Online Student Guide

RISD CE is committed to providing students with the resources and support to help our students succeed.

The following guide serves as a summary for prospective students on how to prepare for and engage with an online course. Note: Once you register for a course, you’ll review a Student Orientation (accessible via Canvas) that will include additional information such as Canvas basics, technology requirements, and more. You will receive an email prior to the start of your course with steps to set up your Canvas account.

Sections on this page:

A student working on a laptop computer at a desk.

Online Instruction Formats

Your online course will follow one of two formats: Asynchronous Online Course or Asynchronous Online Course with Live Sessions.

All of our courses for adults (ages 18+) are Asynchronous Online, with the exception of certificate Final Studio courses, which are Asynchronous Online with Live Sessions. Asynchronous online courses can be taken anywhere in the world and at any time of the day or night, as there are no required meeting times. Course content is delivered weekly through Canvas, our learning management system, where you will:

  • Learn from video demonstrations
  • Read through course material
  • Respond to discussion topics
  • Share in-process and finished work
  • Receive feedback from your instructors and classmates

Coursework is flexible and can be done on your own time, as long as it is completed within the assignment period. While this learning option offers great flexibility, the courses are not self-paced, and you will need to check in regularly to keep up with the workload.

See example (below) of a schedule for an asynchronous online course. When viewing the course information on our course registration system, you will see “Online, Asynchronous” listed under “Type”. Note that there are no scheduled meeting times.

Online asynchronous instruction format

Online, Live Sessions are only available for our Teen Online courses and Advanced Program Online. Asynchronous online courses with live sessions are a blend of asynchronous (recorded) and synchronous (live) activities. You will interact with your instructor and classmates in two ways: through Canvas (explained above) and through live Zoom meeting times. This means:

  • Zoom meetings will be at a set date and time in Eastern Time. Meeting schedules are listed in the section details, and you are required to attend and participate in the scheduled live meeting times.
  • In addition to Zoom meetings, you will log into Canvas to post images of your work, participate in discussion boards, watch demos and tutorials and keep pace with assignments.
  • You’ll have access to the online course content any time of day or night.
  • The majority of class content, assignments, demonstrations and tutorials will be in Canvas.

See example (below) of a schedule for an asynchronous online course with live sessions. When viewing the course information on our course registration system, you will see both “Online, Asynchronous” and “Online, Live Sessions” listed under “Type”. Select “View Details” under “Schedule and Location” for a comprehensive schedule. The full online, asynchronous schedule of October 28–December 2 is supplemented with five online, live meeting times (Mondays, October 30, November 6, 13, 20 and 27, from 7–8 pm ET).

Online asynchronous with live sessions instruction format

Online asynchronous with live sessions instruction format

Dedicated Workspace

Having dedicated work, documentation and presentation areas is essential to support your creativity and class requirements. Most students do not have access to an art studio, nor is it required to create work for your class. Prior to the start of class, create the following areas that you will have continual access to throughout the course program:

Your creative work space should include the following:

  • Flat tabletop and/or floor space to work on
  • Protected/covered floors, carpet, wall space and valued items
  • Organized and easily accessible supplies
  • Computer access for reference and class interaction
  • Wall space to hang your references and work for viewing and presentation during class
  • A mirror to view your work in reverse and double the viewing distance in tight spaces
  • Good lighting on your work space and on your work when presenting

Proper representation of your work is critical to ensure your work is being accurately assessed. In addition to following all presentation guidelines from your instructor, you should also create dedicated spaces for photographing or videoing your work. The area should include:

  • A clean, white area (wall, paper or fabric) that provides extended and uninterrupted space around the work you are documenting
  • No distracting items or backgrounds (drinks, tools, devices, etc.)
  • Even spread lighting such as daylight or flood lamp bulbs
  • Short chair, stool or step stool to stand on
Art studio set-up.

Creative workspace photo courtesy of RISD CE online student Kristeen Beasey.

Studio set-up for online student art workspace.

Creative workspace photo courtesy of RISD CE online student Jennie Carson.

Engaging in Your Online Course

In order to successfully engage in online learning you should:

  • Enroll and log into Canvas prior to the first day of class and learn how to navigate the course pages.
  • Review all course content: syllabus, demos, videos and other resources.
  • Pay attention to and plan your workload in order to meet deadlines (late and incomplete work may not be accepted by your instructor)
  • Plan to log into the course daily to keep up with new materials and information.
  • Participate in discussions in the discussion boards, which is required for course engagement
  • Be aware that non-engagement with the class will result in an instructor being unable to provide robust feedback, which can result in a non-passing grade.


Proactive and coherent communication during the course is essential. You should follow all instructions on how, when and where to communicate. Administrative staff and instructors are ready to help students but, in the online space, they are unable to pick up on non-verbal cues, such as a look of confusion on a student’s face. Follow these tips:

All communication with instructors and the teaching assistant (TA) takes place through Canvas, unless otherwise noted. It is important to consider the following:

  • Your instructor and TA are there to help you and students are expected to advocate for themselves
  • Class announcements are posted regularly on Canvas and are also sent to the primary email address on file, so check your email regularly
  • Non-communication may be interpreted as non-engagement and a lack of critical inquiry
  • Students can expect to hear back from an instructor or TA within 48 hours

Engaging in positive community building and creative support with classmates is a vital component to a RISD education. In fact, we find that offering and receiving support, encouragement and feedback from classmates is essential to our growth as artists and designers. As such, students are encouraged to use Canvas to:

  • Share ideas and inspiration
  • Critique your peers’ work using visual language
  • Challenge each other to improve
  • Be open to other’s experience
  • Respect each other’s perspective

RISD Continuing Education values all of our students and family members and welcomes the opportunity to serve you. If you are in need of administrative or registration support, or would like to learn about the resources available to you contact us:
401 454-6200

Generally speaking, RISD CE staff will return inquiries within 24 hours during office hours, but that timeframe may be extended during particularly busy times, such as registration open dates, program start and ending dates.