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Online study is the 'wave of the future'

July 25, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

Lynn Bowers finished most of a financial management course without seeing a professor, classmates or a college campus.

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Bowers, marketing director at Flameless Heating Supply, enrolled at Frostburg State University to get his master's degree in business administration. He learned online this semester, studying in cyberspace at home.

It was convenient for the 36-year-old Hagerstown resident because he had a newborn baby and a busy schedule. "Not many classes are offered at 2 in the morning. It was very valuable in that regard," he said.

"I learned a lot. It is important to get more comfortable with new technology."

Bowers found taking a class through his computer had disadvantages, too. It wasn't interactive, so he didn't hear group discussions. And no matter how talented Professor Rahim Ashkeboussi is, that didn't always translate well over the Internet, he said.

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"You really don't get the benefit of a lecture or the knowledge of the instructor," he said. "I'm not sure if it would effectively replace a classroom. ... I think we need to be careful not to rely completely on that technology."

Dr. Ashkeboussi was the first Frostburg professor to put a course entirely on the World Wide Web. The pilot project is part of the University System of Maryland's Web Initiative in Teaching, intended to expand how and when classes are taught.

"The Internet has changed everything. Education is not immune to that," Ashkeboussi said.

Other faculty members are experimenting with online components in their classes, according to Frostburg officials. College algebra will soon be offered on the Web, and this fall, lecturer Donald Rivera will offer his course, "Technology Tools for Managers."

According to Rivera, who lives in Keedysville, the class mirrors those taught in the traditional way at FSU's main campus as well as at its Hagerstown center.

The course will focus on spreadsheets and numeric analysis, but it will also teach some hypertext markup language, or HTML, the programming code used to build Web sites.

Rivera started building Web pages in July 1998, when he wrote and revised several pages. "I'm very, very new at HTML coding and Web page development," he said. "I'm excited of what I've done."

He believes as many as 80 percent of traditional classes will be online in 10 years.

The University System of Maryland University College already has 70 courses available online, according to Rivera.

"It's the wave of the future," the senior lecturer said.

Rivera anticipates having up to 20 students. He will meet them in person at the first class and not see them again until an exam some eight weeks later.

The students will work their way through the course on a password-protected Web site. An electronic syllabus gives them a schedule, but they can work at a faster pace. At the end of each lesson, they must answer specific questions by e-mail.

Students can use online bulletin boards and a chat room, as well as access notes, databases and the library. Rivera believes he will have to work harder with a Web-based course.

"It will be harder to tell if a student is struggling. Online students will have to motivate themselves and recognize when they need help, he said. "In a traditional class I can see in their eyes when they start getting it."

Anyone interested in previewing the class may visit the introductory Web site at: http:www.frostburg.edu/dept/mba/mmcclive/507.htm. For more information on FSU's Web-based courses, call 301-687-4201.

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