Technical Requirements and FAQ

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Why an Online Course?
Computer Skills Required
Physical Learning Environment
Honesty and Integrity
Canvas Learning Management System / ICCOC
Access Codes
Listserve (STUDENT-L Email)
Discussion Forum
Proctored Exams
Technical Requirements for Online Courses
Technical Assistance

Why an Online Course?

We want our online courses to be accessible and convenient. Once registered you can access the course during your lunch break or you could wait until 3:00 AM Sunday morning. You can work at your own pace. Of course you do have to follow the the course schedule and complete your assignments on time. In addition to the Web page course materials, you can communicate with the instructor via e-mail by telephone and some courses use a class discussion forum.

We suggest that you complete the Self-Assessment Survey – Are Online Courses For Me? before registering. You can register online, but you must contact the instructor via e-mail after registering for specific instructions to access your course. Most online courses start and end on the traditional semester schedule.

Each instructor does things a little differently. Please contact the instructor promptly and read the course syllabus and all course instructions carefully.

Computer Skills Required

  • You will be expected to have access to the Internet through a local Internet Service Provider (ISP). NIACC does not provide dial-up Internet access services, but computers are available for use by students enrolled in credit classes in the NIACC computer labs at the NIACC campus in Mason City and Charles City, IA. Wireless Internet access is available most places on campus and in the Campus View residence halls. Users must have an account on the NIACC computer system. Your login information will be provided to you at the time of registration. If you are having problems please call the Help Desk at 1-866-614-5020 or fill out the Help Desk form (there may be a delay of two hours or more if you use the form).
  • You will need access to a Web graphic browser with JAVA and JavaScript capabilities such as recent versions Internet Explorer, or Mozilla Firefox. Safari and Chrome can be used also, but may not be fully compatible with all online course resources.
  • You will need to know the basic e-mail commands to check mail, send, reply, forward and send attachments (for your e-mail software).
  • You will need to know how to copy from your word processor and paste to an e-mail message and from your e-mail to your word processor. (On a Windows PC highlight the text in your word processor document by clicking and dragging across the text. Push the Ctrl and C keys at the same time to copy or right-click and choose copy. Click on the message window of your e-mail program and use the Ctrl and V keys to paste the text or right-click and choose paste. On a Macintosh use the CMD and C key to copy and CMD and V key to paste)
  • You may need to download software and helper applications from the Internet. (Firefox, Internet Explorer, Acrobat Reader, Real Player, Shockwave, Flash, QuickTime, etc.) You may have to read or work with your Internet Service Provider or a local consultant to get your computer properly configured. When installing software make sure that you are downloading it from the company that provides the software and make sure that you uncheck any boxes to install additional software or services.
  • You should make sure that your computer has current anti-virus software installed and that the anti-virus definitions are being updated regularly. The anti-virus programs on NIACC lab computers are updated daily.

Physical Learning Environment

  • Have a place set up for your papers, books, and notes.
  • Have your computer environment in a working order. Know how to use your software.
  • Make regular backups of files, journals. etc. (hard drives and flash drives do crash)
  • Find a comfortable chair, with soft lighting to make those long hours online workable.


You will need to set time aside each week for logging-in to access the course materials, check your e-mail and to surf the World Wide Web as necessary for the class.

You will need time to read, think, write and to reflect on the material and ideas at hand. Block out an appropriate amount of time to complete your course assignments on time. Most online courses require a weekly time commitment equal to or greater than that required for a face-to-face class. Schedule your time with family, work, school, and other activities so that you have adequate time to work on your online class. If you have children at home you may find it easier to work on your online class when the children are sleeping, at day care or at school. Perhaps a friend, relative or neighbor can help to watch the children while you work on your coursework or are taking an online test. It can be difficult to concentrate and stay on track if there are repeated interruptions. Many online exams are timed and you only have a certain amount of time to complete the exam.

Don’t get behind in your online courses. It is usually difficult to catch up. Most instructors will not accept late assignments, nor allow you to take an exam after the due date. Contact your instructor by e-mail or by phone if you have any questions about the course or your assignments or if you are having technical problems. You can call the college toll-free at 1-888-466-4222 or 423-1264 locally.

Honesty and integrity

You are expected to be honest, not to cheat, to do your own work and not to plagiarize. Most instructors have severe penalties if you are caught or suspected of cheating or plagiarizing – which is a violation of the Student Conduct Code (See the College Catalog and Student Handbook).

Canvas Learning Management System


NIACC uses the Canvas Learning Management System for most online courses. It is also used for face-to-face and hybrid courses. This easy to use online course management system allows students to access the online content for their courses, to view multi-media materials in the course, participate in online discussion forums, upload assignments electronically to the instructor, take online quizzes and exams, and to view assignment grades.

NIACC online courses have a section number starting with “W” such as BIO-102-W001. NIACC hybrid courses have a section number starting with “H” such as BIO-102-H001. Hybrid courses meet face-to-face part of the time in the classroom and some of the assignments are completed online.

Recent versions Internet Explorer, or Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome and Safari should all work with Canvas but we have seen some issues with typing in some text boxes in Canvas when using Internet Explorer. Make sure that you have tested your device with one of the Canvas orientation courses.

Log in to NIACC online courses using Canvas via MyNIACC. It is the same login username and password as used for NIACC lab computers. This will give you access to your NIACC e-mail, Canvas and ICCOC courses (see below).

Iowa Community College Online Consortium (ICCOC)


NIACC is a member of the Iowa Community College Online consortium (ICCOC), a group of seven Iowa colleges that partner to offer online courses. If you are registered for an ICCOC course you can access the courses after logging in to MyNIACC. Check your class schedule to see if your online courses are ICCOC courses. The section number will start with a “C” such as BIO-102-C001.

Access Codes

Some NIACC Online courses require an Access Code or a ‘Key’ to access an eLearning Resource Pack (e-Pack), which is an online course in Canvas containing publisher content. These are required by some textbook publishers and are purchased at the NIACC BookZone along with your textbook for the course. Sometimes they are packaged in the textbook or they may be bundled and purchased separately. It is a one-time use code. You will enter it in when prompted the first time that you access your course. It can not be reused.

If required, you must purchase the Access Code with the book from the NIACC BookZone.


PLEASE check your NIACC email regularly. Most NIACC instructors will require that you use your NIACC Internet e-mail for all class communications. All NIACC students have a NIACC e-mail account. The same username and password is used for NIACC e-mail, Canvas online courses and logging on to the computers in a NIACC computer lab. In most cases your NIACC username is your first initial, middle initial and entire last name. For instance, John B. Smith would have a username of JBSMITH and his e-mail address is In some cases a random number may be added on the end. For instance Jeff B. Smith may have a username of JBSMITH216.

You can get to your NIACC student e-mail by going to and clicking on MyNIACC in the upper right corner and then click on “E-mail” in the upper left corner.

NIACC also uses the student e-mail to send announcements to all students and to communicate information to each student about registration, financial aid, information about your course and more. It is important to check your NIACC e-mail regularly even if you are not taking an online course.

Canvas E-mail – The Canvas online course management system also has built-in course e-mail called Conversations or InBox. Messages sent by your instructor from the course will also be redirected to your NIACC email.


What’s a listserve? Briefly, a listserve is an e-mail distribution list. Our listserve is basically a one-way communication for you to receive information from the college. One of the lists is for the college to send e-mail messages and newsletters to all students. The Subject or From line of the e-mail will include “STUDENT-L”. Please read these messages. There may be important information about registration of Financial Aid. Many of the notices and announcement to student will now be found in the MyNIACC portal instead of the STUDENT-L email so make sure that you are checking both places.

Discussion Forum

Many courses use the “Discussion Forum” built in to Canvas or ICCOC courses. Once the course starts, you can receive discussion “postings” made by the instructor and other students–and you can post to them. A posting to the discussion forum is viewable by the instructor and all students in the class. It is similar to holding a discussion in a traditional class with the advantage that you will have an opportunity to read and respond to every question or comment if you so choose or ask a question of anyone in the class. You always have an opportunity to participate in a discussion. No special software is required to access the discussion forum other than your web browser. You may find the discussion forum is your best resource for information on a topic. Not all NIACC Online classes use the Canvas discussion forum.

Proctored Exams

A proctor is an individual who agrees to receive the tests from the student’s instructor, administer them in an approved environment, and return them to the instructor. The proctor must verify the student completed the test according to the specific instructions provided by the instructor. You will be notified by your instructor if you need to take exams at a proctored site and/or arrange for a proctor. Read your course syllabus and instructions carefully.

Technical Requirements For Online Courses


For the most part, bigger and faster is better. Computer speed is measured by the size of the CPU (Central Processing Unit) in Megahertz (MHz) or Gigahertz (GHz) such as 2.5 GHz or 3.0 Ghz. Requirements change quickly as the Web changes. For the most part, if you have a computer that is less than three years old, you should have a machine that is fast enough to manage the web content.

Another measure of a computer’s ability to perform quickly when browsing the Web is the amount of memory or RAM (measured in Megabytes or MB). Your computer will perform much better with the online course applications if you have at least 2 GB of RAM – more is even better. Many new computer have 4GB of RAM or more (You can’t have too much RAM).

The third measure of speed would be the type of Internet connection. Connection speeds can vary significantly depending on the type of Internet service and the time of day. Services available to you at your home may include Internet access from the phone company ( DSL or ADSL), cell phone provider, cable TV company, wireless or satellite connections

Web Browser

If you’re reading this page right now, you’re probably most of the way there. You need to have access to the Internet, with a Web browser and e-mail. Recent versions Internet Explorer, or Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome and Safari should all work with Canvas but we have seen some issues with typing in some text boxes in Canvas when using Internet Explorer. Make sure that you have tested your device with one of the Canvas orientation courses.

It is okay to have more than one web browser on your computer, such as both Internet Explorer and Firefox, but you can not have more than one version of Internet Explorer (If you have Internet Explorer you can install Firefox in addition to Internet Explorer). Additional system requirements for ICCOC courses can be found here.

It is very important that you do not turn off or disable the JAVA or Javascript (Active Scripting) features, and that your Web browser is set up to send e-mail or you may not be able to take the online tests

Pop-Up Blockers – If you have a your computer or your browser settings are set to not allow “pop-up windows” to display you may not be able to access some content. Pop-up blockers are sometimes used to prevent unwanted advertisements from appearing in a “pop-up window”. You may need to disable pop-ups or configure the pop-up blocker to allow pop-ups for certain web pages. You may have several pop-up blockers which need to be modified. For instance they may be turned on in your web browser, the Yahoo toolbar, the Google toolbar, the MSN toolbar and more.

Acrobat Reader / Adobe Reader Get Acrobat Reader

Many courses utilize files or documents in a format called Adobe Portable Document File (.PDF) or Acrobat Reader files (or Adobe Reader files). To read .PDF files, you will need to download the free Adobe Acrobat Reader, which is available for both Windows and Macintosh. If you use the Web much, you’ll find many sites which use .PDF files. There are some nice features, like the ability to search the document for text. You can read it from your computer screen (while online or off-line) or even print the .PDF file in its original format.


RealPlayer is a media player for many types of audio and video files. RealPlayer may be required for some courses. You can download it for free from Read each page carefully and download the Free Basic version, not the version for which you have to pay. You may already have RealPlayer. It installs automatically with some web browsers.

FLASH Player

Some courses require the Adobe Flash Player, a browser plug-in, available for free. This is to view video content.


Some courses require the QuickTime player, a browser plug in available for free from

Windows Media Player

Some courses require Windows Media Player. You can download it free from Microsoft.

Other Technical Considerations

Some courses have special requirements including some of those listed above. Contact the HelpDesk immediately by e-mail or by phone if you are having technical problems accessing the course. You can call toll free 1-866-614-5020. Contact your instructor if you are having problems or have questions with the course content.

Technical Assistance

If you are having technical difficulties accessing a course, or have forgotten your password you can contact NIACC’s Help Desk staff by calling 1-866-614-5020 or filling out the online Help Desk form (there will be a delay of two hours or more if you use the form). The Help Desk staff can reset your password to the original setting if you so request. It is important that other connection issues with Internet Service Providers, different types of hardware, and software configurations are dealt with in the appropriate way.

Initially, technical support will be provided through course instructors. Be prepared to provide information on :

    • course name and number
    • instructor
    • assigned “user name” and password
    • e-mail address
    • contact phone number
    • computer type
    • type and version of browser (such as Internet Explorer 11 or Firefox)
    • modem type and speed
    • Internet Service Provider
    • operating system (Windows 7, Windows 8 or Mac OSX 10.10, 10.9, etc.)