February 1, 1999 -- Newsletter #13

By Joe Burns

G O O D I E S T O G O ! (tm)
February 1, 1999 -- Newsletter #13
Please visit http://www.htmlgoodies.com.

Greetings, Weekend Silicon Warriors...

This is lucky newsletter #13. I should be writing this on a Friday....

Before I start the newsletter topics, here's a thought:

I'm a communications professor and as such I enjoy keeping an eye on how people use language. Lately, in my opinion, the letter "e" has been getting much too much play. It seems that when you stick an "e" in front of any word it instantly validates that thing as important to the Web. Examples include e-commerce, e-shopping, e-chat, e-touring, e-sightseeing (really!), and e-gambling. Egad!

Now on to this week's topic:

As a professor, I also teach classes, believe it or don't. This semester I'm treading on new ground because I'm offering my HTML class fully on-line. I'm telling you, this is the future of teaching. I can actually see a time when people will sit at their computers and take classes from multiple colleges and universities and be granted a degree from the state rather than one institution.

And schools aren't the only ones doing it, either. I just bought a Micron 450 computer (I'm giving Dad my 200MMX) and with the purchase I got a year's tuition to their on-line classes. Amazing.

My on-line class is actually a series of rewrites from the HTML Goodies tutorials. Students log in to the site and are greeted by a calendar. They click on the date of the lesson and up comes the lesson plan. After they read all the tutorials, they click on a homework button. The screen splits. On top is their homework, at bottom are the lessons they just read. They answer the 10 questions and submit. The JavaScript Quiz grades the quiz, posts it, sends a copy to me, and a copy to the student. It's pretty cool.

After they finish their homework, they receive another button. They click and up comes their assignment. The assignment is completed and posted to their Web site as "assignment.html." Each assignment they post must have a simple mailto: e-mail link as the last order of business. That way when I look at the assignment I can simply click on the link to send them their grade.

All homework and assignments are due by midnight the day of the lesson. I just sit at my desk the next day and grade, grade, grade. I could have set it up so that the grades were entered straight into a database, but I want to see each student's answers and keep the grades myself in case someone falls behind. Then I can be right on top of the situation.

The class is actually set up as a two-group experiment. I am using the exact same syllabus to teach a group of students in a classroom. That means I have 18 in class and 16 out of class. In addition, the in-class group is made up of college- aged kids while the on-line group is made up of adults from the continuing education department.

Just off the top of your head: Which group do you think will do better overall? Next semester I'll be teaching two more sessions in and out of class. These two groups will be of similar make-up, all college kids. Which one of those do you think will do better?

I don't know the answer. It's just now underway, but I am really looking forward to the results. In this first week there were more bugs than I expected, but nothing major, although one was particularly embarrassing.

In the first homework assignment for the in-class group, I had made an error in the code. It worked fine when I beta tested it, but that little bug bit me. I had the whole group try the first homework in class. They all submitted at the same time and I stood there watching the error messages come up like a deck of cards spraying onto the floor.

The students all turned slowly around and stared back at me. Nothing cuts though a professor like 18 pairs of students' eyes that have a glint of "What now?" in them. I came back with the very clever retort: "Well, that's interesting." (Never let 'em see you sweat.)

But all is fixed and all is well.

Oh, and in case you're curious about which group may excel: The on-line group has already gotten together and is demanding to start assignments earlier than the syllabus calls for. You did that in school, right?

So, here we go. On-line and into the future.


That's that. Thanks once again for the use of your eyeballs.

Joe Burns, Ph.D.

And Remember: Our Uncle Sam was a real guy. During the War of 1812, Sam Wilson, owner of a meat packing plant, shipped food to the troops marked with the code "U.S." Some of the workmen jokingly stated the initials stood for their boss, "Uncle Sam." I guess it stuck.

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