Consider This . . . Online Courses
Like no other segment
of our economy, the college community has been pushed and prodded
by demands to offer more courses, at more times and in more locations
at a time when budget restraints and reluctance to raise student
fees are the order of the day. In my opinion, the online course
(OC) may become the most significant part of the solution to this
persistent and growing problem.
You may have read in one of my earlier articles that the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology (MIT) has declared publicly that they
will put every course offered at MIT online by 2007. MIT OC that
you take for credit will require you to pay, but the MIT open
course structure will allow anyone with an Internet connection
to download, read and study any course for free.
The grand plan of MIT is not quite what I am describing as OC,
but it can give you some sense of the importance that OC opportunities
will play in our future. To put this trend into a more tangible
example let's look at Anne Arundel Community College (AACC), the
2001 Community College of the Year as recognized by the National
Alliance of Business. AACC offered their first OC in the fall
of 1996 to 12 students; in 2002, they offered 92 courses to 2,167
If you were to look at a trend line for AACC OC offerings and
interpolate this growth data, you could conclude that by 2015
nearly half of all the 862 courses offered today would be accessible
to students at AACC without ever visiting the Arnold campus or
various satellite centers.
Based on student enrollments today, that means approximately 25,000
students could be educated using OC, and some, not all, of those
students may never visit the campus except to attend graduation.
As you might expect, some courses cannot be adapted to the OC
format (art, science labs, etc.), but that list is small. As you
can see from this simple analysis, the OC acceptance, growth and
effect is dramatic. Everything from parking, the physical plant,
class size, campus security and, most importantly, the dollar
cost to deliver one credit hour would change. Access to this educational
phenomenon is as close as your home, business or Internet café
computer, thanks to faster and cheaper computers, the Internet
and forward-thinking administrators.
If I now have you interested in online courses, you may be a bit
confused about what OC really is. Let me try to define the OC
as a process and let you know what you need to do to take full
advantage and be successful.
I would describe an online course as an educational unit delivered
electronically to a student over the Internet, where all interactions
with instructors and fellow students are accomplished exclusively
through email, bulletin boards, chat rooms, video segments, limited
telephonic communications, and where testing is done remotely
from the student's computer. I might note that remote testing
is one area that educators do not universally accept.
To start the process you must go through the normal matriculation
drill to become a student and, for some courses, there may be
prerequisites. Once past this minor hurdle, there are relatively
few guidelines or criteria, but the technical stuff tops the list.
To function properly, in my opinion, you'll need a current generation
computer, 1.8ghz or faster with 128 megs of Ram, Windows XP (although
some earlier Windows operating systems will work), cable or DSL
connection (although a modem is acceptable), and anti-virus software.
Until recently, you would need a computer application like Microsoft
Excel, Word, Power Point, Outlook or Access if you were taking
these as online courses. AACC now allows you access to the Microsoft
Suite of applications through their Citrix server so that you
can access the actual program online rather than an older version
you may have on your machine. If the list looks bewildering go
and use the AACC list. Their examples and illustrations are easy
to follow and more comprehensive than my brief explanation here.
The final caveat relates to your own personal discipline. Can
you follow written instructions? Are you self-motivated? Are you
capable of independent learning? Can you keep pace with requirements
posted by the professor? Are your skills on the computer and the
Internet adequate? Only you can answer these questions, but I
encourage you to be honest. Thanks to the Internet or, more specifically,
the broadband portion like cable or DSL and secure servers and
software, access to a college education or continuing education
classes for professionals is just a click away 24/7 wherever you
are in the world.
If you have comments or suggestions, or have an idea for a future
computer or business topic, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jimmy R. Hammand, CPA, is a resident of Annapolis and a consultant to businesses in Annapolis, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.