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Education

Technological Pratfalls of an Online Education 71

An anonymous reader writes "This article (NYT=Free Login Required) at the New York Times describes an upcoming paper on the experiences of one online class and the technological barriers that resulted in frustration for participants. " Its an interesting piece and talks about several relevant issues. I always wanted to take my classes online, and I still think that it is definitely going to be important in the future, but, well, read the article.
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Technological Pratfalls of an Online Education

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    well being the geek i am i enjoyed my classes online . it ment that i didnt have to drag my ass out of bead at 7 am to get to a class at 8:15
    with a 45 min drive and wake up time and coffee stop , it realy made me kinda out of sorts before i sat down in class. i took my online classes and made decent grades , i only had to show up 2 times
    mid terms and finals , needless to say i enjoyed it and am waiting for the next set of courses. i did take advantage of a study meeting , and tella corses , it realy helped me keep up when i could also aproch my profecers and get help and what not .very great idea of the NC public comunity collages realy, i didnt have to worry about having all my books ready to go in the morning , didnt had a greater access to books and info then any thing else , and never left the house. its nice to wake up and have time to wake up before you snag your email , go and get a pack of smokes , then download your assinment, go to the web page snag a work sheet , turn it around and send it back. its a great way to take on extra credits . and i would recomind it to any one. i dont think though that cross country tele corses are that great, but if you are 45 mins away it isnt bad in the lest.and i learned programing on the equepment that i wanted insted of what the school could aford. but it was a no onfferd course for the masses , and i was betaing it for the school and i have to say it was great. it is realy a question of what kind of student you are if you should take this type of course.

    my dog ate my email!
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I couldn't get into the Times, so I went and read the original paper [indiana.edu] (thanks to Tim Moore for the link).

    There are a number of points that stand out:

    The technology got in the way of the process, causing frustration and time wasting:

    The course providers expected the students to be more net-savvy than they actually were. (Remember, this was 2 years ago.) They neglected to provide either enough instruction or the resources to get answers to support questions.
    The providers also failed to take into account the limits imposed by slow network connections and the use of e-mail to handle threaded discussions.

    What was being taught didn't match the materials available:

    The course was taught by a substitute, a graduate student who had audited the course the previous summer and who stepped in after the professor who had designed the course became ill. "It was her first time teaching in the U.S., and by distance education."
    The original professor had built a web site that included course activities and reading assignments, but the substitute modified these by e-mailing the changes to the students each week.
    Students complained of dead links on the resource webpages and assignments that didn't seem to match the examples provided.

    A multitude of communication problems:

    Communication seemed to be strictly limited to e-mail and other written modes (didn't anyone have a telephone?).
    Slow network links caused problems when the class "visited" a text-based MUD.
    The instructor and several of the students were not originally English speakers.

    "Pedagogical Disconnect":

    Students complained about being unable to "know exactly what the instructor want[ed]", and the study's authors say that "instructions could be interpreted in many different ways." It's obvious to me that the instructor was attempting to provide a flexible learning environment, but the students wanted a more exact path to getting the grade.

    So what we have is a course with unclear goals, taught by someone who didn't design it and who was unfamiliar with the techniques of distance learning, to students who were unprepared to use the technology, over an inadequate system. It's a wonder to me that anyone got anything out of it.

  • I really don't have any experience with the technical/pedagogical problems asociated with distance learning, but I would really like to see this trend grow. Right now, I'd dearly love to see a distance learning approach to the certified Linux engineer/technician/whatever. I just can't afford the travel/per deim/tutition - and my company ain't gonna spring for it. But, as a computer professional, I can see the value of the certification, not so much the paper, but learning the things that I don't get to do on the job.

    Done right, I think it's a great way to pick up new skills in a structured environment.
  • I've always wondered how they are getting around the fact of 'Final Exams', etc.. How can you test, reliably, when the students could very well simply be looking it up in books sitting beside their computer, or heck, even searching online thru electronic versions.

    How much could students really be learning with the ability to circumvent the thinking process so easily?
  • Ahh.. As you can tell, I've never taken an online class, and it seemed to me that while taking some of the electronics course, I could simply have books open and/or knowledgable person on the phone, and simply cheat my way thru the entire course.

    Having to take at LEAST the final in a neutral place would pretty much solve the problem, though..
  • did they really say that 35 e-mails in a week for a class is too much?

    any class i've ever had that had and used a mailing list had at least that much or more. its just the way these things work. you've gotta learn to pay attention to the important stuff and ignore the crap that some of your less than briliant classmates come up with, but that happens in normal classes too...

    and anyway, 35 isn't that many over the course of a week...
  • by Tim Moore ( 1808 ) on Wednesday September 22, 1999 @03:44AM (#1667250)

    There's a link to the actual paper [indiana.edu] at the bottom of the article.

  • The New York Times is down for the count at the moment so I couldn't actually read the article. I've taken a number of online courses over the last couple of years at the graduate electrical engineering level so maybe I can submit a relavent experience.

    Online courses have worked out really well for me. I work full time but am still interested in learning as much as possible about my chosen field. In the geography where I work there is no local engineering college and there may never be. About 100 miles from me is an excellent engineering college. My company is more than willing to fund any education which I can make use of (even if its sometimes rather tangential) for my job.

    Travelling 200 miles 3 days a week for classes would be a big problem though. Not insurmountable but it is probably enough that it would make me think twice about taking courses. One of the perks that has been set up is distance learning through the UNITE program at this particular university. I can either attend classes in real time in a video conference or watch streaming video over my computer. Assignments can be faxed and fedexed in, midterms and finals are done in the videoconference room. So far I haven't encountered any problems that in class participants do.

    I

  • Um, ITYM "pitfalls". Pratfalls are comic elements.
  • Plain mailing lists _are_ threaded, assuming you have a decent mail program.
  • Mail is threaded. Both the References and In-Reply-To headers work to thread it, and I've run across only a few mailers which didn't set one of those headers, even though almost none of them actually did a threaded display. Mail can be threaded just about as well as usenet, exactly as well if you don't have any really sucky mailers there.

    Changing the subject doesn't break threading, unless the software is broken. Don't knock the method until you've tried it, because your mailer probably doesn't do real threadng.
  • It sounds like the attempt isn't inherently flawed, but there were two problems with the implementation.

    First, the technology. It sounds like nobody gave any thought to the software you'd need to support the class. For example, email isn't a bad way to discuss things, but you need good software to keep up with any sort of volume. It has to be easy to use, it _has_ to be threaded, and it has to be able to put the class in a separate, readable folder, so it doesn't get jumbled with the masses of other mail you get.

    In this case, pine (for instance) is about as bad as you can get. You need something more like a threaded newsreader (ie, Gnus or something else threaded). Pine was really meant to be easy to use for people who get a bunch of personal (non-list email).

    You also need to make it easy to communicate complex ideas over the email. If all students are able to read HTML email, it'll make more complex documents easy.

    You also need some real-time communication. The class tried this with some chat program. Again, the client wasn't up to the task. It needed a few things: a log posted to the web after each meeting. An easy scrollback function, to satisfy the needs of those who need to refer back to something during the meeting. And it should probably be easier to use than the client they tried.

    These are just a coupple examples of how you'd need to analyze the needs of a class, and how they differ from the tasks people normally do with chat and email programs. Right now, it's a lot more work to do, because most software normally sucks for class activities, but there's no no fundamental technical barrier.

    More problematic for this class, I'd bet, were students' and the instructor's expectations going in. One big expectation was probably that they wouldn't have to work on the software to make the class work, as I talk about above. Another was probably that they didn't expect to have to put much effort into the _class_ to make things work.

    Fact is, if you have a group of people locked in a room together three times a week, it's not too hard to get them to interact. But distance learning is different. While you can still have great interaction, everyone has to work a bit harder, if only because you have to type! You also need to work harder to make yourself clear and understood, because email/chat rooms are a much lower bandwidth connection than the classroom. It sounds like the students and the instructor both disliked the amount of effort they had to put in (complaining about answering email, for instance). With an attitude like that, it's not going to work.

    So, these are a couple of major problems, but I think they could be avoided with some effort. You just have to think about them when setting up the system.
  • Great idea! I was already counting the money from our IPO. However, a look at ulinux.com [ulinux.com] turns up a proto-website apparently dedicated to just such an endeavour. Ah, well maybe someday I *will* think of something first.
  • by Signal 11 ( 7608 ) on Wednesday September 22, 1999 @05:32AM (#1667257)
    Ain't true. What do you think all these people in AOL chat rooms are doing? Yeah, I know, it's a big stretch to call that flirting, but it is generally the same idea.

    "How old r u d00d? R u a grrrl?"

    --

  • by Signal 11 ( 7608 ) on Wednesday September 22, 1999 @03:52AM (#1667258)
    You know, in all seriousness, remote learning won't achieve widespread acceptance within the next 30 years for one simple reason: you can't flirt with somebody who's in another state. Seriously.. human interaction is a key component to learning. Geeks have come the farthest in this country to breaking that rule - but even we still need some real-life human interaction to do some things. Imagine trying to hold a chemistry lab... via video-conferencing. "Charlie was a chemist, but charlie is no more, what charlie thought was H2O was H2SO4". There are just some things you can't do online. I should know... I've been trying to get a job online for the last three months. I'm still unemployed. *g*

    Now, the online "classroom" idea I dig - multimedia presentations are a great way to convey lots of information quickly. Just turn on the disovery channel, or "Bill Nye the Science Guy" and you'll see what I mean. Those are the kinds of things that I'd like to see - technology to assist the teacher.. not to replace him/her.

    --

  • From the Times article:
    Students were also frustrated by the potential for misunderstanding inherent in electronic communication. In one online chat session during a "virtual" field trip to a community Web site, a student wrote in a chat that she liked "calling rows," prompting another student to tell Hara that she assumed her classmate meant "calling role."
    I assume the classmate meant "calling roll." Perhaps there is also potential for misunderstanding inherent in tradition news media communication. We do not expect online chat sessions to be well edited. What's your excuse?
  • by cherub ( 9120 )
    Tell my girlfriend (for the past three years now), who happens to live in LA, 1450ish miles from where I live in Austin, TX, that you can't flirt online. Human interaction is -different- online, but it's not cripplingly so.

    I also took a few classes online from New York's New School for Social Research. They were basically held via mailing lists, which worked very well for me. I found that for writing courses, the format worked -better- than a traditional classroom setting. What better way to get people to pay attention to what others are writing than to hold the entire class in written format? I honestly didn't run in to even the smallest frustration in the course of my um courses.

    I agree with you entirely that technology should assist rather than replace the teacher. Steve Jobs said in a Wired interview once something to the effect that, as someone who had given away more computers to education than anyone else probably ever has or will, he felt he was qualified to say that it doesn't matter -how- much technology you throw at education, the situation will not improve if the teachers don't understand how to use the computers to teach.
  • Two years ago the NET all its various ideas where not nearly as wide spread as they are today. I would venture to say that this study is as relevant as Education Studys of the 1950's are to planning for a classroom of 1999.

    Time is a fluid beast and on the net we have seen it more fluid than ever. In 1997 the average citizen still was nto as infused into teh nets as the 1998 citizen. In 1999 the transmigration is even more so.

    So what does this say of the study?

    First, that the time frame and education level of net understanding is vastly different.

    Second , that much of the frustration of net users can is now partialy cured due to constant exposure.

    Third, when doing reports on or about emerging tech keep in mind that the time it takes you to formalize a paper is about the same time it takes in make its findings out of date.

    Its great that these things are being looked at, but let us call for more relevant means than those used in the well intentioned paper.

  • Talk about a relevant blast from the past!

    Yep Murry Turrof and the folks at the EIES labs (not to mention TIES) did some great far reaching stuff back in the day.

    I had an account on the system for a while thru several freinds who were going to NJIT, the place where EIES was housed. It was amazing. There were tie ins to several Virtual classes, and as i remenber they even used the VCO stuff to do first gen icon/avatar interfacing.

    I sat in on several classes and support forums. It was pretty well run and most everyone "got" the concepts the class was teaching. It was a far better thing than most TA's could pull off.

    Also on EIES was the ever so popular Childish Bickering 101(aka the I hate al freund forum).

    EEIES was a great bit of work way ahead of its time. You dont hear much about it when the whole BIG PICTURE is talked about. Any one know what happend to the EIES system and Prof Turrof?

    I wish I could remeber what my user number was:)-

  • If the tests you have been taking are such that you could simply look up the answers in the book, then you have had some pretty crappy teachers or oversimplified subject matter.

    I've had those sorts of classes and teachers before. But for those piddly nuisance questions where you can look up the answers in the book, that's what you're going to be doing in the real world, anyway! Books are there to remember useless trivia for you, you just have to remember where to look.

    The real problem that could come up is if the same test is distributed to everyone and the students collaborate and send each other answers. For essay questions, this will obviously not work, but for a lot of the more black-and-white disciplines that have right and wrong answers, it could make things difficult. What these systems really need is a way to record the "scratch paper". If everyone is *working* the problems absolutely identically, something fishy could be going on.

    --John
  • 35 messages in a week is next to NOTHING. My suspicion is that most of the students are probably unfamiliar with the technology and how to use it effectively.

  • I don't think this has much to do with capitalism, other then the fact that capitalism has enabled these technologies to come forth (even in they're partially functional overhyped state). The media, mainstream politicans, and educators have gotten a scent of this whole internet concept, or notion rather. The reason I say 'notion', is because this is really all it is. They're not clammoring for product A, but rather they figure that this is a hot social issue and rallying for it can make or break their campaign. Those who think all this technology is going to revolutionize learning:
    A) Don't understand education.
    B) Don't even know what today's internet actually has to offer (or rather doesn't)
    C) Don't know what technology is and is not capable of.

    Firstly, Today's internet doesn't offer all that much in terms of research data. Unless you're talking about something which is likely to be a hot internet topic, you'll find your time is far better spent at a decent library. Secondly, even if you assume that all these great books and papers are put online, this isn't going to solve the problem of getting students to actually read and understand what they're presented with. I think time will show, that in inner cities schools, those schools which recieve hi-tech computer labs do no better.....

    well forget it, I'm too tired to go on. Maybe tomorrow :)
  • I tire of all these people, primarily those least familiar with computers, telling everyone that we must: put classrooms online, build advanced media facilities, put everyone online, etc etc -- or be lost in the information age. People such as Bill Clinton and Al Gore like nothing more than to go to these poor neighborhoods, and promise 'a computer in every classroom'. I'm sorry, but this is bullshit. Sure, everything being equal, they should be online. But these are kids in neighborhoods who are functionally illiterate, and have been for a long time. No amount of technology is going to fix this. These problems aren't new. Until they learn to read and write decently they'll never get anywhere.

    Infact, i'd go as far to say that those with more traditional education are _better_ equipped to handle technology than those of today's hi-tech classrooms. The problem is that in all these hi-tech classrooms, basic staples of learning are lost. Students of today might grasp today's technology: Windows95, Netscape, Office97, and what not. However, its a very superficial knowledge. They don't know, nor are they expected to, how these devices operate on a more basic level. Its basically a black box to them. What happens when you change the box a little? They're absolutely lost. This type of learning simply doesn't work. Meanwhile, they're losing sight of the ball. Which is to teach students how to learn.
  • I am a student at Utah State University [usu.edu] and my English 1010 [usu.edu] class is taught online. The teacher is actually a teacher at Salt Lake Community College which is about 100 mi. from Logan, Ut. They have online chats in our groups we were split up into. There are message boards that we post on a certian discussion at least MWF for attendance. Then we get weekly homework that we save in RTF and upload to the server. I quite like it, if I get my homework done early I just have to participate in the discussions.

    USU offers a few other online courses but I don't remember what they are.
  • Using a web chat or newsgroups or email lists to manage learning of advanced subject matter is not a very good idea. I've been on IRC/email/usenet for 7 years and if there is anything I have learned it's that online communication is very difficult.

    Works that are published, in print or otherwise are always carefully planned, edited, and executed to make sure that a reader will get the as close to the original meaning as possible. In written form, this is done with editors and defined writing structure. Close attention is placed on the audiencee and for the most part it is nothing more than a "broadcast" style medium.

    Communication on the net is much more real-time. It's much more personal in nature. It is easily possible to carry on a conversation over email. It's also easy to be misunderstodd in email. People approach email like they approach conversation, short bits of info, not generally well thought out, conveyed quickly to a peer. It's a very casual approach. The problem is that there are no non-visual cues in the world of email other than some rudimentary emoticons like :-) and :-(. This is a great source of confusion. Of course some people will be able to understand context, but for others it's like jumping into the middle of a conversation.

    Worse yet online communication is not necessarily linear. We all understand threading and multitasking because of our computer background. Veterans to IRC can speak asynchronously often being in many converstations with the same person at the same time. Unfortuately this is extrordinarily difficult to decipher when there is no understood context between parties, and that is the kind of thing that happens often on the net. You know what you mean, your friends might know what you mean, but it's not clear that everyone reading your post will know what you mean, since your post may arrive out of context with the discussion because of the nature of an online discussion. Even assuming perfect delivery, simultaneous responses can fork an online discussion, and software reads it as a thread, not a tree. Throw non-native english speakers into the mix and it gets even more difficult, since they do not have the mastery of the conversational language that takes part in such a discussion, nor the visual or cultural cues to decipher the context.

    I think it's possible to do this sort of thing with teaching, but I think it's more likely that distance learning like this will be more useful when streaming media is ubiquitous and high-quality enabling people to get the contextual clues they need for efficient communication.

    -Rich

    (And I'm not a student of communications or anything, I just wrote a paper on this my last year of college for speech class)
  • Wow you could have just left the UIUC part out and I still would have known what school you were talking about. Honestly I dont remember very much of 333, I stopped going after a while :-)

    You're probably jaded because UIUC is such a pain in the ass place. They're REALLY concerned with churning out high-caliber academics, so they inundate you with the academic process, so that if you make it to grad school you have obviously demonstrated an aptitude for 1) taking shit, and 2) long and painful documentation. I have no doubt in my mind that the people with clue who make it to grad school after undergrad at UIUC are incredibly sharp cookies, and probably do great work. Wasn't for me though. What I think went on there is that the curriculums were deisgned for people with serious interest in grad school. The rest of us just coasted along on what we wanted to learn, ignoring the stuff that went on in class. Some people did well. I did not. That process stuff just seemed like a colossal waste of time.

    -Rich
  • Testing is a problem online at a distance when you are testing for memorization/regurgitation ability. It isn't quite so bad when you are testing things that require problem-solving or critical analysis, as these are qualities you can't really "cheat" on - unless you get a friend with those abilties to do your work for you!

    For most university correspondence/distance ed courses, you are required to write an exam somewhere (often in your home city or one closeby) with a invigilator presiding ... this is the only way you can mimic the normal course final procedure.

    In many ways, online courses are good for courses that are not marked for a grade. If they are for credit, evaluation and examinations must be planned in ways traditionally used for distance education.

    YS
  • by Yosemite Sue ( 15589 ) on Wednesday September 22, 1999 @04:15AM (#1667271) Journal
    As a programmer involved with online and distance delivery education at a Univesity, I read the article carefully (and will be seeking the original sources). It makes some good points, but when I started to think about the problems mentioned in the article, I came to the conclusion that this particular online course was not well-planned. Like any software project, careful planning for online courses can save time and agony later on.

    In many cases, online courses are viewed as making the course content available on the web, with email access to the instructor and other students. IMO, this is no different than mailing out a textbook and some SASEs. If the interactive features of online tools are not used, the student might as well choose to do the course via traditional correspondence means.

    Here, when a professor or department come in to discuss putting a course online, we try to determine if that would be an appropriate thing to do. Certain courses lend themselves well to distance/online delivery, while others do not (though there may be a place for additional materials or tools online). Tools for instructor-student interaction and student-student interaction are used for most of our online courses. Animations, video and audio files and interactive web pages are used where appropriate. (Very few people are able to learn well by visual methods alone - it is good to use audio, experiential and social aspects to the learning experience in *any* course situation.) There are many proprietary courseware packages available that allow you to provide rich content and tools to students, if you use them to their full potential.

    When a course is being prepared for online delivery, our instructional designers work closely with the content experts to plan how the course should be delivered so that the student can get the most out of the course. The technological requirements are discussed, and depending on what the target audience is, choices are made as to what tools will be used. Support is a big issue for online courses, so that students have somewhere to go when they run into troubles. However, pedagogy is one of the most important aspects of the planning stages - there has to be a commitment by the instructor (and department or institution) to actually facilitate the course.

    In the situation described in the article, it appears that this course was not very well-designed and that there may not have been a full commitment by the instructor and institution to delivering the course. It also appears that support was not ideal for students encountering technical problems. Unfortunately, the students are the ones who suffer when this happens.

    I think there is a huge potential for the use of online tools in education ... I just hope people do not get caught up in the hype. It is easy to throw up a web page and call it "online course material" - teaching that material is a different story.

    YS
  • I was in an online class in college. It sucked. I was sitting at my computer when, all of a sudden, I had to take a leak. I clicked the little 'raise hand' icon to ask the teacher's permission, but my box bluescreened. When It came back up it told me that the ntdetect.com was invalid. By the time I got my box back online, class was over and I had wet myself. Twice. Good thing I was in my dorm room and nobody could see me except for my room-mate and he had a thing for urine that used to give me the creeps, but that day I was thankful for it.
    --Shoeboy
  • I am taking a "Distributed Operating Systems" class right now over distance learning and we had an assignement to hand in for this week. Now this is not your beginner computer science class, but the people still could not get it that you have to submit your homework using what they call an "activity" and not post it directly to the message board. So when I was checking messages, I see all 7 or 8 homework assignments posted right there for everyone to read! Then the next day there were more submissions but you could tell they copied it off the first person who submitted it publicly. I still sat down and did the work on my own because otherwise, what is the point of taking the class?
  • by umoto ( 19193 ) on Wednesday September 22, 1999 @04:20AM (#1667274) Homepage
    I am in charge of the technical side of the distance learning program at a major college and I'd have to say that the experiences in the class mentioned in the article don't at all match our own experience. But that's because we built a reasonable technological infrastructure before we started classes. We keep e-mail to a minimum, along with browser requirements and required technological background.

    We have over 1100 students enrolled in Web-based classes right now. A large number of them have already taken Internet courses, so apparently they liked the experience. Yes, there have been technological hurdles, but the students don't get too frustrated as long as we take care of the issues right away.

    Our program is quite different from other schools in at least one regard: we give the instructors complete freedom over the pages that make up their course. They can put their big odd-looking photograph right on the home page if they want to. We want both the instructor and the students to feel like they're in a friendly classroom, not in a perfected, white-walled corporate training session.

    On the technological side we took care to make it so that tests and assignments behaved just like paper assignments, where teachers can write their own comments on the form and students can look at their past assignments. It is a world away from e-mail assignments.

    Something else that makes a difference is that we have a Distance Learning department which runs the Distance Learning Service Center. Students and faculty can call the center at any time for assistance.
  • you can't flirt with somebody who's in another state.
    Dead on, Sig11... but the fact that somebody's thinking of it means they didn't read their Brooks.

    In The Mythical Man-Month J.B. Brooks tells the story of the company that outlawed informal conferences around the water cooler and snack machines. Within a week the line to their helpdesk office was out the door and almost back to the snack machines. This book is 20 years old (and was required reading for us at Georgia Tech as froshlings).

    I don't know if Month is still required at Tech. It should be. Despite the fact that Open Source development has proven some of his points wrong, there are still some important lessons in it that were obviously missed here. Lecture? Sure, go right ahead and cybercast it. History and English courses would work wonderfully well in cyberspace. (I've actually helped teach a number of cyber-assisted history and philosophy courses, a long time ago when mainframes were still king.) Science labs, however, need to be human-to-human... as does anything else where doing it as opposed to just talking about it is important (calculus recitation).

    It's rather like the difference in a recipe for souffle sitting there on your screen, and the ache in your arm after beating all those eggs... and the ache in your belly that tells you you ate too much of the stuff. :)

  • I think people are simply not aware of how much it costs to put a course online (and you wondered why your ol' prof recycled the same material decade after decade :-) ). I recall the Open University (UK) estimate that it costs ~$1 million to create a single 3 year subject, plus the cost of revising it in another 3 years. Putting notes on the web and adding email support are a natural complement to normal lectures but nothing can replace face-face interaction with an expert, nor collaborative work with peers. Despite the desires of corporate educational providers, teaching will continue to be labor intensive until someone invents 3D AI avatars that can read minds.

    Perhaps there are some roles where computer intensive training would be more effective (e.g pilot training) or can compenstate for disadvantages (braille translation) but for technical stuff, there's no alternative to getting your hands dirty (so why am I procrastinating reading this instead of trying to find that obscure timing bug? :-( ).

    Give me a decent book by an engaging author anyday.

    LL
  • Signal 11 [slashdot.org] wrote
    You know, in all seriousness, remote learning won't achieve widespread acceptance within the next 30 years for one simple reason: you can't flirt with somebody who's in another state. Seriously.. human interaction is a key component to learning.

    Once you've got your hormones under control, I'd like to respectfully point out that the college crowd is making an increasingly smaller portion of the higher education market. For people serious about getting access to further education and not interested in chasing skirts (due to existing family life), web-based material (if correctly designed and supported) may offer time savings not possible otherwise. I am amazed at the dedication (not to mention stamina) shown by some colleagues who juggle a full-time job, raise a kid, build up a technical web site, and still have time for part-time postgraduate study. Also your comments about the requirement for human interaction may be correct for kids with short attention spans but IMHO the biggest bottleneck is trying to work out the conceptual gaps in a student, then suggesting a course of study that fits their inclinations. Given the incredible discrepency in talents and backgrounds, even within a small class, it becomes a Herculean task to create a learning structure that satisfies everyone.

    Now, the online "classroom" idea I dig - multimedia presentations are a great way to convey lots of information quickly. Just turn on the disovery channel, or "Bill Nye the Science Guy"

    General science/tech/business edutainment aimed at mainstream would have little intrinsic value except in building a broad general knowledge. Solving problems, mapping theoretical techniques to applications, and simply knowing where to go for help can't be taught easily through a passive medium. I suspect that whole-scale uptake of remote instructional technology will be primarily by the corporate universities (perhaps outsourced to specialist firms). Let's face it, mental geniuses they may be, universities do not always have a lot of relevant real-world experience. The real competition for Stanford, Harvard, or ColumbiaU is not going to be other universities, but professional courses offered by the big 5 accounting firms or IBM/Microsoft/McDonald/etc.

    LL
  • Distance learning was all the rage a few years ago when school ,administrators thought it would be a way to save money or enlarge their paying pupil base. Now that several schools have tried it, it is widely viewed as as being a complete flop. The fact of the matter is that Socrates had it right when he said that the ideal classroom is a log with the instructor on one end and the student on the other.

    I actually took a course that way once - Graduate scool at Yale University, Statistical Mechanics with Professor R. Vaisnys, class size of 1. I learned more in that one course than in any 5 others I ever had.

  • Most of what I know I taught myself either by reading books or by tinkering around. There wasn't much human interaction in that.

    This may be true, but human interaction isn't only better because it's easier to learn (and ask questions), it's better because it teaches you how to relate with people in general. In reality, this is one of the most important traits to learn. It's not just the actual "x+y=z" stuff that's important, it's the social interaction that goes on during that process. I've seen a lot of people NOT hired where I work simply because they didn't seem to have the right social skills, and were too reserved, yet they had amazing technical skills. Being a boy genious isn't going to get you anywhere if you can't explain what it is you're doing and work together with someone else.
  • You know, in all seriousness, remote learning won't achieve widespread acceptance within the next 30 years for one simple reason: you can't flirt with somebody who's in another state.

    Ain't true. What do you think all these people in AOL chat rooms are doing? Yeah, I know, it's a big stretch to call that flirting, but it is generally the same idea.

    Seriously.. human interaction is a key component to learning.

    Not for all people. Most of what I know I taught myself either by reading books or by tinkering around. There wasn't much human interaction in that. OTOH, my wife, for example, cannot just learn stuff by herself. She needs it to be *taught* to her. That doesn't mean that I am smarter than her or vice versa -- we just learn in different ways.

    However, I still don't think online learning will take off in a big way. People who need interaction will hate it and people who don't need interaction (like me) will not need it. I'd rather teach myself than be taught online. For me its faster, cheaper, more convenient, and I actually learn more by having to fix my own mistakes.

    Kaa
  • So this would be something like Chevy Chase tripping over a network cable?
    ---
  • I took an 'Advanced Topics in Data Networking' course [harvard.edu] in the spring at Harvard and thought they handled the 'distance learning' piece well. The classes met as usual and were also videotaped, the video of the class was available within hours on the web along with all the slides Scott (Bradner, instructor) used. Most people went to most of the classes, but if you couldn't make one you could watch it at any point on the web. All the reading assignments (mostly RFCs) and exams were on the web. The instructor was available and responsive via email.

    A class with no chance of face-to-face interaction with the instructor and no shared space with other students will work for some people, but interaction and groupwork are more instructive for others. Making classes available in a variety of media and allowing the students to choose what works best for them seems like the best idear to me.
  • ...and assuming that nobody changes the topic (which they should) or includes half of the message they are replying to (which they shouldn't).

    A good mail reader can help, but it's just not as good as an inherently threaded system.
  • Exactly what made them think using web pages and mailing lists would be better than a correspondence course?

    Plain mailing lists are practically useless for anything but announcements. Some sort of threaded system is needed if you are to sort through all the garbage to what you are actually interested in.

    In my experience, a good set of course notes (or FAQs or HOW-TOs) is worth infinitely more than the lectures (which the mass chats are analogous to). Regular private chat program use or, preferably, face-to-face contact is needed by all but the most self-reliant students. One of the biggest advantages of a university setting is that the students all study together and teach each other, filling in the little gaps in each others' understanding.

    Of course, this could just be a case of a teacher's lousy skill shining through.
  • by helver ( 36342 ) on Wednesday September 22, 1999 @04:26AM (#1667285) Homepage
    It seems like the problems the students had were that they were not prepared for an on-line learnign experience. As another comment stated, 35 emails in one week is hardly an overwhelming amount of email. I get more spam than that each week.

    The one comment that I thought really explemplified the lack of preparation by the students was the comment about the chat room going too fast. I've been mudding for a long time now - going on five years. At first, being in that environment was confusing and frustrating. After awhile however, it became almost second nature. Messages were seen and remembered, and responses were made quickly and accurately - AFTER having been acclimated to the environment.

    I'm not really sure how you (as a university) would provide a means for students to get acclimated... but perhaps the professor could log all conversations from the chatroom and post them on the web page.

    I just seems to me like the students in the class expected a cake walk and got a class that had some real content that they weren't expecting.
  • As someone who does computer-based educational stuff for a living, it still amazes me how gullible people are when they start working on projects like this

    It doesn't save time, it takes it. In large amounts. Your average college prof or high school teacher is basically clueless about what you need to do- they can put up a simple web page, but interactive programming is difficult and beyond most of them.

    There are a ton of products out there to "make it easy" for the professor to setup an online class. Every one I've seen isn't worth the effort: they are complex, fragile and very limited in capabilites. Sure, you can click a few boxes and put a quiz online. Too bad it will be only multiple choice and have virtually no useful feedback to the student unless the professor spends the time writing detailed answers. The web-based discussion boards have a fraction the capabilites of USENET. The integrated grade books don't hold a candle to a spreadsheet like Excel.

    The CD-ROMs in most books are worse. They always want a version of Quicktime you don't have. They are poorly designed, filled with examples that are simply copied from the paper book and still have limited feedback on the quizzes.

    Thus, you get people like me helping out. I do web page/CGI/Java/multimedia stuff for the department. But now you have to find someone who knows both chemistry and the Net. You have to pay my salary and all the other overhead. And I still have to train professors in how to use this material.

    We won't even get into the problems of distance ed. Is the person taking the test online the same person that signed up for the class? How do I get people even to show up to class- one of the best determiners of who will do well in the course?

    There are a ton of great things you can do with the web. (See the Chime plug-in for example, an amazing tool for chemistry.) But how to rework an entire course to be web-based is not at all clear.

    Eric

  • On the other hand, I took part in an online course way back in 1987. It was hosted by NJITs EIES system (half mainframe, half BBS) and offered for credit by Upsala College (which sadly, is no more). (I wish I knew where the study docs for this was - it was part of a three course experiment and I know research was done).

    It was Introduction to Sociology and lasted the full semester. We met in person exactly three times - for orientation (and to buy the book), for the mid-term exam, and for the final exam. The class had about 16 students, IIRC.

    It wasn't done with a mailing list, but with a sort of threaded discussion group (not unlike a usenet newsgroup). The professor would post reading assignments or "lectures" and participants were expected to reply. Quizzes were done by timed email (reciept was timestamped and then you had X minuites to send the completed reply).

    I had a good experience with it. I learned a lot, and if I'd had to commute to campus, I'd never have been able to take the course.

    If 1987 technology could be made to work, I have to think that today's tech should be able to handle it even better.
  • I am currently a student enrolled in one online class at Bellevue Community College in Bellevue, WA, and I just enrolled in my first online class (a technical writing class) this quarter. So far, I've only been in the class itself for about two or three days now, but anyone who is familiar with the Net in general (particularly message boards and chatrooms) should have no problem. One nice touch is that lectures are available in RealAudio format on some of the classes offered here.

  • Hey there. I posted this to the Building Virtual Universities [slashdot.org] discussion a few days ago, but too late for anyone to read it. I hope it's still relevant.

    I've been a programmer at the Technical University of British Columbia [techbc.ca] for over two years now. I was reading with amusment Schank's article, thinking about our university and all that we've done and learned developing classes for our first year of students this September.
    TechBC may be closer to Schank's vision for a univsersity than a few others I know. We've tried to develop our course delivery models to embrace an online environment from the beginning. Too many online offerings are either just supplementary information for a lecture, or some glorified correspondance course. We've tried to change that by throwing out the old learning models (including a lecturer standing in front of a class droning on for 3 hours a week) and starting with something new.

    A few features that set out TechBC from the rest (If I may get a plug in for my employer):
    • TechBC is Canada's newest university (1997). It's not a technical institute, but rather a university using technology to teach.
    • TechBC courses all have some kind of online component, but vary in "delivery model", ranging from "Presentational-Cooperative" (half way between a lecturer and team based learning), to "Computer-Mediated Classroom" (heavily based on online conferencing, ala Slashdot), to "Flexible Study" (the more traditional "online" course, but with a high level of interactivity and and attempt to build a community of learners.
    • TechBC "courses" are delivered as three 5 week, one credit modules. The theory is that modules can be interchanged as required, so you don't have to take three modules of Statistics if you're a business major. Modules are developed and re-used for other courses.
    • A common first year for students called TechOne. The material is divided between business/management, multimedia design, and information technology. This may have been for practical reasons as well, you have no idea how much work it is to get just 6 courses (ahem, 18 modules) out for September! (Including making sure all the servers are working, the Javascript debugged on 6000 pages... :) This also gives the students time to decide which program to go into (I know I could have used this, though I may not have been enthused about taking business courses in my first year)
    • Course material is developed from scratch from both textual and online resources. We don't quite have the same bias as other universities developing courses from existing "static lectures".
    • Geek Friendly! Well, at least our advertising slogan for this year of classes is "The geek shall inherit the earth". All of the professors, and even the presedent of the university are geeks at heart. (Especially us wacky ones in Educational Technology and Learning.... Hi guys!)
      Greater sense of online community. Well, at least we're working on it. Building a course management system to handle all these new concepts takes time. Nonetheless, the students seem to be posting as much in online conferences as hanging out after class.
    • Motiviated Professors. They're all really enthusiastic about teaching their students. Some of them come from the old school of lecturing in front of students, and are becoming excited as to how quickly the students are actually learning with the new course delivery models. As one professor commented just this last week, he was amazed how much and how quickly the students were learning brainstorming in teams (they were redesigning a user interface).
    • "Standardized" course material. Well, not really, but once course content is created online (a big overhead), it can be reused by faculty and not re-invented each semester. It probably ages after about 2 years or so and has to be re-done.
      Strong business relationship (with tech partners, not banks or cola manufacturers), with plans for a strong co-op program.

    Some amusing points. I notices Schank was complaining about the use of Latin as an "ancient educational language". Latin is also often used as text filler, sort of an "insert your text here" when developing course material. We bucked ther trend and used Esparanto. (A quote translated from Robert Jordan's "Wheel of Time" series, I believe).

    I liked the bit about using "games" such as flight simulators to teach students. I think most of our professors who would like this idea and think it was cool.

    Reading about people "drifting off" and losing interest in lectures. I've been asked to generate reports from the web logs to determine which students may be losing interest so we can give them some more attention, and make sure they're not dissatisfied with their learning experience.

    Well, I've plugged enough. It's not all been roses... It's been hell to put off from the university's point of view, and we won't really know how well it works until the students have completed their first semester of courses.

    Perhaps our university can shock the others into changing their ways...

  • I would have to disagree that online and distance education will ever substantially improve the quality of education delivered. This is not a case of kinks to be worked out and new skills to be honed, but rather a situation where companies are attempting a commoditization of education at any cost. Mind you, it would not be a problem if the same quality of pedagogical result could be achieved, but the important role one-on-one interaction and challenge between student and professor is often obliterated. This results in a markedly lower standard of learning.


    The other dangerous thing about online education is that often the instructor's coursework is appropriated by the school and then redistributed online without his or her involvement. The only conceivable reason for doing this is to reduce teaching expenses. Of course, as many have seen, the costs of producing an online course can often be higher per student than the original course, and involve more work, not less for instructor. Luckily, one of my former professors has already made these same arguments before, and much more cogently. Please take a look at the three essays at http://communication.ucsd.edu/dl [ucsd.edu] and reconsider whether the principl so far governed online education are sound.

  • by konstant ( 63560 ) on Wednesday September 22, 1999 @04:41AM (#1667291)
    There'll be a lot of people in this thread who sympathize with the goals of the study and state that online learning can't compete with the simple human experience of collaring a classmate after the lecture and asking "WTF was that about?" Particularly a pretty, blonde classmate.

    Hey, I confess that socializing was the primary reason I attended classes in college. Learning certainly wasn't a large attribute of CS 333.

    But look, that's precisely the problem with college today. It's become an incubator for all the yuppie larva, a passport to the middle class. It has next to nothing to do with actually learning any longer. There was very little I learned at UIUC that I hadn't known previously or learned in my own time. I was so disgusted with the process (which put my family $50 in the hole) that I quit after three years. But that degree still played a crucial role in obtaining my job. Even though I've barely used it.

    That's what we need to abolish. College needs to be about learning again, not certifying yourself as part of the High Income Club. If there are no people to hang out with, no babes to flirt with, no professors to fight with, then there's only one ting remaining: the knowledge.

    I'm sure people said the same thing once about learning literature or engineering from books. Yet those are things I do all the time.

    Let's put higher education back in the hands of people who deserve it: the people who love the knowledge and have a use for it. Not ungrateful shits like myself who only want a cushy job. Not to whale on myself or anything...

    -konstant
  • I don't know what it's like at other universities, but at Stanford most engineering classes are completely televised and webized. Sometimes you have to physically hand in assignments, but a lot of courses have online submission. I've also participated in an experimental humanities course that integrated the web with readings, discussion, and homework. It really is the most convenient way to do it, and I don't see that much advantage in physical contact with professors since it's all pretty clinical anyway. I think online communication is more useful since it's already typed up and stored for you, and writing things out helps to crystallize your thoughts. For all of you who think online classes aren't here yet, you obviously haven't visited the Farm!

  • Of course face-to-face interaction with an expert is better than just reading material on-line, but if you look at the article you'll see that this was a distance learning course anyway.

    In a distance learning course any on-line activity is only going to increase the amount of interaction you get with lecturers, tutors and your fellow classmates.

    I'm currently studying via distance learning and pretty much the only interaction I have with my tutor and classmates is via a mailing list.

    While online teaching methods can't currently compete with traditional methods, they're a huge improvement over what currently passes for distance ed.
  • by veldrane ( 70385 ) on Wednesday September 22, 1999 @03:53AM (#1667294)
    I know that on-line courses aren't the total solution to the education process but I've taken quite a few correspondence courses in my high school days just plainly because there are some things high school doesn't teach. Linear Differential Equations isn't necessarily one of them. :)
    I for one am a person that enjoys setting the pace of my learning and it is also a lot easier for me to focus on the education without distractions, be it the female in front of you or other things.
    I also know that some college professors could simply put their notes and itinerary for the class on-line and you could get more out of the class than attending, watching the prof copy his/her notes verbatim to the chalkboard.

    But there are some courses where human interaction is an important part of the class. Theatre is the first of my classes that somes to mind.

    On-line education isn't a solution but when applied correctly, its a damn good idea opportunity.
  • http://www-epgy.stanford.edu/ [stanford.edu]

    EPGY is a way for gifted students in elementary through high school to take advanced classes when they aren't offered by local schools. They have math, physics, english, and apparently have added computer science since I took classes. They distribute lectures on CD-ROM, and all correspondence with the professor is via e-mail. They were also in the process of setting up some sort of chat room interface a year or two ago, don't know if that ever happened.

  • Looking at how some online courses are setup, and the skills, culture and technology required - The linux community could create its own online university. Check out ZDNet University, a site like /. could easily set up a superior environment for learning. The community is all ready motivated and organized and educating and informing each other, just look at any linux newsgroup or the LDP. In fact the whole open source philosophy is modelled after the academic philosphy used in scientific research.
    The problem right now is that there are many of us out here that don't currently have the skills to dive in and make a usefull contribution to any open source project. We need some hand holding and guidance to reach our full potential. As well, it would be helpful that some of the contributions and learning we do with linux would be recognized in some official way (to add to a resume or count towards a degree)


    How would it work?
    First a website dedicated to organizing and coordinating classes and communication would be created. Then members of the open source community that have proved there superior knowege could act as professors. Assistants could be appointed to these professors to take much of the work load off of them. Students of simular abilities would be grouped together to follow an established program that has been documented. Ideally peer cooperation and competion would provide a productive learing environment with professors and thier assistants only interfering to keep the class on the right track.


    Lower level cources could include things like Linux installation, basic UNIX admistration, Introduction to C (Java, Python, ect). Projects in higher level cources would require contribution to Open Source projects.


    Who benifits?
    Ideally everybody. Students get a free education, with guidance from the leading minds in the field. Appointed professors would gain from prestige, passing on there knowlege (philosophes, work ethic), finding new recruites to hire or contribute to there project and possibly even make some cash from selling text books to students. The whole community, by bringing everyone together, making everyone more knowlegeable and smarter and increasing the number of skilled Open Source Contibutors.


    Who would pay for it?
    There are may ways the university could potencially be funded. Sale of text books and documentation - ideally these would be available in electronic form for free but some people will desire a hard copy anyways. A better way would to have cooperate sponsors pay for it (like RedHat). For examble a linux distribution would stand to gain so much in terms of recruiting more Open Source developers that they would be fools not to fund such an endevor.


    Would it be recognized?
    Properly organized the education quality of such a university could be quite high. Again a corporate sponsor such as RedHat could make a deal with a real university to recognise credits from the Linux University (or maybe GNU U).


    All of this could eventually evolve into more than just a geek college but you have to start somewhere. I think the Open Source community has the level of organization, technological skills and community values to make something like this work. The philosophies of Open Source all ready closely model that of the academic science community, an online university for geeks by geeks is the next logical step.


    Hope you found this interesting. Tell me what you think.

  • Let's consider the US educational system 20 to 30 years ago when todays teachers went to school.

    They would get up, go to school. They would learn from books. Open discussion was not normal academic life. Then Slide projectors were added. As a child I remember considering any slide projection class as a class off. I didn't pay much attention, I just was amazed by how the slide projector worked... The late 80's brought the VCR and video tapes into the classroom, replacing the slide projector as a student's favorite way to goof off and get an education... and now, educators are bringing on computers... no big surprise students reguard these as toys.

    What I failed to realize back then, but in a 20-20 hindsight, is that my teachers had a difficult time with the slide projectors, with the vcrs, with any new gadget... why? because it was new, because they were unaware of how it worked... It used to take 45 minutes to set up 15 minutes worth of video tape. Now teachers just pop and go. I'll bet the majority of people no longer even have a VCR which blinks 12:00, because it finally became integrated into american culture.

    New teachers, who have used computers for years, have an advantage that they know how to use them, but they lack the experience designing a fleshed out curriculm. Old teachers, who unless they were interested in them as a hobby, never learned computers until being forced to by modern edjukashun. Now they can make a curriculum, but lack fundemental knowledge of a computer system. Students, new to both the topics, and to the novelty of a computer, are going to wind up with less and less attention spent examining the material and more time pressing buttons.

    The problem is not that people are stupid or unwilling to learn, its just that our culture hasn't evolved (or been created in Kansass) enough to handle it. In five years, when people tone down the emphasis on the "internet" as a tool, and "online education" in general, we will see the improvements. Right now, the teachers, and the children though, are just guinnea pigs. give it time.
  • Yes, That's the truth... SlashDot is an excellent example of how on-line communincation can work. And it even overcomes the problems of not having to be related to a single topic.... I see the current problems as more of an implementation issue than anything else. No sense BLAMING the teachers, I've found them barely capable of controlling/managing a traditional classroom....

    New technology means new rules.... There are so few terachers capable of really teaching, and we can hardly expect them to learn new rules every three years ( or less ).

    As someone working with Universities to implement distance learning programs, I REALLY believe they are the wave of the future. My 7 year old can accomplish things on-line now that I couldn't do after a degree in engineering...

  • That's for sure. My observations here (nope -- you won't hear where "here" is) lead me to believe that it is not the older established profs that excel in the online environment, it' the younger, more dynamic graduate students and assistant profs who don't have as many preconceived notions about teaching & learning.

    The web can really expose someone's incompetence. More alarmingly, the web can really expose someone's laziness as incompetence. The best instructors tell me that online courses require much more time than traditional courses to manage. They spend more time reading (of course), more time keeping everyone "on task" throughout the semester, and they also have to work on creating a "learning community" (much like the Slashdot community, but they only have 15 weeks to do it) of their students.

    The people least suited for conducting an online course are the instructors who have their classes organized to a fault, digging out the folder for Day 57 when the time comes. I think we all know how out of control and unpredictable an online community can become (see flame wars, et-al). It's truly an art to control - no to direct such a beast and have learning as its outcome. And I'm of the opinion that online learning can and does happen. I wouldn't say that it's the same learning that comes from a traditional course - but it's in no way inferior.

    Last week I had a talk with an assistant prof teaching a web-assisted advanced writing course. He uses his online classroom for between class communication / discussion and as a repository for his lecture notes. The results are two fold: First, students are up to speed on the daily lecture the minute they walk in the classroom (from the class threaded discussion groups). Second, the students are freed from frantically copying down the day's notes since they are assured the notes will appear after class on the web site: so the classroom discussions are richer and the students are more engaged.

    The weak link in online ed isn't the technology - it's finding instructors with the ability and imagination to use online tools effectively and to their advantage without focusing on the tools as end in themselves. There seems to be a tendency to overemphasize online tools. In my opinion, the effective use of online tools is no more contrived or forced than the use of overhead projectors or white boards in the classroom. The leaders use the technology as if it were naturally intended to be a teaching tool.

    That said, I wholeheartedly agree with the conclusions of other slashdotters that courseware itself also has a role to play in the success of online ed. The instructors' ability to control the look & feel of the environment, threaded discussion, creating "learning communities," and standardized content all have a lot to do with the quality of the courseware used - as does ease of use.
  • I took an online class about a year ago - it was an introductory level telecommunications class. At the college I attend, every purely online class (and there are several) falls under the juristiction of the "virtual university", which has created a bunch of CGI 'widgets' (the maintainance of which is my lovely job - lucky me) for profs to use. Included are the standard fun things like class lists, online quiz administration, etc. I never had to deal with excessive e-mail, as there was an online forum (not threaded, for some reason that escapes both me and the creators of the program) and a chat room for people to go with their problems.

    Overall, the approach worked very well, but I think that it would fail if it were for a more advanced class (ie, one that would generate a lot of discussion) due to the lack of a threaded conversation area, as well as the (relative) inability to monopolize your professor's time through office hours & after-class discussion.

    The advantages of on online class are obvious - flexible times (I took the class because the non-virtual version wouldn't fit into my schedule), and larger classes due to self-correcting online tests (the quality of said tests are a different issue) being some, but I can also see the disadvantages. People can miss out a great deal if they don't have someone there in person to view. I was lucky to have RealAudio feed of the lectures so I could catch such subtleties as text tends to leave out, but RealAudio is not a standard part of most Virtual University classes.

    I think online classes are a good concept, but it's important to know their limits before the classes are fully implemented.
  • I have taken several courses through ZDU [zdu.com] and have watched as my classmates encountered many of the same problems mentioned in the article. Much of the confusion stemmed from the fact that the students had not read the preparatory materials (the ZDU FAQ's on "how all this stuff works") and were not clear on the technical workings of the online classroom setting. Usually, the first three days' worth of posts can be ignored, because most of the messages involve something like "It says I have to FTP. Where do I get an FTP from?" and other newbie questions.

    However, I have also witnessed a great temporary community spring up, as the students and teachers help each other understand the material, and work together to find solutions to problems. The instructors and sysops don't seem to have a problem with answering the same question 10 times each and every time they teach the course. This is very contrary to the apathy I encountered at college, where the environment was much more hands-off and impartial.

    Perhaps a solution would be to hold a video or in-person demonstration as a pre-course, to familiarize students with tools like chat, or give them coping strategies to dozens of e-mails (filter!!!), and of course a small reminder that the teacher can't look at each and everybody's work every day. There would still be the usual newbie stumbles, but they would be much less of a hinderance to the learning environment.

    In any case, there are always going to be those who learn better with one form of teaching than with another. While online curricula should not entirely replace the in-person experience, they can be a great supplemental for many people, and for some could even be better than the "real thing".

  • That IS what happens. I took C++ online last semester. We took tests on real paper in a real lecture hall, once a month. All the homework and labs were submitted through the WWW and FTP.

    ----

  • The one thing computers do is make things accountable. A prof can bluf his/her way through a crap course in a university. Corespondence courses can hide in obscurity. Once things are up for everyone to examine though, its much harder to hide. Just ask any manager who lost a job after pivot tables came into use... I doubt this would have been a story if the same quality was delivered in a classroom. "X University Offers a Crap Course". Now that is a headline.

God may be subtle, but he isn't plain mean. -- Albert Einstein

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