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Getting Started

Part I

The Internet Requirement

A little about Internet-based courses

Advantages of Internet-based courses

Disadvantages of Internet-based courses

Is this course for you?

Go to Part II


The Internet Requirement

Here's a little more explanation about the Internet requirement for this course.

For the first time ever, there is no difference between the Internet course and the on-campus course. Repeat after me: there is no difference. The course materials, guidelines, requirements, exams, assignments and grading are exactly the same. Internet students are welcome to attend on-campus sessions and on-campus students are welcome to attend class online. Quizzes will be taken online by all students and some exams will be taken on-campus by all students. Once again: there is no difference. Period.

Does that mean that lecture students need to have access to the Internet? Yes. Does that mean lab students need to have access to the Internet? Yes. For $10,   you can use the campus computer labs all semester. I will give you time during your scheduled classes to use the computer labs. We will spend the first two weeks of class becoming familiar with the Internet and learning how to use a computer to access the Internet. As long as you are willing to learn, even if you have never used a computer in your life, you will have no trouble with this course. I take it as a personal mission to make sure every student is comfortable using a computer and accessing the Internet. Willingness is the key.

Some students may object to being *forced" to use the Internet. Let me assure you that I have no intention of forcing you to do anything. I could talk for hours on the future of humankind and the role that the Internet will play, but I will spare you that sermon here. If you absolutely refuse to use the Internet for whatever reason, then politely sign up for a section of this course taught by an instructor who doesn't require use of the Internet. I won't argue with you about this requirement and I won't offer a non-Internet alternative to Internet requirements. However, I would be more than happy to discuss with you how to get access to the Internet and how to use it.

If you have any questions, concerns, comments, suggestions or feelings about this requirement, please feel free to e-mail me. I'm happy to discuss anything in a cordial and respectful manner.

A little about Internet-based courses

Let's talk a little about Internet-based courses.

An Internet-based course is a course that is delivered, wholly or partially, via the Internet to a student.  An Internet-based course may cover virtually any topic. It may even be a course about the Internet or how to use the Internet, but it doesn't have to be. The spectrum of Internet-based courses is getting bigger every day. Check out a few of the links at the end of this section to get a better idea of what I mean.

There are also many different ways to conduct an Internet-based course. Some courses are primarily on-campus lecture courses that use the Internet to supplement course materials. These partially Internet-based courses may involve exchanges of e-mail and assignments between the student and instructor. They may include online discussion forums or chat as part of the course. They might require students to take quizzes and/or exams online.

The other extreme is an Internet-based course that is entirely online. All course materials, assignments, quizzes and exams are provided through the Internet. Although students and instructors exchange e-mail, participate in discussions and engage in online chat, they may never see each other.

This course, my course, ESC130: Introduction to Oceanography, at Fullerton College, is somewhere between the two extremes. It really depends on the student. The course is set up so that students who are familiar with e-mail and web browsers and who desire flexibility in their schedule can access and complete most of the course online. For those students who desire face-to-face (FTF) contact, or who may not be completely comfortable with surfing the net, regular and frequent on-campus meetings are held. Any student is welcome to attend any of these class meetings.

Internet-based courses can be a blast. I know because I have taken several. Let me give you a couple examples from my experiences as a student in Internet-based courses.

As of Fall 1999, I've taken three wholly online screenwriting courses offered through the UCLA Extension Program. These courses used strictly e-mail for exchanges of information and assignments between me and my instructor. For a writing class, this format worked very well. I wrote something, e-mailed it to the instructor and the instructor critiqued my writing and e-mailed it back to me. Sounds simple, but these courses were intense and I learned an incredible amount about screenwriting.

Another Internet-based course I took dealt with learning how to teach online. This course was delivered via the World Wide Web over a three-week period. All the course materials were posted online and assignments were completed online. A major part of this course was the use of bulletin boards or forums for discussing course materials and completing group projects. Although it was a short course, it was still quite a challenge. It definitely made me a better online instructor.

My final example comes courtesy of the California Highway Patrol. Yes, I got a speeding ticket for going too fast along the Grapevine (I was framed!). To keep it from appearing on my record, I chose the option of taking traffic school online. What a great course! This one was delivered via the web, only in a very linear fashion. At the end of the first reading assignment, I had to correctly answer a couple questions before I could move on to the next material. This page-by-page approach really helped make me aware of traffic laws and responsible driving conduct. I can't say that I don't occasionally still go a little faster than the speed limit (I will always deny it, though), but I am much more aware of my own emotions as they affect my driving. In short, I can honestly say that it has made me a better driver. Thank you, CHiPs.

The point I really want to make about Internet-based courses is that the sky is the limit. You may not be doing 900 degree Hawk-style rotations on a vert-ramp, but the feeling might be close. What is important is that learning takes place and students and instructors get excited about it!

Advantages of Internet-based courses

Other than saving the planet, what are the advantages of Internet-based courses?

The biggest advantage of an Internet-based course is that your classroom and instructor (theoretically) are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Your only excuse for missing class is not getting online! Otherwise, everything is available to you. You can get announcements, access notes, review assignments, take practice quizzes, discuss questions, chat with fellow students and study any time you want. Other than exam due dates, you make your own schedule for completing the requirements of the course.

Internet-based courses offer flexibility. You can study any time you want. You can study with whomever you want. You can study wearing anything you want (or nothing if you want.) Internet-based courses give you the flexibility to spend time with work, family, friends, significant others or any other activity you like. You still have to complete the work (and this flexibility can be your downfall, see disadvantages) but for many people, with continually changing work schedules or people who make frequent business trips, parents with small children, students caring for others or whose health prevents them from making it to campus on a regular basis, students whose friends or boyfriend/girlfriend drop in unexpectedly, or for those days when the surf and/or snow is wicked, this method of course delivery can't be beat.

Internet-based courses bring education right to your home. I've had students tell me that their family, friends and/or boy-girl-friends have actually gotten involved in the course. Oftentimes, a student will study with someone special present. Everyone in the household can get involved in learning.

Internet-based courses offer more individual attention. Because you have a direct pipeline to the instructor via e-mail, you can get your questions answered directly. Many students aren't comfortable asking questions in class for fear of feeling stupid. The Internet (hopefully) eliminates that fear (as long as you feel comfortable with the instructor). Many times you think of a question after class or while you are studying. Rather that trying to remember to ask it or forgetting it, you can send an e-mail to the instructor immediately.

Internet-based courses can actually help you meet people. Many of us don't really take the time to get to know our fellow students, especially in large classes. We might be too busy or we're just plain shy. An internet-based course provides an opportunity to get to know other students via bulletin boards, chat rooms and mailing lists. I've had students form study groups online, meeting at a local library or coffee shop. Even if you just converse online, it gives you a type of interaction with other students and other people that just isn't practical in the time-limited on-campus classroom.

Internet-based courses give you real world skills. When you complete this course, you will be able to include e-mail and web browsing as technical skills on your resume. That gives you a definite advantage over someone who doesn't have these skills. Learning how to get information via the Internet opens up a world of possibilities for your personal and professional life. You can find jobs online, get college applications online, make travel plans online, get dealer costs for cars online, comparison shop online, access great works of art and literature online, meet people from around the world online, follow sports and movies online, etc. etc. The possibilities are practically endless.

Internet-based courses promote life-long learning. Most of the time, most of what we learn in a course is forgotten within a week or two of the end of classes. Having that spark of interest and knowing how to find information online insures that what your learning is always available to you. If you become interested in a certain topic, perhaps because of something you see, read or hear about, or perhaps because one of your children or friends has a question, you can get online and look it up. You will have developed the skills to find information, digest it, synthesize it and formulate an answer to any question that comes your way.

Internet-based courses have a few financial benefits. Although you may think that buying a computer and paying for Internet access is pretty expensive, consider what it would cost you in gas and parking each month if you were driving to campus. Consider the costs of eating out versus eating at home. Consider the costs for child-care, pet care or any other kind of care that you need to provide while you are away from home. Consider the costs of missing work to make classes or not being eligible for a promotion because you can't attend classes to advance your educational level. These are very tangible benefits of having access to education at home.

There are probably many more advantages to Internet-based courses, but I think you get the idea. The point is that we live in an ever-changing world that is ripe with new possibility. The ability to learn new information or a new skill whenever you want and wherever you want offers far greater opportunities for education than ever before. The scope and reach of education broadens to far greater horizons that perhaps ever imagined.

Disadvantages of Internet-based courses

After all that, how could there possibly be any disadvantages of Internet-based courses?

Just as there is a dark side to that controversial midichlorian-based property known as the Force, there is a dark side to Internet-based courses. The dark side starts with procrastination.

Procrastination is to a student what Darth Maul is to Qui Gon. Procrastination will chop you to bits in an Internet-based course. Because of its inherent flexibility, it is easy to put off reading and finishing assignments. Before you know it, two weeks have gone by, you haven't done any homework and it's exam time. Scary bad. Creepy anxious. Too real.

An Internet-based course demands that you develop personal time-management skills. Now it certainly is an advantage to develop those skills, but if you don't manage your time properly, you will find yourself buried beneath a seeming insurmountable mountain of coursework.

In an Internet-based course, no one can hear you scream. There is no one to tell you to get to class on time. There is no one reminding you that assignments are due or that exams are coming. There is no one to preach to you, beg with you, plead with you to stay on top of your coursework. Sounds pretty good, huh?

In my opinion, it's a much better situation for the student. By the time a student enters a community college, they want to be independent. They don't want someone telling them what to do all the time. They want their freedom. (At least, that's how I was when I went to college.)

It's a sink or swim proposition and you can't have it both ways. If you desire to become a responsible, self-sufficient, independently minded citizen of this planet, then now's the time to start. Life is not a dress rehearsal. Get busy with it.

I also think it's an advantage for the instructor. I don't have to become the all-powerful Oz and threaten you with dire consequences if you don't do your work. I don't have to control you, manipulate you, scold you, act like a parent or babysitter to you. I can treat you like an adult with the respect that you deserve.

This freedom can be dangerous to you if you don't learn how to handle it.

Personally, I think it is far better to let students find their own way. Instructors can be beacons, lighthouses of knowledge, so to speak, but we can't steer the ship. Hopefully, everyone makes it safely to harbor. Occasionally, someone shipwrecks. But in all cases, everyone learns, and I think that is important.

Only you are responsible for your learning. I can't force it on you. I can't make you study. I can share a little knowledge and experience, show you a few tools and hope you get it. The spark and desire to pursue your dreams must be yours.

So, in a philosophical sort of way, the real disadvantage to an Internet-based course is that you might not own it. You might not take responsibility for your studies and the goals those studies can help you accomplish. You might get way behind and never catch up.

If you think you may fall into this category but still want to give this whole Internet thing a try, send me an e-mail. Let's discuss some simple ways to get your studies on track. I've spent 12 years in college as a full-time student and the past 3 years part-time. I have a few tricks up my sleeve that I'd be happy to share.

Is this course for you?

This section really serves two purposes. First, it will help you decide whether you are the type of student who can work primarily online or whether you need to spend most of your time in the classroom. Second, it will stimulate you to consider carefully why you are in college in the first place. Read on.

To get an idea of where you fall in the spectrum of self-motivation and suitability as an Internet-mostly student, take the Fullerton College distance education self-evaluation test and/or answer the following questions:

  1. Am I self-motivated?
  2. Can I complete assignments without being told to complete them?
  3. Do I have basic computer skills and some experience with e-mail and the WWW?
  4. Am I able to take a college course with minimal face-to-face teacher and student interaction?
  5. Do I rarely procrastinate?

If you answered "NO" to one or more of these questions, you may want to take spend most of your time on-campus during our class meetings. If you answered "YES" to all of them, then you are probably well-suited to the Internet-student lifestyle.

Not satisfied with that answer? Want a second opinion? Here's another survey to take that will help you identify your learning style. Some of us are visual learners, we do quite well assimilating information through our visual senses. Some of us are oral learners, we like to hear things to learn them. Some of us are hands-on learners. We do best when we can practice our knowledge by completing a project or performing a task. What kind of learner are you? Take the Learning Styles Survey.

Now, on a more serious note, should you even be attending college?

Any college course demands time, lots of it. Be realistic. Make a weekly schedule for yourself. Are you allowing 5-10 hours per week to attend class (even if it's online) and study for this course? Are you allowing enough time to study for all your courses? Make certain you are not overcommitted with your work load and your course load. This is the single biggest mistake that students make (myself included). College courses are not for people with little time and they are definitely not for slackers!

Establish your priorities. How important is school versus work versus family versus friends versus boy- or girlfriend? Decide ahead of time which is more important and when they conflict, go with the highest priority. You may hurt someone's feelings or make them upset in your choice but if that person truly wants what's best for you they will understand.

Don't be afraid to make your own decisions and don't be afraid to make hard decisions. If school isn't for you right now, if you're just here because you don't have anything better to do (or think that's the case) or because it's cheaper on auto insurance or because your parents will kick you out if you don't stay in school, then quit. I'll be brutally honest: those are ridiculous reasons for going to college. (Maybe you'll come back in ten years and thank me for telling you the truth.)

Don't go to college if you don't want to. Life is too short to waste on something you don't enjoy. Most of us have many more options available to us then we realize. Seek advice. Follow your path.

Are you still with me? I hope so. Because if all of this serious introspection has you in a bit of a panic, take a deep breath. Relax. You don't have to make all of these decisions today. It's a lot to think about. In fact, it's likely that no one has ever asked you to consider these questions. That's how it was with me. And I stumbled through seven years as an undergraduate trying to figure out what to do and how to do it. If this little self-awareness exercise helps just one person make better decisions about their college career, then it's worth it.

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