Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Started English Class...

English 306 started this week. Business Communications. Took the first quiz on Sunday - 19/19. Had our first assignment, too - write a memo outlining a problem with Park University. I chose the online classroom in the following memo:


MEMORANDUM

TO: SL Sartain, Director, Park Accelerated Programs
FROM: William England
DATE: January 16, 2006
SUBJECT: Improvements to Park Online Education

Park University offers one of the most highly regarded distance learning programs over the Internet. However, the current program is limited by the technology used to implement the online classroom. Students now achieve in spite of the system, not because of the system. Park Online classrooms could offer so much more – a single stop for students to learn, work and play.

The Park Online classroom has several flaws. First, the web application is not using standards compliant design and cross-platform code. When using Safari, the default web browser on the Macintosh, you are presented with errors and not all features work correctly. Second, the interface for viewing and editing posts in the discussion forum is difficult to use and lacks basic editing features. The forums do not support any basic markup code, which means the students cannot use even basic formatting like tabs or indents. The forums do not follow basic usability guidelines, with posts often requiring users to scroll left and right to read the whole line. Third, there is no global storage or cross-class features on the site. These would enable students to keep a journal of their online experiences or store general documents. Interaction with other students outside of the class would help to build a sense of community and belonging. Finally, there is little integration with the main campus website for e-mail, enrollment and course schedules. Integration of the main website would allow Park students to have a one-stop-shop for all their online college requirements.

By implementing small changes in the code of the web application, the browser compatibility issues could be fixed, allowing all students to enjoy the experience equally. Simply following industry standard coding practices would resolve many cross-browser conflicts. The forum editing and viewing challenges can be overcome by using code from well-designed discussion forum software. Many of these packages are available for no cost under an open-source license. The only costs would be for implementing the changes. These two changes would bring the Park Online classrooms up to par with the rest of the Internet, and allow students to use familiar technology in the forums.

Creating a ‘portal’ system for the Park Online classrooms would increase the value of the site for Park students. Integrating community features, like generic discussion forums would motivate the students to visit the site regularly. Community features build a sense of belonging and enable students to build relationships. Other features could be added as resources permit, including online journals, personal web space or blogs, and long-term document storage. Adding portals for e-mail, course schedules, enrollment and other college functions will also enhance the value of the Park Online website by creating a single source for all Park Online information.

The Park Online classroom offers a unique solution for distance learning, and is highly regarded by students and the community. By implementing some small changes, the Park Online classroom can offer so much more for students. Browser compatibility can be improved. Tools for editing and viewing forum posts can be improved. By creating a true portal, students can build a sense of community in their online education and have a single source for all Park information, communication and tools.
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