College of General Studies

Guide for Success

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The College of General Studies and your instructors have put a lot of effort into bringing you high quality courses. Succeeding in a CGS Online course requires hard work and self-discipline, just as in a face-to-face course. It also requires that you have access to the technology you need, know what to do in case of technical questions or problems, know how to get your required textbooks and other course materials, and are familiar with some of the common course requirements.

Technology Requirements

Your basic requirements are a computer with a web browser and a Pitt e-mail account, which gives you access to CourseWeb/Blackboard and to

Computer Requirements / Web Browser

For the technical requirements needed on your system, visit the University’s Computing Services and Systems Development (CSSD).

Pitt E-mail

Every student receives a free e-mail account as a University of Pittsburgh student, and you will need this account to participate in online courses. Messages from your instructor and online course administrators will only be sent to your Pitt e-mail account.


Blackboard is an online course management system: think of it as a password-protected website where your course’s materials can be found. The term CourseWeb refers to the University of Pittsburgh’s implementation of the Blackboard system. Your course should be available in Blackboard on the first day of the term, although some instructors open their courses a little ahead of time. You may access CourseWeb directly but the best way to access Blackboard/CourseWeb is through your portal.

The University of Pittsburgh portal provides a single point of Web access to communication tools and University information that students, faculty, and staff use frequently. Continuing students can access their academic and financial records, along with course scheduling information through the portal. Students can enter Blackboard through this portal or log in separately.

What to do in case of technical questions or problems

Learning about Blackboard

View tutorials and instructions related to Blackboard at CIDDE’s Online Resources for Students page or study Blackboard essentials for students through, accessible through

Technology Problems

Contact the Technology Help Desk if you have problems with Blackboard, e-mail, passwords, or further technology-related questions.  Some common questions are addressed on help sheets.

How to get your required textbook and other course materials

Consult your syllabus in CourseWeb to see what books or other materials you need to purchase and whether you have any materials on reserve at the library.

  • The best place to find all your required books and course materials is the University Store on Fifth. Course materials may be requested by mail, phone, or fax and you must pay with a credit card.

Common Course Requirements

Although each CGS Online course is different, there are some common elements:

  • The course home page will welcome you and tell you what to do next.
  • Your instructor will provide his or her contact information and office hours for consultation.
  • Your instructor will explain all course goals, requirements, expectations, grading, schedules, and policies within the Blackboard course.
  • Your instructor will explain how to submit assignments and take exams.
  • You may be asked to submit material to your instructor electronically, via e-mail or an assignments feature in Blackboard, or in person at a required workshop.
  • Web and Hybrid courses typically make heavy use of Blackboard’s Discussion Board; students are often asked to address a question posed by the instructor and reply to classmates’ discussion board posts – instructions will make this clear.
  • Self-Paced courses typically require tests proctored at CIDDE's Testing Center.
  • Your instructor may use Blackboard’s Grade Book to record your grades.  

Consult your course’s syllabus in CourseWeb for specific course requirements.