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Online Education in Brief

 What is Online Learning?                             

It is the delivery of courses through your computer, using the Internet to link faculty and students. This process can occur between two computers in the same town or between computers on opposite sides of the earth. All students in this environment become actively involved in interactive learning groups.

 How does Online Learning work?
The process begins with you enrolling in an online course. At that time you will be assigned passwords and login instructions. You must then undergo a brief technical orientation to teach you to use the Blackboard system or the WebCt platform. This happens either in your first online class, or in a separate technical orientation.

Online courses have regularly scheduled beginning and end dates, and there are deadline dates assigned for your classroom activities (including your homework, assigned readings, and even virtual classroom discussion requirements).

As a student, you are expected to participate in your virtual classroom regularly. This includes participation, discussion, submission of regular assignments and participation in group activities, if any. Your online instructor will give you very detailed instructions to guide you through this process.

Online students can order their textbooks for each course through the many online bookstores. You can view the online bookstore at Amazon.

What are Blackboard and WebCT? 

Blackboard and WebCT are Internet-based systems designed to allow students to participate in classes in an online format. They allow you to send and receive information from your instructor, the classroom, other students or groups of students. There is no software to install to access Blackboard or WebCT, but you will be required to have access to the Internet.

What is a virtual classroom?

The virtual classroom is the common meeting area for all students assigned to an online class. Each classroom has a unique name, which will be provided to you before the start of each course. Only students taking that particular class have access to that virtual classroom.

This form of education is what the experts call "asynchronous." This means what you do is neither time nor place dependent. You go online to read lectures, participate in discussion and possibly complete exams. Many of the assignments and exercises required in online courses will still be completed off-line using word processing software. Your classroom is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Does asynchronous discussion really work?

While almost everyone who tries this style of learning likes it, we find that it best suits those who have very busy work and personal lives. One of the barriers prohibiting many busy working adults from going to college is the requirement to be in a particular place at a particular time. Remember that online programs have been specifically designed to take advantage of technology. We have not attempted to replicate a model that works well in a face-to-face traditional environment. The online delivery method gives you the same results, but in a far more efficient manner! Also remember that in an on-ground classroom, students are often allowed to sit without participating. In the online environment, this is not allowed. Everyone must participate.

Is the learning process affected?

Absolutely not. The primary problems associated with asynchronous communication come from the initial difficulty the student has in becoming accustomed to the new delivery method. Once acquainted with the process, most students report that an improved learning situation occurs.

When communication is asynchronous, any student can participate anytime it is convenient to do so, whether that is midnight or noon, in a hotel room while traveling on business or on an airplane at 30,000 feet.

Online students have an opportunity to spend time reviewing the class archives (comments, lectures, and discussions) and can compose their responses at their own schedule. The material and concepts are approached at an individual rate. Our students and faculty find that a greater level of depth and breadth can be achieved in asynchronous communication than in "real-time" communications.

 What is a typical online class like?

All online courses are broken down into equal parts called seminars. Typically, online courses are six weeks in length. On the first day of each seminar (week), the online instructor sends any introductory information on the week's topic, restates the assignments from the course outline or module and sends an introductory lecture to begin the study process for the week. To stimulate discussions, the instructor would also typically include discussion questions related to the topic at the end of his/her lecture.

As the week progresses, you work on your readings and assignments, and you participate in classroom discussion just as you would in a traditional classroom setting. However, you use the computer to participate in the class discussions, to carry on private discussions with classmates or your teacher, to ask questions and to receive any feedback. When your assignments are due (you usually have a specific deadline for your required work during the week), you send them to the instructor or to the classroom online. Instructors grade your papers, provide feedback and comments, and keep you informed of your status weekly.

 Is an online course easier than an in-class course?

The level of difficulty should be about the same. The focus of the work is different, however. For example, all of your focus in an online course is on reading and writing. This is not the case in an on-ground classroom setting where part of your participation is listening. Aural learners may have difficulty in accepting this more visual learning process.

 Is it possible to talk to my instructor and fellow classmates in private?

It certainly is. Essentially the Blackboard and the WebCT systems are conferencing (or email) systems that are expanded. Students can use either their personal email account or their virtual classroom for private communication. Remember, only students enrolled in that classroom will be able to join in the discussion or view course material.

In a regular classroom I can sit in the back of the room and listen. Suppose I don't want to participate in the online classroom?
If this is the case with you, then you do not want to enroll in an online class. In an online class all students have an equal opportunity to participate in the discussions. This is a large part of how you learn in this environment. Online courses require that everyone participate to succeed. For this reason, online classes are much smaller than on-ground classes. A typical online class may have 12-15 students.

What kind of computer equipment do I need?

Your computer system must meet the following requirements:

  Pentium 100 processor, or higher
  Minimum of 32 meg of RAM
  Windows 95 or 98
  28.8 modem or higher
  3.5 high-density floppy drive
  CD-ROM drive
  Internet Explorer 4.0 (or higher), or Netscape Navigator 4.0 (or higher)
  Internet access
  Microsoft Office 97 is highly recommended.
  You must have a word processing program (preferably Microsoft Word)
  A Macintosh system equivalent to these requirements can also be used.

Definition of terms often used when talking about online courses:

Asynchronous: In computer programming, asynchronous (from Greek meaning "not at the same time") pertains to processes that proceed independently of each other.

Browser: A browser is an application program that provides a way to look at and interact with all the information on the Internet. The word "browser" seems to have originated prior to the Internet as a generic term for user interfaces that let you browse text files online.

Chat: On the Internet, chat or chatting is talking to other people who are using the Internet at the same time you are. Asynchronous communication is not considered chat.

Discussion board: A discussion board is a general term for any online "bulletin board" where you can leave messages and receive responses. You can also just read the board. Bulletin board services were invented for this purpose (as well as to allow for the exchange of uploaded/downloaded files). This is where the on-line course discussion takes place.

ISP: An ISP (Internet Service Provider) is a company that provides access to the Internet and other related services.

Microsoft Internet Explorer: Microsoft Internet Explorer (MSIE) is the graphical Internet browser that is provided with the Microsoft Windows 95, 98, and NT operating systems.

Netscape Navigator: Netscape Navigator is another widely-used Internet browser that is provided by Netscape Communications.

Thread: A thread is a sequence of responses to an initial message posting. This enables you to join an individual discussion from among the many that may be there. A thread is usually shown graphically as an initial message and successive messages after the original message

Source: Baker College Online