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media:Fw: NYTimes.com Article: Cyberclasses in Session

From: David Poehlman <poehlman1@home.com>
Date: Sun, 11 Nov 2001 09:31:57 -0500
Message-ID: <004301c16abd$9e5f3f50$2cf60141@cp286066a>
To: "wai-ig list" <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>

Cyberclasses in Session

November 11, 2001


A HALF-DOZEN years ago, when a handful of educational
institutions began what was seen as a perilous process of
teaching classes over the Internet, the notion of thousands
of students graduating with full degrees earned online
seemed, well, technically impossible. But that is what will
happen this coming spring, as the first big crop of
students completes three- and four-year programs delivered
through the ether.

By one estimate, more than a million people were enrolled
in online courses for credit over the past academic year,
which doesn't even take into account the many adult
learners who enrolled in noncredit courses. Information
technology, the first subject to gain traction among the
Internet's early techies, remains the most popular, with
business courses, often taken by students already working
at full- or part-time jobs, a close second. But the full
range of online offerings now includes everything from
nursing to the cello. Online education is still in its
infancy, and debates about the best way to blend pedagogy
and technology abound. Some programs require students to
spend some time in an actual classroom; others are
conducted entirely in cyberspace. Some take pains to
integrate the latest technology, including real-time chats
and streaming video. Others maintain that frequent contact
between teachers and students is imperative. Exams may be
administered on the honor system, under the eye of a local
librarian, or at a central location with paid proctors.

Perhaps all that is certain is that students in big cities
and small towns, working single mothers and high-flying
business executives are finding online education a
convenient way to go to school.

The following courses are a small, subjective sampling of
cyberspace schooling. They show the variety of educational
strategies and range of technologies that are being used to
exploit a new medium unbound by traditional limits of
classrooms and teaching schedules. Taken as a whole, they
offer a snapshot of the lessons learned so far in the
nation's fast-evolving experiment. Library Science: A
Prestige Degree

The master's program in library and information science at
the University of Illinois is tied for first place in its
category in the widely consulted rankings by U.S. News &
World Report. Now the university's online program, with 155
graduates so far, has enabled students to earn a top-rated
degree without moving to Illinois.

Because the university believes that face-to-face contact
helps the virtual learning process -- and contributes to
the program's 95 percent retention rate -- students come to
campus for an intensive 10 days at the beginning of each
term. After that, lectures are delivered by streaming video
over the Internet. Students can watch lectures in real time
or whenever it is most convenient. Participation in online
discussions is mandatory, and sometimes students are
required to attend chat sessions, where all members of the
scattered group are at their computers at the same time.

This month the program was named the most outstanding
graduate program in the first annual awards for online
education held by the Sloan Consortium, an association of
80 higher-education institutions devoted to promoting
online learning. Important to the degree's success,
Illinois officials say, is a recognition that teaching an
online class means more work. Professors often spend far
more time answering e-mail than they do seeing students in
an office a few hours each week. During the semesters they
teach online, professors are asked to teach only one
on-the-ground class rather than the usual two. Each course
in the program of 10 costs $900 for Illinois residents and
$2,212 for out-of-state students. Most students take two
courses per semester. www.lis.uiuc.edu Engineering: Bells
and Whistles

Stanford University's engineering school, too, recognizes
the burden that translating classes to the Internet places
on professors. To make the school's well-regarded graduate
program available worldwide without overtaxing its faculty,
Stanford has developed a process that allows a student to
tap into the virtual classroom within two hours of the time
it is taught on campus, without an instructor doing extra

As a professor is teaching in his classroom, technicians
capture it on video and digitize it. Teaching assistants
convert what the professor has written on the chalkboard
into a text file that is then synchronized with the video,
along with other visual aids like slides or photographs.
The presentation is then indexed by keywords that appear in
a pull-down menu on the class's Web site. In a top corner
of the screen, online students can see and hear the
professor, and in the middle of the screen they can see the
graphics. Clicking on a keyword makes the video jump to the
relevant point in a lecture, or students can rewind or
fast-forward as they choose.

The first 25 online students will graduate this spring. The
application process is highly selective and candidates must
be sponsored by one of several hundred companies that
belong to the school's Center for Professional Development.
Stanford charges 40 percent extra for off-campus tuition,
about $1,125 a course. http://scpd.stanford.edu Nursing: A
Virtual Boom

Given the hands-on nature of the skill, it may come as a
surprise that nursing is one of the most sought-after
degrees at the nation's largest online institution, the
University of Phoenix. The program, with more than 1,000
students enrolled, has also quickly become the largest
producer of nurses with bachelor's or master's degrees.
Geared for working adults who can ''go'' to school just one
day a week, it illustrates the appetite for education that
can be shaped to fit busy schedules.

The degrees, which typically take 24 months to complete at
a cost of up to $15,000, are exclusively online and for
students who are already registered nurses. Courses are
compressed into five-week periods, taught consecutively,
and begin every month so degree-seekers don't have to wait
for a new semester; classes are limited to 10 students, who
are expected to spend about eight hours a week online, four
to six hours outside of class. In January, Phoenix expects
to begin a program aimed at training students to become
registered nurses, including a clinical component.

Among online students, group projects are a particular
favorite, according to Catherine Garner, the dean of
Phoenix's College of Health Sciences and Nursing. For one,
the fact that the students are geographically diverse
enhances research opportunities. Students can compare notes
on, say, how to arrange a public health follow-up for a
family in their respective communities. www.uoponline.com
M.B.A.'s: The Middle Ground

Distance learning has been around for a long time, with
Abraham Lincoln, who earned a law degree without attending
an actual school, being one of its more famous
beneficiaries. Many proponents of online education say its
chief virtue lies simply in providing distance-education
students with a peer group and a professor with whom they
can forge a classroom community. In that model, used by
Colorado State University in its M.B.A. program, fancy
technology is not important, as long as professors and
students have a place to gather on the Internet.

Colorado State first offered a distance M.B.A. degree by
mail in 1968. But as with other distance-learning
providers, the structure of its curriculum has changed
notably since the addition of an online component: While it
relies on videotapes sent through the mail, teamwork has
become a much more central focus of business classes.
Students are able to communicate with one another far more
efficiently through e-mail and Web site postings than they
once did with long-distance phone calls. As a result, class
discussions and online team projects -- two crucial
elements of any M.B.A. program, but often given short
shrift in distance learning -- have become a staple of the
Colorado degree.

Of the 150 accredited M.B.A. programs now offered online,
Colorado State's degree isn't the highest ranked or the
most high-tech. But the program, rated ''best buy'' by
Geteducated.com, a distance-education research firm that
has compiled a comprehensive catalog of online M.B.A.
degrees, provides a respectable option for relatively
little expense, an increasingly common goal of online
students. Online business degrees cost from $5,000 at
Amberton University to $95,000 for Duke University's
executive program, with Colorado at $16,128.
www.colostate.edu Liberal Arts: A New Model

Darrell M. West, a political science professor at Brown
University, has been teaching a course analyzing mass media
coverage of issues like race, health care and war in
Brown's classrooms for 15 years. Now, in a pilot program
with a start-up company called the Global Education
Network, Mr. West has adapted his course to an online
environment, and syndicated it. Currently, ''Understanding
Mass Media'' is being taught online for credit at Bunker
Hill Community College, Berkshire Community College, the
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, the Berkshire
Institute for Lifelong Learning and to a group of Wellesley
College alumnae. (The cost of courses varies depending on
the college.)

The program is an example of how an expert in a given field
can use the Internet to make a class accessible to a broad
range of students. The business model for such arrangements
is still largely unformed. In this case, Mr. West gets 10
percent of the proceeds, Brown gets 20 percent and the
network gets 70 percent.

The company plans to replicate the educational model:
Students in the pilot groups are also taking a class on
Alexander the Great, which was developed by Guy Rogers, a
longtime Wellesley history professor, in conjunction with
the network's programmers, animators, illustrators and
storyboarders. Both professors hold occasional online chat
sessions with all the students.

To adapt his course to an online world, Mr. West says, he
broke it into thematic multimedia modules of no more than
five to six minutes. The assumption is that when students
are not held captive in a classroom, their attention will
inevitably wander. Rather than present an entire one-hour
lecture online, for instance, Mr. West created lessons that
shift between his own words, photographic images,
interactive public opinion polls, video clips and text. It
may be some measure of the pedagogical success of the
approach that Mr. West has begun to organize his in-person
classes into thematic modules as well. www.gen.com Civil
Procedure: A Star Is Reborn

For Arthur R. Miller, a Harvard Law School professor, part
of the appeal of the Internet is that it reaches beyond the
elite group of students enrolled in his Harvard courses,
but also that it tests the parameters of who owns the
intellectual property he creates there.

Mr. Miller's populist approach was seen by the public on
his television show, ''Miller's Court,'' in the 1980's. Now
students at Concord Law School can see some of his
lectures, too. Founded in 1998 as an online venture of
Kaplan, the test preparation company, Concord's degrees run
$24,000, about one-fourth that of Harvard's. Students, most
of whom are working, are expected to log about 20 hours a
week over four years to get a J.D. degree.

In 1999, Mr. Miller, a nationally recognized expert on
civil procedure and intellectual property, videotaped 11
lectures and sold them to Concord. The university breaks
them into segments that can be streamed over the Internet
as supplementary material to a civil procedure class taught
by one of its own faculty members.

Concord is one of several online programs that seek to give
students access to star professors at other institutions.
There are those at Harvard who fear that such a practice
could dilute the value of its prestigious degree. But
because the lectures by Mr. Miller were incorporated into
the curriculum before Harvard put in place rules
circumscribing such activities by professors, the law
school's 800 or so students, the first of whom are to
graduate next fall, will continue to benefit from his
insights. www.concordlawschool.com Environmental Science: A
Global Collaboration

To begin an online collaboration between the University of
Virginia's program in environmental science and several
universities in southern Africa, the institutions decided
to start with a simple seminar. The class, which linked
Virginia to universities in Johannesburg and Mozambique by
videoconference, stumbled on technical difficulties. ''We
lost Mozambique!'' became a standard refrain, according to
Herman H. Shugart, a professor of environmental science at

Still, the partnership reflects the hope underlying several
similar efforts: that universities around the world have a
lot to learn from one another. Mr. Shugart says his
department stands to gain a valuable understanding of
savanna ecology, for instance. For this project, the bells
and whistles are crucial. ''It's a big deal that people can
talk and see each other and do virtually what you can
normally do in a classroom,'' Mr. Shugart says. ''It's a
lot different than sending a bunch of videotapes.''

Each participating classroom is equipped with digital video
cameras connected to high-speed telephone lines or a live
satellite feed. The seminar course consists of 10 one-hour
lectures, each taught by a different professor from one of
the universities. After each session, students and faculty
participate in chat rooms and post their work on a shared
Web site.

Coming up: a global ecology course with a laboratory
component. www.virginia.edu Salish Kootenai College: For
the Wide West

Many of the members of the Abinake nation who fill the 100
online classes offered by Salish Kootenai College in
northwestern Montana do not have phones, much less Internet
connections. But that obstacle is surmountable, considering
the trek to the tribal college, on the remote Flathead
Indian reservation. Lori Lambert, the assistant director
for distance education at Salish Kootenai, has won two
awards in the last year for using online technology to fill
an educational gap in a geographically dispersed,
underserved community: a citation from the Sloan Consortium
for excellence in teaching and a $10,000 grant from the
Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences.

Most important to the success of any online course, Dr.
Lambert says, is establishing a conversation between
students and teachers through e-mail and phone calls. She
says her courses focus on critical thinking and building on
past knowledge, rather than on lectures and exams. In a
course called ''Environmental Science: Meaning and
Indigenous Religion,'' she posts discussion questions like:
''Does nature have a religious goal? Is there a religious
prejudice against nature?''

Courses are open to members of 79 American Indian tribes as
well as non-Indian residents of Montana, Washington,
Oregon, Idaho and Alaska. Since many of the students are
logging on from computers at work or another tribal
college, the courses feature few of the fancy graphics that
could strain the capacity of slow computers. Some teachers
use CD-ROM's to distribute material that would otherwise be
downloaded over slow Internet connections. Salish Kootenai
students can earn a bachelor of environmental science and
bachelor of arts and human services degree almost entirely
online. One course costs about $175 for tribal members.
www.skc.edu/atd Statistics: Not a Breeze

One of the myths about online courses is that they are
easy. How difficult can a class be, many students reason,
if you can attend in your slippers with the TV on in the
background? But Anne Barker, a statistics professor at the
Rochester Institute of Technology, says students who think
they can breeze through her online introduction to the
subject are in for a surprise.

The course operates on the hybrid principle adopted by many
distance-learning programs that cater to students who may
not have high-speed Internet access. Instead of delivering
the course entirely online, Ms. Barker distributes her
lectures on videotapes and relies on the Internet for class
assignments and discussion. With no worries about the video
appearing grainy or jerky over slow connections, the notion
is that students are better able to use the online
technology for what it does best: interacting.

Ms. Barker has spent considerable effort jazzing up the
lectures, which are often set in an unusual environment
like a public market or an airport. A lecture about
statistical sampling portrays the professor sitting in a
kayak and describes how a statistician might estimate how
many fish are in Irondequoit Bay. That video and four
others were finalists last spring in the nonbroadcast
category of the Telly Awards for excellence in film and
video production. The introductory graduate course, one of
six to eight required for a certificate in statistics,
costs about $1,700. www.rit.edu Music: A New Sound

A consortium of 188 universities and research institutions
are experimenting with advanced networking applications in
a project called Internet 2. High-quality video and
CD-quality sound can be far more easily sent, which holds
promise for many uses in online education.

The Manhattan School of Music, borrowing a connection at
Columbia University, has used new Internet 2 technology to
teach cello to students at the Oklahoma University School
of Music and plans to set up a master class for a student
chamber symphony with the New World Symphony in Florida
this year.

No matter how good the sound quality, though, Manhattan
School officials say the Internet will never replace live
teaching. But it is allowing students to reach outside the
walls of their school. Pinchas Zukerman, the music director
of the National Arts Center Orchestra in Ottawa, is using
the high-speed networking technology as well as
videoconferencing to spend more time with his violin
students back at the Manhattan School. www.msmnyc.edu Free
Mini-Courses: For a Taste

In theory, everyone is a prospective student, and several
universities and commercial ventures are betting that the
student population, along with its expenditures on tuition
and books, will expand sharply once people sample the
experience of online learning. To that end, the University
of Washington and Learning Network last summer began
offering 12 free ''quick courses'' based on full-length,
college-level classes that are taught online for credit
(and tuition) through the university's distance-education
program. The bite-size courses, including ''Heroic Fantasy:
Tolkien,'' ''Gulliver's Travels'' and ''HTML Basics,'' were
developed by the faculty but are themselves not led by

Among other places to get a free taste of online education:
Barnes & Noble is offering monthlong mini-courses, often
taught by authors who encourage students to buy their
books. But there's no requirement as to where you buy them,
and the 50 or so nonaccredited courses offered each month
often provide readers with a direct means, via online
message boards, to ask questions of authors.

With more than 20,000 registrants, an astrology course
taught by the author Susan Miller has been the most popular
of the year-old program, known as Barnes & Noble
University. More scientifically oriented stargazers may be
interested in an astronomy class that promises an
introduction to the night sky. Other offerings include a
genealogy class with Emily Anne Croom, the author of
''Unpuzzling Your Past: A Basic Guide to Genealogy,'' and
dozens of technology courses like ''Introduction to Java''
and ''Building Your Own Web Site.''
www.lifelong.learningnetwork.com. Learning How to Learn

The University of Illinois is offering 400 online courses
this year, and like many major universities, its online
portfolio is growing fast. So it is only natural that the
faculty would see a need to develop a course to teach
students strategies for learning in the new environment.
''Introduction to Online Learning'' is one of the more
comprehensive of the orientation courses offered at many
institutions with large programs.

Designed as an eight-week introduction for students who
have never taken an online course, it includes a segment on
how to use Internet search engines, exercises on how to
evaluate the quality of information found online and a
guest lecture on cyberethics. The course incorporates all
the technology that it aims to explain -- discussion
boards, e-mail, instant message chat sessions and streaming
video. The cost is $230 for Illinois residents, $600 for

Burks Oakley, the director of online learning at Illinois,
says he encourages all students to take such a course. The
odds of taking a class online, after all, seem to be going
up. www.online.uillinois.edu

Amy Harmon is a technology reporter for The


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