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Expert College and Scholarship Advice

A Long History of Online Ed

Back in the primordial days when there was but a single Internet book in a good bookstore, we started providing online resources for students in our college classes. We were the first on our campus to get online classes approved and to teach them -- at the time using hand-built server software we developed ourselves. Much has changed since then, and the online classroom has become an extremely effective learning environment -- in so many ways far superior to the traditional classroom.

Poets are the hierophants of an unapprehended inspiration; the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present; the words which express what they understand not; the trumpets which sing to battle, and feel not what they inspire; the influence which is moved not, but moves. Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. - Percy Bysshe Shelley

Particularly in computer science, the traditional classroom is sorely lacking. A board full of computer code is close to worthless as it probably contains some errors introduced in the writing process and will certainly gain more when copied and keyed in by students. Then when run, it will almost inevitably fail during compilation, crash during execution or, if one is lucky, it will run but will produce the wrong result, or no result, or an infinite series of results. It was always amazing how many computer teachers actually tried doing things this way. Handing out example programs in machine readable form was clearly the only way to do it. An automatic disc copying system quickly gave way to the online resources center and then we never looked back.

Some teachers refused to do real coding in class for fear of looking silly if it didn't work, but there was clearly no better way to teach programming than to code in realtime with a computer projector in front of the class, make mistakes, run, test, and debug so the whole process became clear. Once in a while a project would not come together in one class, but that is also an aspect of the field worth learning about.

Education... has produced a vast population able to read but unable to distinguish what is worth reading. - G. M. Trevelyan

Given the resources currently available (see online classroom environments), it is absurd to consider teaching any class without an online component. Study and research in practically any field can be augmented and supplemented by communicating URLs to students instantly, providing students with a log of all resources mentioned in a lecture -- together with a video of the lecture itself. Fielding questions from a class in realtime is actually easier online than in a classroom, and the answers are more meaningful (or at least will not result in "page not found" errors or code that will not compile and run). The online classroom allows the teacher to provide and evaluate information in any format.

Online education is not for the person who must follow a leader. It is not for the person who needs to be told to study, what to study and when. But if learning is your thing, the online class is one way to give your mind what it craves most.

Is the above an accurate description of most online education classes? Sadly no. It is much easier for an institution to provide little or no real instruction, guidance, or customized resources. Many online courses consist purely of mass-produced syllabi, and mechanical evaluation of student work. It need not be so.

Abacus Educational Services provides traditional and online classes and tutoring in a number of subjects including Basic and College Preparatory English, mathematics through calculus, music theory, and Website projects. See Online Courses.

Get over the idea that only children should spend their time in study. Be a student so long as you still have something to learn, and this will mean all your life. - Henry L. Doherty