FAQs for Online Courses

Graham School currently offers nine online certificate programs comprised of the same curriculum and instructors as our on-ground programs and several stand-alone online creative writing classes. Our online certificate programs and courses allow you to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills under the expert direction of instructors and those working in the field while interacting with other University of Chicago students and with course instructors.

Frequently Asked Questions about Online Courses

General Online Course Questions

What happens in online courses?

When you take an online course at the Graham School, you’ll get the same information, same rigor, same instructors as you do in the face-to-face classes. The difference is that you’ll interact with them in a virtual classroom rather than a physical one. Individual courses differ in their structure, but in general, you’ll have access to your syllabus and assignments through the University’s online learning management system (LMS), called “Canvas,” which allows you to access all applicable course materials, assignments, quizzes, and projects, and to communicate with your instructor and classmates electronically.

Like our face-to-face courses, the Graham School’s online courses emphasize critical thinking, discussion, and project-based learning throughout its curriculum.

Do I ever need to come to campus physically?

No. In most online courses and all certificate courses, you will have face-to-face contact with your instructor and the other students during the “synchronous” classroom sessions, during which you’ll participate in a live discussion online via a technology called Zoom. Some programs have the option of combining online courses with face-to-face courses, depending on your schedule and interests. Check the program brochure for more information. Depending upon your program, you have the option of doing some of your courses online and some in a traditional face-to-face format, depending on your schedule.

What is the time commitment for an online course?

That depends upon the program. In general, you’ll spend at least as much time on an online course as you would in a face-to-face class. For some programs much of the material will be delivered as readings and written responses to questions or online discussions. Typically, students spend about 5-6 hours a week working on the course.

Do I have to be a computer expert to participate in an online program?

No, not at all. The learning management system, Canvas, used by the University of Chicago is very user friendly. You do need some basic computer skills, however, such as the ability to conduct a basic search on the web using a browser, download software from the Internet, to send and receive emails, open attachments, and save documents in Word, Excel, and as PDFs. It may take a few minutes when you get started to learn how to use the online discussion boards and synchronous class meeting spaces, but there will be good instructions along the way for using the technology until you get used to it.

The University’s “Canvas” site is a great place to review online tutorials in case you get stuck, or want to learn a more advanced feature of the system.

Do I have to apply to the online certificate program?
  • Professional Development Certificates: Yes. You apply for admission to the program just as you would for the face-to-face program, using the application form.
  • Basic Program: No, The Basic Program does not require an application.
  • Writer's Studio: The Writer's Studio doesn't have an online certificate program. All of our courses are open enrollment, and there is no need to apply.
What is a synchronous session? What is Zoom?
  • Professional Development Courses: Each online course includes weekly synchronous sessions, which are additional opportunities for discussion, lecture, student presentations, and interaction. The synchronous sessions are pre-scheduled dates and times when you, your instructor, and your classmates will all gather in the online meeting room at the same time. Currently, the Graham School uses a program called Zoom to conduct synchronous sessions.
  • Basic Program Online Courses: Classes are weekly synchronous session. Once a week for 3 hours and 15 minutes. Currently, the Graham School uses a program called Zoom to conduct synchronous sessions.
  • Writer’s Studio: Some online Writer’s Studio courses involve synchronous live webinars via Zoom. In these synchronous sessions, students and the instructor use webcams in order to see and hear everyone in attendance. Students attend sessions by following a link sent by the instructor, and there is no need for individual Zoom accounts. For one-on-one online consultations, students and consultants use FaceTime, Skype, or Google Hangouts.
Is there any orientation to online learning, and to the learning management system?
  • Professional Development Courses: Yes. Once you’re accepted in the certificate program, you’ll be directed to free Canvas tutorial. This brief course provides you with a chance to use the system and get a feel for the technology and its features before you begin your first course.
  • Basic Program: There will be a general orientation session before the beginning of Year 1 Autumn. In addition, once you register for any Basic Program online course you will be invited to join Canvas, where you can find free online tutorials and have a chance to practice with Zoom.
  • Writer’s Studio: Classes involving live Zoom webinars are offered optional tech sessions before the first webinar.
Will I need to buy text books, or is everything included online?

Some courses have text books, but others do not. The required materials and texts are listed in the course syllabus for each course, which you’ll receive once you register for the course. If a textbook is required, the book will be ordered to the Gleacher Bookstore (liberal arts courses only) or you can purchase the book independently.

How do I register and access the materials for my courses?

When you register for a course, you will receive an email with information about how to access your materials. You will either use your CNet ID, which you will claim through the university and will create an ID and password, or the email address you registered under. You’ll receive more information about this process once you’re accepted into your program.

I can’t make the synchronous session this week.
  • Professional Development Certificates: You should make arrangements with your instructor and program manager as early as possible if you are going to miss a synchronous session. You will need to watch the recording of the session when it is posted to the Canvas site and you may be asked to complete additional assignments assigned by the instructor. Attendance in the synchronous sessions is mandatory so missing a session may affect your final grade.
  • Basic Program: Synchronous sessions are recorded and can be watched when posted to Canvas.
  • Writer’s Studio: Due to the sensitive nature of writing that may be shared in our classes, we do not allow recording. If you are not able to make a synchronous session, please let your instructor know beforehand.

Technical/Software/Trouble Shooting Questions for All Online Courses

What kind of equipment and software do I need in order to take an online course?

At a minimum, you will need the following hardware and software to participate in the Graham School’s online programs:

All Courses:

  • Access to a modern computer
  • Reliable high-speed Internet access via cable, Ethernet, or WiFi
  • A recent version of a reliable internet browser
  • An email account and service that is dependable and easily accessible at various times of the day

Synchronous Sessions:

  • A web camera
  • A basic microphone/headset with microphone for participation in group discussions
  • A sound card and speakers for participation in group discussions
I can’t hear the audio during the synchronous session.

First make sure your headphones are plugged into the proper jack; also check that the master volume setting on your computer is not muted. You can check this by right clicking on the small speaker icon on the lower right corner of your desktop. If you have verified that your volume is on and are still having trouble with audio, check to make sure the speaker icon on the top of the synchronous session screen is green. Click on the down arrow next to the icon to adjust your volume.

My microphone is not working.

First make sure your microphone is plugged into the appropriate jack. Next ask the host if the microphone rights for participants have been turned on.

Helpful links

Technical/Software/Trouble Shooting Questions for Professional Development Online Courses

I can’t get the modules to load and open.

This is usually browser or cache related. You might also try logging out and logging back into Canvas as well as shutting down your computer and restarting.

How do I empty my cache?

Enter the search phrase “how do I enter my cache [insert computer model]” in a Google search.

I can’t view Word documents.

Make sure you are using one of the recommended browsers, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, or Safari. If you are and you are still having problems, try emptying your cache.

I can’t view PowerPoint slides.

Please make sure you are using one of the recommended browsers. Also, if you are using a recommended browser and are still having problems, try emptying the cache on your computer.

How do I contact IT Services for help?

You can call IT Services at 773.702.5800 (option 4) or email them at canvas@uchicago.edu. Their hours of operation are 8:00 AM – 4:00 PM Central Time.

I can’t remember my CNET password.

You can reset your password here.

I can’t access the online library resources, like the AMA Manual of Style.

The permissions on your CNET account may need to be adjusted. Please leave a message with your program staff.

Course-Specific Questions for All Online Courses

I can’t find the instructor’s contact information.

This may differ slightly from program to program, but contact information for the course instructor can usually be found on the syllabus in the Canvas course.

Where is the link for the synchronous session?
  • Professional Development Certificates: The URL for the synchronous sessions is located on your syllabus as well as the announcements page in Canvas.
  • Basic Program: The link for the synchronous sessions for your class is available on the Canvas site for your class. After you register, you will receive an email invitation to join the Canvas site. The Zoom link will be on the homepage.
  • Writer’s Studio: The link will be sent to you by your instructor.

Course-Specific Questions for Professional Development Online Courses

I don’t know when my assignment is due.

This may differ from program to program, but due dates can be found in the Canvas course, whether on the syllabus, the assignment posting, or weekly PowerPoint presentations.

I was unable to complete the test/quiz due to a technical error and now I can no longer access it.

Contact the program manager immediately to alert them to the situation. They will be able to reset your access to the test/quiz.

Where can I access the readings assigned through the library reserves?

Click on the Library Reserves tab in the toolbar on the left of the Canvas site. This will take you to the library site.
*Please Note: If you are using a Mac you may have difficulty accessing the items. Click on the tab on the left‐hand toolbar of the reserves site labeled "Problems viewing reserve items on a Mac?"