Department of Criminology, Economics and Sociology

Online and Distance Learning FAQs

What is distance learning?

What is an online course?
In an online course, most of the material is delivered online.  Instructor presentations and class discussions mostly take place on the Internet, although there may be one or two face-to-face meetings.  USM currently uses Blackboard for its web courses.  However, some instructors use course-specific software.  A $25/credit hour fee applies to all online courses.   

What is a blended course?
In a blended course, at least 50% of the material is delivered online. In-person attendance in at least one class session is required.  A combination of online and in-person assignments may be given (e.g. online discussion responses, online or in-person presentations, etc.)  
The $25/credit hour fee mentioned above is applied to the course fee if it is determined that 50% or more of the course content is delivered online.

What is an ITV course and how does it work?
Instructional television (ITV) courses are delivered statewide via a 2-way audio | 1-way video system.  They reach all of the University of Maine System campuses, University College Centers, and over 75 sites around the State in high schools, adult education centers, community centers, and other locations.  ITV courses originate from campuses only.  Students at a distance attend at a “receive” site and communicate with the instructor via telephone from their rooms.

What is a VC course and how does it work?
Videoconferencing (VC) courses are delivered via 2-way video / 2-way audio. Students at each location see and hear each other over this voice-activated system.  VC courses are broadcast from a University of Maine System campus or University College Center. The instructor teaches at the broadcast site.  Students may register to attend at this site or a receive site.

What is a WEB/ITV course?
A WEB/ITV course usually meets once a week via ITV.  The rest of the course takes place on the web in traditional online format.

How will distance learning work for me?

What can I expect from an online class?
Most online courses are asynchronous, which means you will not have to be online at any specific time.  You go online at times convenient to you.  Course assignments are due on schedule, usually readings and discussions are due by a certain day of the week.  The amount of time it takes to complete assignments will vary from student to student and the amount of work assigned will vary from course to course.  Instructors generally assign as much work as they would if teaching a face-to-face class.
Some courses include “synchronous” learning.  That means that the class “meets” online at a specific time.

Does taking an online class require certain technology or skills?
Taking an online course will require you to have reliable internet access with a minimum speed of 56kbps.  It is recommended that you have Windows 95 or newer or Mac OS 9 or newer.  The recommended web browsers are Internet Explorer 6.0 or higher, Firefox 1.5 or higher, or Safari 1.5 or higher.  For other recommendations visit

The skills needed to take an online class are much like the skills needed for regular classroom learning but may require particular attention to time management, organization, and independence.  In addition, knowing how to use a computer, browse the web, use email, and download files from the web are critically important.  For more information and tutorials, visit

Are all online courses delivered in the same way?
All online courses will be delivered through Blackboard.  Each online course is individually designed and employs additional technologies suited to the content. These technologies might require you to download or purchase additional software.  Delivery technologies may include lecture or demonstration videos created by your instructor; DVDs; narrated Powerpoint presentations; podcasts, videos or video clips from outside sources.  Your instructor will tell you ahead of time if you need specific software.

I just registered for an online or blended course. What do I do now?

What should I do first after registering for an online or blended course?

  • Whether you registered for a blended course or an online course, make sure you note the face-to-face class dates, if any, that are listed on MaineStreet.
  • Once you are able to log into Blackboard, you will be able to see when your course is posted and active.  Often, the course will not be activated until the first day of the semester.  Until then, you can familiarize yourself with Blackboard and MaineStreet, order your textbooks, set up your ID card, get library access, and/or get a parking permit, as applicable.

Note: Some instructors like to send an email greeting, welcoming you to the course.  It is important to be able to access your USM email account.  The login page for USM student email is:

How do I access Blackboard?
Your login information for Blackboard should be the same as your USM account name and password.  You can access Blackboard by visiting:
If you do not know your login information, please contact the HelpDesk: 
or 207-780-4029 (Hours: Monday-Friday 8:00am - 4:30pm)

When will my courses be available on Blackboard?
It is important to make sure you can log onto Blackboard prior to the first day of your class.  However, depending upon the instructor, you course may not be available online until the start date.

How do I contact my instructor?
If your course is up on Blackboard, the instructor’s email address will usually be posted.  If the course is not up yet, you can do a search in the online directory on the USM website:

I want to take an ITV or a VC course. How do I get started?

How do I locate an ITV receive site close to me?
This map shows University College Centers and sites: 

How do I register for a USM ITV or VC course?  How do I specify which site I would like to attend?
You can register for an ITV or VC course in MaineStreet.  When you search for classes, click on ‘additional criteria’ and use the drop-down ‘location’ menu to select the site you wish to attend.  If the site you wish to attend is not listed, call the Distance Education Office (207-780-4077) and a staff member will determine whether your preferred site can receive the course.

Are ITV classes recorded?  
Yes.  DVDs of ITV class sessions are available at the USM Library on the Portland campus and at sites where the course is received.  DVDs are available within hours following the actual class.  However, delivery of DVDs to receive sites could take several days.  
ITV courses are also recorded through class capture software.  Class video streams are uploaded to the course Blackboard site within 15 minutes of class end; or by instructor preference are made available on a more limited basis with staff assistance at University College centers.  If an instructor opts not to allow students any access to class video streams, classes are still recorded on DVD and available for viewing as mentioned above.

Are VC classes recorded?

What is available for me at USM through Distance Learning?

Can I complete a USM Economics BA or BS degree through online/blended courses?
The Department of Economics does not currently offer degree completion through online/blended courses.

How many Economics courses are offered online each semester?
The Department of Economics typically offers at least 1 or 2 Economics courses per semester online.

For more information about online Economics courses, visit Online Students under Resources on the Department of Economics Web site.

For other programs outside of the Department of Economics, visit: “Online@USM”: