Why should I email my class from CUNYfirst?

CUNYfirst is used to perform two important tasks for a class:

But did you know that CUNYfirst can also be used to send notifications to your students by email? In some situations, emailing your class from CUNYfirst can be easier and more effective than other means. Emailing through CUNYfirst gives you quick access to a comma-delimited list of your students’ emails, which you can use to send email using your preferred email client. And the CUNYfirst emailing interface allows you to  customize the subject header (somewhat possible in Blackboard) and add recipients who are not in your class (impossible in Blackboard).

Here’s how to use CUNYfirst to email your class:

From the Faculty Center, browse to my schedule and select a class. This will take you to the class roster page for that class, which contains a table listing all enrolled students. You will see a checkbox for each student in the second column, to select or unselect students.

Scroll to the bottom of the class roster page, where you will find two buttons:

  • Use notify selected students to send an email to a subset of the class.
  • Use notify all students to email the entire class (without having to select them all).

The emails used are the emails of record in CUNYfirst. You will be able to see whether they are Queens College emails, emails from the student’s previous institution, or personal email addresses.

By default, CUNYfirst sends the email to you and as a BCC to your students. This ensures you get a copy of the communication, and prevents students from using “reply all” and inadvertently emailing everyone in the class.

If you prefer to be in full control of the email (maybe you want to attach a file, or use special formatting), just copy the email addresses and use them in your preferred email client:  Click notify all students, find the BCC box listing all your students’ emails, select all emails (ctrl+A) and copy (ctrl+C).

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What is Netiquette and why should I teach it?

We expect our students to use appropriate language when participating in an in-class discussion or talking to us during office hours, when answering written questions on an exam or writing up a term paper. We know that our students don’t talk to their professors the same way they talk to their close friends, and we acknowledge that one of the great challenges in higher education is bringing students up to speed with the discourse conventions for our particular disciplines: teaching students to speak and write as scientists or sociologists or literary critics.

But we have all experienced how the anonymity of cyberspace sometimes makes people forget expectations for communication. (The Internet is kind of a weird place.) And, despite many college students’ familiarity with social media, they need to be reminded of the differences between casual social interactions and academic communications, be these in the form of emails, blog posts, or discussion forum posts. In fact, the best way to instigate the kind of communication you want to see in your students is to offer clear expectations. Just like you might provide a style sheet when assigning a paper for a class, consider offering your students guidelines for online communication, and model your expectations with them in all your communications with your class.

Guidelines for online behavior vary quite a bit depending on the context, but all Netiquette recommendations have a few basics in common:

  • Typing in all caps is the equivalent of shouting, so don’t do it.
  • Proofread your writing before sending or posting.
  • Respect other peoples’ privacy, time, and bandwidth.
  • “Lurk before you leap”: if you’re new to a blog or a forum, don’t post right away; look around a bit to understand the protocol.

If you don’t want to compose your own guidelines, you could ask your students to visit The Core Rules of Netiquette and take a netiquette quiz. Here are some additional resources that address issues of Netiquette:

Netiquette and Online Behavior (Loyola University Chicago Online)
Behaveyourself.com: Online Manners Matter
Beyond Emily: Post-ing Etiquette
Nine Themes of Digital Citizenship


A Blackboard Roadmap: What? Why?

It may take you seven minutes or less to read this roadmap and a day or so to set up your course in Blackboard.  That is one day and seven minutes that can save you time spent relocating lost course materials, having to make copies for a student who lost an assignment, having to redistribute a syllabus when you  have made changes, reminding yourself to announce homework or an upcoming due date, copying grades and calculating totals…

In short, consult this Roadmap if you want to find out how Blackboard can help you adopt a smoother and more integrated course management workflow.  For concrete instructions on workflow steps described in this Roadmap, open “A Blackboard Roadmap: How?” document along side this one and check off instructions for items of interest as you follow the Roadmap.

Beware: the following Roadmap is NOT a summary description of Blackboard features.  Blackboard itself has a good Help tool.  It also offers clear instructions on every step you take in activating a feature or creating an item.  For an in-depth understanding of all Blackboard features and instructions you can consult the Blackboard Instructor Manual available here.

1.    Setting up a private Blackboard repository for all course-related content files

What? Why? You probably have on your computer a folder and subfolders collecting all the files dedicated to a specific course.  Some of these files are for your own private use: lesson plans, quizzes, exams, ideas for teaching…  Others are meant to be distributed to your students: the syllabus, assignments, grading rubrics, a video, a recording…

The advantages of uploading to, and then organizing and managing all these files from within the Blackboard environment are multiple.  The first one is evident:  you get a free backup!  As for the files intended for distribution: ever had a student asking for an extra copy of the syllabus, or this or that handout?  However many times “the dog ate it,” in your course on Blackboard, a “new” copy is always available…  Other advantages are no less tangible: you control which file can be released when (the “adaptive release” feature) and to whom; files need not be copied in order to appear and be used in multiple contexts; files can be linked to each other and to assignments, tests or the grade book…

The greatest advantage of all comes when you opt for moving the course files on your computer (or a copy of them) to the Blackboard Course Files web folder as opposed to simply uploading them to a non-web Blackboard folder.  Once on the Blackboard Course Files web folder, your files can be accessed from any Internet-connected computer and can be modified without you having to first download and then upload them again!  No need to leave your Blackboard workspace, unless you want to get that much needed cup of coffee, of course.

2.    Planning Your Course and Building the Course Menu in Blackboard

It’s one thing to create, collect and organize your “course content,” but it’s quite another to plan your actual teaching.  What will be learned when?  What are the course objectives?  What are the assignments?  When and how will students be assessed?  How do you plan to communicate?  Questions like these usually guide the planning of a course and result in “the syllabus.”  Depending on your department, you may be asked to more or less strictly follow a ready-made syllabus, or may be expected to come up with one yourself.  Whatever the case, your syllabus is a good starting point to begin building your course in the Blackboard environment.

Your Course Menu

What? Why?  What to teach when? or, What’s on the menu?  You’ll probably consider it the meat of your syllabus, the section where content, assignments and tests are neatly arranged in shells of weeks or chapters or learning units or whatever else might be on the semester’s timeline.  Start building your course in the Blackboard “Course Menu,” the upper section of the sidebar, with creating a set of organizing folders that you’ll name, in accordance with your organizing principle, “chapter #” or “week #” or whatever suits your teaching style or your course’s organizational principles.  These folders are the shells in which you can now begin placing some of the files you uploaded and stored in your course repository (Blackboard’s Course Files folder in the lower Control Panel section of the sidebar).  You’ll soon see how you can also put “tools” in the course menu, right alongside your content shells.  One you should install right away: the Blackboard “Help” tool!

Blackboard Tools for the Course Objectives

What? Why?  What will your course enable students to do?  What skills do they need to acquire?  Do they need to learn how to analyze texts, audio, video, and do they need to write and speak about their observations?  Do they need to learn to collaborate, and to give and receive feedback?  Blackboard has some very nifty tools that can make learning these and other skills more meaningful, more effective, and, yes, more fun!  And what is in it for you?  Letting your students work on their various assignments in Blackboard, gives you the advantage of having to work in only one environment, and it is an environment that easily lets you build an effective workflow.  Want to make sure your students know what work is due when?  And wish students would be routinely reminded?  Grade homework and copy the grades to your grade book?  Nothing is more straightforward in Blackboard: most of the tools mentioned below can be easily configured with various announcement, notification and grade book–the Blackboard “Grade Center” –integration options.

Tools for Writing.  Check out the Blog, Discussion Board and Wiki tools.  Each of these allow you to set different privacy, peer visibility and grading options.  For collaborative projects, these tools come with fairly good ways to track and evaluate the participation of individual students or student groups.

Tools for Speaking.  Check out the Blackboard Voice Email and Voice Board tools.   Use Blackboard’s Voice Email tool to make students record a speaking assignment and send it to your email inbox, where you can listen to it and leave comments and suggestions in a reply email.  Blackboard’s Voice Board is a tool that lets students create an audio recording and post it on a forum, just as in the Discussion Board.  One possible activity is letting one group of students ask questions, another respond and yet another, or the whole class, analyze possible—nay, likely—communicative mishaps.

Reading and Listening.  Do you assign reading, listening or watching activities other than those from the text or workbook?  Text, audio or video files, or links to such files (beware of copyright issues), can easily be imported as content in any of the shells you created in the Course Menu.  You can opt for adaptive release (who gets to see what when) and for tracking the number of views (who accessed what when).  You can also import any kind of file in a Blog entry and let students blog about it, or post any in the Discussion Board to start a discussion forum.  Both tools offer various options for grading student participation, with Grade Center integration at your service.

Tests and Assignments

Tests. Consider the class time spent on having students taking tests with their fill-in the (multiple) blanks, true/false, short answer or essay questions, precious time that could be so much more productively spent on activities that involve real-time, live communication!  Why not let your students take these tests in Blackboard at home or in the library?  Even better, why not hook up with colleagues and create a collective pool of fill-in the (multiple) blanks, true/false, short answer or essay questions, from which each section’s instructor can then pick and choose for their test?  Pools of various question types associated or not to text, image, audio, or video can be uploaded to or directly created in Blackboard itself.  True, creating a first test can be a bit arduous (but not any more than the properly formatting of a test in Word), but, especially if you create a pool, your effort largely pays off as questions can be reused, and widely shared.

What’s next?  Check out all the options you have to deploy the test. Some, like setting the number of attempts or the time and duration of the test’s availability, are designed to reduce the risk of cheating. Others, like the option to set the type of feedback, to let an assessment be what it pedagogically should be (e.g., formative).  Too good to be true!  And don’t forget: “Grade Center” integration once again is only one checkbox away!

Assignments.  The creation of assignments in Blackboard, similarly, comes with Grade Center integration and various useful options regarding availability and distribution.  Another truly pedagogically indispensable feature is that any assignment can be associated with an appropriate Grading Rubric, which can be made visible while you are grading.  As they clearly spell out an instructor’s expectations, grading rubrics should be made available to the students before they start the assignment, so make sure to check that particular availability option.  It is also a good idea for a department to share Grading Rubrics.

When you suspect there is a possibility of plagiarism, you can create a Blackboard “SafeAssignment:” it checks submitted assignments against a given corpus and then gives a detailed report about any possible plagiarism.  It’s set up and gets to your students faster than you can read this sentence.

You may also consider each day’s or session’s homework an assignment.  After all, you thoughtfully planned and scheduled it.  Instead of spelling all the specifics and due dates out on the syllabus that you distribute at the beginning of the semester or that you simply post online–a document students may easily lose or lose sight of in a busy semester—you can, from the get-go, create each homework as an assignment.  Its name can be as simple as “Due 9/20/2012”,  as description you can put “Workbook, p.243, A-C, F, J.” Do specify a beginning and end date.  Advantage?  The system will let you and your students know when an assignment is due, whether it has been submitted or not, or if it needs attention.  See below for how to set it up this way.

3.    Setting up Channels of Communication

What? Why? Now the folders or shells you created in the course menu according to the organizing principle of your syllabus are filled with content, practice activities, assignments and tests. So it is time to set up ways to let your students know what is happening and what is due when.  You may also want to set up ways for students to communicate among themselves, in groups, or just with you, privately.


The biggest advantages of using the Blackboard email tool are that it is very easy to select recipients and, if you check the Return Receipt box, that you have proof that students received the email and get notified about those that did not.  Make sure that all, you as well as your students, have their qc.cuny email address listed in the system.

Discussion Board and Blog Tool

You could use a course-wide Discussion Board to let students talk among themselves about textbook explanations, class notes, assignments or upcoming tests, while the Blog tool can be used for private journals.

The “My Grades,” “Early Warning System” and “Report tools”

Making the “My Grades” tool available allows you to give students access to their grades in the Grade Center.  As an instructor you control what students get to see when.  The Early Warning System tool lets you set rules for the system to notify students about their progress, or lack thereof.  As the name implies, the Report tool lets you create and send fully customizable student reports.


Assignments and tests: you thoughtfully planned and scheduled them.  Why not also, from the get-go, create them as reminders with the “Announcements” tool that allows for adaptive and selective release, email notification and linking to any item in a course shell?  The tool can of course be used for any announcement, any time-sensitive piece of information that needs to reach your students.

Setting the Notification Dashboard

The biggest advantage to using the Announcements tool is that any announcement can also be made to appear outside of your course, on the Blackboard’s user’s home page in the notification center: the place where due dates for all a user’s courses come together.  Tomorrow is Tuesday?  Yep, and your students have to post an entry to the Blog for their French class, comment on an article for their history class and listen to a song for their music course: it’s all listed in their Notification Dashboard.  You, the instructor, can have the system post, besides announcements, due dates, notifications as to when an assignment is submitted, or a Blog entry posted.  You can also activate a Task manager to which you can post any course-related to-dos.  It is a good idea to make your students, too, set the notifications in the Alerts section and activate the Task manager on their individual home page.  In this comprehensive set-up, “I didn’t know” is not an option!

4.    Making Your Course Appear in Your Colors, Make it Available, and Enjoy!

Before you make your course available to your students, or other users of the Blackboard system if you so desire, you want to check its appearance: you want to choose the order, shape and color of the folders in the Course Menu, you can choose and import a banner, set where students “enter” your course and how it will be described in the Blackboard system.

When you’re ready for your students, set the course availability to “yes,” and you’re ready to go!

your.name@qc.cuny.edu: What’s it good for?

You know you’re a true nerd if you have more email addresses than you own pairs of pants, and since you started teaching at Queens College you came one step closer to this dubious achievement, now that you have an email address at qc.cuny.edu. It’s likely that you’re not very excited about your institutional email: it’s one more source of information adding to your cluttered digital life, and it might not even be as convenient or familiar as your account on Gmail or Yahoo, or at your former institution.

Yet there are some very good reasons to make a concerted effort to use your qc.cuny.edu email address:

  • Most importantly, your qc.cuny.edu email associates you directly to Queens College as an institution, lending more authority to your correspondence than emailing from a non-institutional account. This applies not just to communications with your students, but also to communications with colleagues within and outside of Queens, especially when emailing about college related matters.
  • Regularly using your college email also makes it easier for people around campus to contact you: your colleagues won’t have to look you up to find your Gmail email, since your qc.cuny.edu email is already available in the directory built into the college email system.
  • You will discover that the directory is a great way to locate not just faculty and staff around campus, but also your students. You don’t need to know the details of their account: type a part of the name you’re looking for in the “To:” field, and let the app do the searching. (Yes, we know: this won’t work well when the person you’re looking for doesn’t have a very unique name. In such cases, you may have to consult your CUNYfirst roster to find the right email address.)
  • If you use your college email, you’re modeling good behavior for your students, which will encourage them to use their college email themselves, making it easier for you and others on campus to reach out to them.
  • No email system is completely safe, but it’s safer to discuss sensitive matters—especially matters that must be kept private by law (like student grades or other academic records)—in an environment where you can seek institutional support if your email archives inadvertently go public.

It’s technically possible to have your college email forwarded to another account, and there’s a good tutorial here.  Forwarding is great for receiving email and for creating a backup of incoming mail. But in general, forwarding is not recommended. For one, when you reply, you end up giving your correspondents two email addresses instead of one, or your reply comes from an unknown email address, which could be confusing for the recipient. Also, when you have your email forwarded, there’s no guarantee that messages being forwarded will reach the intended destination in time or securely.

Maybe the technology is holding you back from using your qc.cuny.edu account. Here are some tips to make living with Lotus a little easier:

First, if you don’t have an account yet, or you need to change your password, all the information you need is at the Queens College Account Management System website (https://cams.qc.cuny.edu/).

The easiest way to check your college email is using the web client, which can be accessed at http://mail.qc.cuny.edu (the access point is different for students). The web client is mobile-friendly, so you can even use it to check your email with your smartphone, using the web client’s “ultralight mode”. You don’t need to install files: all you need is a browser (full disclosure: not all browsers work well with the web client in “full mode”).

There are some additional methods for checking your Lotus mail, all of which involve a little more work on your part—but all three help you avoid the heart-stopping warning-footer appended to the bottom of your emails when you use the web client:

  • The most fully-functional way to work with your college email is using the Lotus Notes Client, which should be installed on your college computer (laptop or desktop). If you don’t have the Lotus Client installed on your machine, you can download it from here, for Windows and Mac operating systems. (Installation requires downloading your Lotus Notes ID file, and it’s likely you will also need some assistance from the Help Desk.)
  • You can also access Lotus email via IMAP or POP3 using Outlook, Mac Mail, or your favorite email client. (IMAP and POP3 are two pretty standard protocols for retrieving email, supported by almost all email clients.) There are instructions for handling your Lotus email using Outlook, Mac Mail, and a couple of other clients on the Help Desk FAQs page about Lotus Notes. (A note of caution: we have had limited success with this approach.)
  • Finally, you can work with Lotus email on Android and iOS devices using an application called Lotus Notes Traveler. The download files and instructions are available here.

Documentation for Lotus Notes is available from the Help Desk.