importance of having a speedy connection!
Next, you need a dependable computer.
- A PC running Windows 7 or newer and no more than three years old, or a Mac laptop or desktop no more than four years old. Older computers could potentially work, but tend to be glitchy and slow. If you have an older computer you think may be sufficient, see below for instructions on testing it with Blackboard Collaborate to see if does the job.
- Not a Chromebook or tablet. Chromebooks (small laptops running the Google Chrome operating system) do not work with Blackboard Collaborate, our live online classroom environment, or Rosetta Stone, our second language learning program, and therefore won’t suffice as your primary computer. Same goes for tablets like the iPad and Kindle (although these can still be helpful for reading, research, note taking, email, etc.).
- Available when you need it. For students taking four or more courses at Williamsburg, we recommend that you have your own computer. All students need access to a computer for several hours a day (depending on course load), which can be challenging when others need to use the same device.
After that, you need the right software.
- A major web browser. Your browser is your gateway to the Internet. We recommend Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox. We do NOT recommend using Internet Explorer or Edge.
- A productivity suite. Students submit most assignments in Microsoft Word or OpenOffice formats which are necessary to make use of Canvas’s grading and markup interface. As such, an office productivity suite (word processor, spreadsheet, presentations) like Microsoft Office or Apple iWork is required for many classes. OpenOffice.org and LibreOffice.org offer free alternatives. Google Docs can also be used if the student knows how to download the file as an MS Office DOCX file which can then be uploaded into Canvas
- Recent updates. Computer software updates usually include handy bug fixes and security updates that improve your experience and protect your data. Ensure that automatic updates are enabled on your operating system, browser(s), and anti-virus software.
- Rosetta Stone. If you’re planning on taking a foreign language course check your computer against Rosetta Stone’s system requirements here.
For live classes, you need a web cam and trusty mic or headset.
- Many computers come with a built-in webcam. If yours does not, you should purchase an inexpensive webcam.
- You can use a built-in mic. Many computers have built-in microphones that work well. However, not every built-in mic is the bee’s knees—some can make your voice sound muffled and staticky. If you do not have a high-quality built-in mic, you should consider option two below.
- Or buy a separate headset. When shopping for a headset, we strongly recommend looking for one with built-in echo-cancelling. We also recommend a headset, like this, that actually connects to your computer via a cable, rather than a Bluetooth (wireless) headset, to avoid issues with wireless connectivity.
Finally, you need a quiet place to use all of these things!
You need to be technologically resourceful (hint: Google is your best friend).
- Know how to find quick answers when you need them. Whether you’re not sure how to copy and paste in Word or convert a Pages document to PDF format, you’re going to need instructions on how to do things with your technology. A quick Google search will usually turn up loads of helpful how-to pages (you can also try searching in the Help menu within a specific app). Now’s a perfect time to hone your searching skills if you’re unsure how to do any of the things mentioned below.
- Seek out ways to simplify things you do often. Example: You’ll use certain websites, like Canvas (our learning management system), on a daily basis. You can bookmark these sites in your web browser so you don’t have to search each time you need to access them. On a different note, you may need to use a certain essay format in one or more of your classes, or have a special way of organizing notes in your study guides. If so, rather than starting from scratch with each new essay or study guide, you can create custom templates in your word processing app.
You need to be comfortable with a few basics.
- Organize your files. As each semester progresses, you’re going to amass a large collection assignments and other files. It’s important to start out with a good system for staying organized so you aren’t overwhelmed later on. We suggest creating a folder for each semester, with subfolders for each of the classes you’re taking that term.
- Download and upload files. You’ll have access to important documents like readings and syllabi that you will need to download and store on your computer. You will also need to upload files to, say, share a slideshow in the online classroom or submit an assignment to your mentor. You should be comfortable with doing these things on your computer.
- Convert between file types. If you’re using iWork or LibreOffice, you will need to save your files in DOC, DOCX, or ODT format before submitting them (e.g., if you write an essay with Pages, you’ll need to convert it to Word in order to turn it in). You will also want to know how to save all of your files in PDF format.
You need to know that it’s okay not to know!
- Technology issues are inevitable. Every student encounters glitches with technology or makes mistakes from time to time. The most successful students are those who aren’t frazzled by tech issues and learn how to prevent them next time around. These things just come with the territory when you’re attending an online school!
- There’s no such thing as a dumb question. Don’t feel bad if you’re not able to find the instructions you need for a tech question through Google or a Help guide. You can always reach out to your peers or a mentor if you’re struggling with something specific. Also check out the support materials below in the event that one of our systems is not working properly.
It can be intimidating if you haven’t used our systems before. But don’t worry! They are simple to use. We are available by phone or email if you need some extra help getting into SIS or Canvas or registering for classes. If you need help with specific hardware or software (e.g., Microsoft Word, Blackboard, etc), please contact the appropriate company support team. See below for in-depth explanations and instructions on the software we use, hardware required, and support materials if something doesn’t work!
- Personal computer and software––needed by each student
- Student Information Services (SIS)––the online system parents use to create an account with us, register for courses, view snapshots of their student’s academic progress, and access transcripts and grades for completed courses. One or both parents create their own SIS accounts first, then add students individually
- Canvas––our learning management system (LMS). It’s where students will receive and submit assignments, complete some of their studies, collaborate with classmates, and access their course syllabi and assignments
- Blackboard Collaborate Web Conferencing––live online classroom
- Zoom––our backup online classroom (and where some mentors hold office hours and certain class sessions)
- Our website, williamsburgacademy.org, which provides prospective families with information about specific programs, classes, technology requirements, semester schedules, tuition costs, etc
- A weekly email to parents every Friday which provides current families with information and tips on how to help their children survive and thrive at Williamsburg
We use Blackboard Collaborate Web Conferencing for our live class sessions; it is the most widely-used solution for live online learning. Collaborate is generally stable and works well for both PC and Mac users. It’s a good idea to setup and test Collaborate on your computer before you try to join an online session.
- Make sure your computer and browser(s) meet Blackboard Collaborate’s system requirements.
- Click here to open a Blackboard test classroom. You will be prompted to download and install the “Blackboard Collaborate Launcher”.
- Once connected to the test Configuration Room, follow the on-screen instructions to run the Audio Setup Wizard to test your microphone and speakers. If in the future you ever have trouble with your audio, run the Audio Setup Wizard again. You will not be able to use the “Talk” or “Video” buttons in the test room. That’s ok.
- If you still have trouble, try the troubleshooting steps below. If they don’t help chat or call Blackboard Technical Support before you contact us since they are more familiar issues related to their products.
If your problem is that you keep getting bumped out of the online classroom, skip to #4 below. If your problem is that you can’t enter the online classroom, begin with #1 below and work down the list.
- First, try switching web browsers. Safari, Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer all work, but be sure you’re using the latest versions. We recommend Chrome or Firefox.
- On Windows, you may need to update your Java. Go HERE and click on the “system requirements” link and follow the on-screen instructions to see if Java is up-to-date.
- If you still can’t log in, try clearing your Java cache, then restart your browser and try again. To clear your Java cache, click HERE then type “clear java cache” in the support search box.
- If none of these steps work, chat or call Blackboard Technical Support. All our users have access to support. Work with them until you’re able to log in successfully.
- If you still have problems after contacting Collaborate Support, please contact Williamsburg. Email email@example.com. Or call us 800-200-6869 (9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Mountain)
For Macs with OS X 10.8.3 or older, Blackboard will require Java to work. For Macs with OS X 10.8.4 or newer, Blackboard has created a “Launcher” utility that includes Java and simplifies the process.
- If you have OS X 10.8.4 or newer, here’s a video that shows how to download and use the Launcher
- If you have OS X 10.8.3 or older, click here to make sure you have the latest version of Java
- If you’re still having issues, call or email us! While we can’t guarantee that we’ll be able to make Collaborate work on your computer, we’ll do all we can to help. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Or call us 800-200-6869 (9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Mountain)
On rare occasions the Collaborate classroom goes down due to Internet issues or other issues on Collaborate’s end. There’s nothing we can do to fix this when it happens. So we have a good backup online classroom called Zoom.
So, what do I do when I’m having trouble getting into the Blackboard classroom?
First, check your Canvas messages for an email from your mentor. If Collaborate is down your mentor will send a last-minute email saying, “Hey, Blackboard just went down. Today’s class will be in Zoom.”
On the homepage of each course, beneath the Blackboard Collaborate links, you’ll see a link to the Zoom backup classroom. If Collaborate seems to be down, you can also just log into the Zoom room and see if class is happening there.
What is Zoom like?
Zoom does not offer breakout rooms, moderator/participant privileges, whiteboards, or polls. However, you can still share your PowerPoint presentations by using “Share Screen” and students can use the chat box to share comments, etc.
Some cool stuff about Zoom:
- 25 people can be on webcam at once!
- It’s much easier to launch (no Java downloads and configuration hassles)
- Webcam is high definition
Can I get a free Zoom room for study groups and other online meetings?
Yes. Right now, go to www.Zoom.us and sign up for a free account.
Signing up for a free Zoom room is a good idea for two reasons:
- You now have a study group room! It can have up to 25 people on webcam and can have sessions that last up to 40 minutes
- Once the Zoom software is installed on your computer, it’ll be super easy for you to get into the backup Zoom classroom when Collaborate goes down
Canvas is our learning management system (LMS). It’s where students will receive and submit assignments, complete some of their studies, collaborate with classmates, and access their course syllabi and assignments.
- Students: If you have questions about an assignment or course in Canvas, message your mentor within Canvas. If you are having trouble with Canvas itself, click “Help” in the bottom-left corner of your screen while logged into your Canvas account. If you are having trouble accessing your Canvas account, email email@example.com
- Parents: By default parents do not have their own Canvas accounts, but you can create one here and then create an “Observer” link to your student’s account and view their assignments, syllabi, etc. Parents can also view student progress and pacing in SIS under My Students.
Student Information Services (SIS) is the online system parents use to create an account with us, register and pay for courses, view snapshots of their student’s academic progress, and access transcripts and grades for completed courses. Parents create their own SIS accounts first, then add students individually. Both parents must create an SIS account
- Students: Students typically use SIS to view their transcript and contact administrative staff members (technical support, registrar, academic coach, etc.). If you have an issue with SIS, email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also use SIS messaging to communicate with Williamsburg staff, although most student communication with mentors takes place in Canvas
- Parents: SIS is your primary tool at Williamsburg. Use SIS to register for courses, handle finances, view student progress, and message faculty and staff. If you have an issue with SIS, email email@example.com. Or call us 800-200-6869 (9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Mountain)
Grades 9 – 12
High school students should have a rudimentary understanding of computers, how to use a browser, how to email, etc. The Freshman Personal Leadership & Education Technology course will help expand that knowledge. Students should know proper typing technique and be able to type over 30 words per minute, so that they can work efficiently. Those lacking these skills should take the Typing and Tech course, or another form of instruction in typing technique.
Grades 6 – 8
Junior high students may require technical assistance from a parent during their first weeks at Williamsburg, especially if this is their first time using a headset, Internet browser, site logins, uploading files, receiving email on a near-daily basis, etc. We recommend students take our Typing Course if they have not yet learned that skill.
All parents should provide a safe online environment for their students, including Internet content filters, firewall protection and oversight. Williamsburg does not provide these services. Parents should also discuss safe-computing practices with their children and monitor their use.
Tips for Parents
- We recommend that parents regularly communicate with students about internet safety, and set rules about the types of websites and content students are allowed to view; just installing a filter is generally not sufficient, since all filters are imperfect; the goal should be for students to learn to self-govern online, because parents cannot always control access
- Google’s SafeSearch and many other services offer search options that remove (most) adult content
- Communicate with your students about the amount of time and the range of activities your students do online. In general, students should not surf the web or use social media during class or homework hours
Here are a few free resources:
- Free Anti-virus for Windows: Microsoft Security Essentials, AVG, avast!
- Free Anti-virus for Mac: Norton iAntivirus, Avira Mac Security, Comodo, Sophos, avast!
- Filters for Windows: Windows Live Family Safety
- Filters for Windows\Mac: K9 Web Protection
- Filters for iOS mobile devices: AVG Family Safety for Mobile