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Teaching Java via Distance Learning

 
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I have taught Java at the college level for three years now. Last fall I had the opportunity to develop and teach this same class via Distance Learning and the Internet. I have enjoyed very much. I was wondering- how many of you teach Java over the Internet and what problems/solutions have you had with unprepared students?
 
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I haven't done that yet, although I plan to. At Sun, I did do a few webcast 'lessons' on specific topics, like RMI. But the software we used was horrible, horrible, horrible. I'd love to have discussions about ways to do a good job with distance learning though, since Bert and I both plan to offer courses that way.
cheers,
Kathy
 
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I've always felt that there are three aspects to teaching Java:
1. Syntax, i.e., where do the semicolons go?
2. Semantics, meaning, how do I use Java to get my job done, and
3. Learning to think like an Object Oriented Programmer
Syntax can be learned any number of ways. CBT's (computer based training) is very good for that. Semantics comes from experience, and I find books and journal articles very helpful in that area, especially if they're loaded with examples.
Learning to think like an OO programmer, however, is tough without someone to help you. I often think that's where classroom training is most helpful.
That, of course, is also the hardest thing to communicate via distance learning. It really requires interaction between someone trying to develop something and an experienced person saying, "well, that's one way to do it, but you might want to consider this instead..."
[ August 16, 2003: Message edited by: Kenneth Kousen ]
 
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...what problems/solutions have you had with unprepared students
By "unprepared" do you mean they haven't done their homework, or that they're majoring in something else that hasn't prepared them for life in the geek lane?
[ August 17, 2003: Message edited by: Pauline McNamara ]
 
mister krabs
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You mean students that barely knew how to turn on the PC?
 
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I must say that teaching is the hardest profession next to medical doctoring and nursing.
I did it for 6 months teaching an adult evening class in a community college. Did I say adults? A kindergarten class would have behaved better.
Unfortunately , I couldn't be persuaded to stay then.(Or fortunately )
I might do it again if I find a subject I really get passionate about.
With distance learning can you assume your students are more disciplined ?
Do you still have to chase the laggards to hand in their work on time?
How do you make sure they have access to adequate resources?
And the smile that breaks like the dawn when they finally grasp something that might have eluded them for a while but both student and teacher keep plugging away , which is one of the reasons that teachers teach, can distance learning compensate for that?
Emoticons just don't capture the full range of expressions.
Unless you mean Distance Learning in a kind of Big Brother way with cameras , ?
Keeping the teacher-student feedback loop open and interesting would be the hardest problem for me.
The other problem would be coping with the unconstrained nature of knowledge on the internet. How can you teach a subject that gets out-dated very quickly ?

regards
[ August 17, 2003: Message edited by: HS Thomas ]
 
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Originally posted by Kenneth Kousen:
I've always felt that there are three aspects to teaching Java:
1. Syntax, i.e., where do the semicolons go?
2. Semantics, meaning, how do I use Java to get my job done, and
3. Learning to think like an Object Oriented Programmer
[ August 16, 2003: Message edited by: Kenneth Kousen ]


I would add a 4th, but it isn't particular to Java:
4. Tools: how do I learn and use provided or common development tools to get classwork and assignments done in the language of the class (C, C++, Java, VB, etc.) For students that are new to programming in general, BlueJ has a shallow enough learning curve that it allows them to focus on learning language & programming concepts rather than the tool. When these same beginning students were given an IDE that professional developers would use (e.g., NetBeans, Eclipse, WebSphere, etc.) many of them got so bogged down in learning the complexities of the tool that they didn't learn as much about the language or about how to program.
Chris
 
Kenneth A. Kousen
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That's a really good point. In the training industry, we're always faced with the dichotomy between technology-based courses and tool-based courses. Sometimes clients ask for a WebSphere course, when what they really need is a Java course that may or may not use WebSphere Studio Application Developer as the IDE.
In my Java courses, I always use Eclipse. It may have a bit of a learning curve, but my experience is that students pick it up pretty quickly with some assistance, and that they like it more and more as they gain experience with it. For those students in industry, it also helps to tell them that it is the basis of WSAD, and that they'll have an easy time transitioning to the IBM product later.
Plus, of course, it's free, and has a bunch of kewl plug-ins.
I've only glanced at BlueJ, but I've heard good things about it.
 
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Originally posted by HS Thomas:

I did it for 6 months teaching an adult evening class in a community college. Did I say adults? A kindergarten class would have behaved better.
With distance learning can you assume your students are more disciplined ?
Do you still have to chase the laggards to hand in their work on time?
How do you make sure they have access to adequate resources?
And the smile that breaks like the dawn when they finally grasp something that might have eluded them for a while but both student and teacher keep plugging away , which is one of the reasons that teachers teach, can distance learning compensate for that?
Emoticons just don't capture the full range of expressions.
Unless you mean Distance Learning in a kind of Big Brother way with cameras , ?
Keeping the teacher-student feedback loop open and interesting would be the hardest problem for me.
The other problem would be coping with the unconstrained nature of knowledge on the internet. How can you teach a subject that gets out-dated very quickly ?

regards
[ August 17, 2003: Message edited by: HS Thomas ]


Hello,
I think distance learning must include webcam as part of requirement. Without camera, the data collect from teaching process will be obscure or just as lame as learning from the CD. I believe some schools in CA required students to have webcam in able to enroll in the program.
Regards,
MCao
 
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I think distance learning must include webcam as part of requirement. Without camera, the data collect from teaching process will be obscure or just as lame as learning from the CD. I believe some schools in CA required students to have webcam in able to enroll in the program.


Matt, I'm currently a student in a distance learning/online Master's degree program. It's all adults, so most students are sufficiently motivated. We've had some pretty heated discussions. Some are real time and some are posting based, like JavaRanch. Some people are more open to stating their opinions online than they would be in a classroom setting.
 
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Dear All,
We've recently started "Live, Instructor-led, Online trainings" for two java certifications. The response has been overwhelming and so is the feedback from the people who've taken it.
We were quite apprehensive about the value it would add to but it turned out to be really positive.
But like some of you, even we are having tough time finding a suitable software for delivery of the training. Our requirements are:
a.) Chat
b.) White board
c.) Slide show
No voice/media is part of it.
Cheers
Pradeep
 
HS Thomas
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I think distance learning must include webcam as part of requirement. Without camera, the data collect from teaching process will be obscure or just as lame as learning from the CD.


Matt, I hadn't thought about the teacher training aspects of being under a camera. I suspect it would have some advantages.
regards
 
Kenneth A. Kousen
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We haven't found a good software forum for online training courses yet, but at Rensselaer at Hartford we use WebCT, and it works pretty well. The lectures are still mostly in the classroom, but it has an excellent online message board, plus a way to exchange files, and a good chat room. The whiteboard leaves a lot to be desired, though.
As for teaching remote students, I taught a class using TV cameras at both ends last semester. The biggest impact was on my PowerPoint slides, because TV resolution is way lower than what I'm accustomed to displaying. I like to code during class, too, and displaying the editor was okay, but I had to use an extremely large font to make things visible at all. That meant a lot of scrolling to see the code. Not fun.
I'm not sure web cams are much better, though. They're awfully low bandwidth, leading to herky-jerky movements.
I did use a particular product (Centra, I think) for a webinar, and the students were able to "raise their hands" using the software. That helped.
 
Thomas Paul
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I think it would be much harder to do distance teaching. When I teach I am very cognizant of the reaction that I am getting from my students. I use cues from them to figure out whether I am going to fast or too slow. I would miss not having that.
 
Kathy Sierra
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The tutoring engine Bert and I are working on has a "Look Confused" button and a "Raise Hand" button
It's funny for me because I had the opposite reaction, coming from CBT development to being a human instructor, "You mean I actually have to be in THE SAME ROOM as the students?? Face to face?!?!".
I am definitely an advocate for all forms of training, with or without the human instructor there, and I believe that the limitations of not having a teacher physically present can be largely overcome. And in *some* cases, being away from a classroom and a realtime human teacher can be an advantage for the student.
There's a lot of evidence that most people will ask more questions when they are *not* physically in front of a group of people. And if there are options for people to work at their own pace, this can also be a tremendous advantage.
And I don't necessarily think you need to try to replicate a classroom online, although that would be a different kind of experience.
I suppose we should separate out the kinds of distance learning options we're talking about:
* Pure online only (like a web-based course, with no interaction)
* Pure online, but with the opportunity for student interaction or student/teacher interaction via chat or at least asynchrous email.
* Online, delayed webcast (a webcast, but not in real time)
* Online, live webcast (i.e. students interact live via chat and shared whiteboard)
[I did this at Sun once, but GOD how the tools sucked. I know there are much better tools out there]
* Correspondence course -- could be a combination of things
* Blended learning -- the big 'buzzword' now -- where students participate in a combination of different learning methods, like maybe online for the prereqs and then a live instructor (physical or webcast) for other parts...
Just listening to you folks talking about this is getting me excited again.
cheers,
Kathy
 
Thomas Paul
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I am not saying that other types of learning are bad. I am saying that I would not want to participate in them.
Empire State College in NY is very big on alternate methods of education. They have classes that cover just about everything you mentioned. They also have "mentored" classes. In these the student does virtually all the work on their own and meets with their mentor once a month for a one-on-one session. There is usually a lot of writing involved and then discussions. The discussions serve as oral exams so that the mentor can judge whether you are doing and understanding the work.
 
Pauline McNamara
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Been working in elearning for the past couple years. Of all that I've absorbed there seems to be one constant wherever you look: the debate over elearning.
The tutoring engine Bert and I are working on has a "Look Confused" button and a "Raise Hand" button
Centra also has something like this, once you get the hang of it it works pretty well and can be kinda fun.


And in *some* cases, being away from a classroom and a realtime human teacher can be an advantage for the student.

I used to be sceptical of video recordings of talking heads until I took a course that included a cd with video lectures. It was nice. Got to get comfy, pick a good moment, sit back and sip on coffee or pause whenever necessary. Real time video seems like more of a risk, you're so dependent on infrastructure being 100% reliable. Less flexible and relaxed for the learner too.


And I don't necessarily think you need to try to replicate a classroom online, although that would be a different kind of experience.

A really good classroom teacher is hard to replicate. Not to mention hard to find in the first place.
[/b]

* Blended learning -- the big 'buzzword' now

Almost forgot the other constant: buzzwords.
 
Pauline McNamara
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Just realized that this thread is going all over the place. What happened to Mr. C? He had a concrete question up there, somewhere.
 
Thomas Paul
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Originally posted by Kathy Sierra:
The tutoring engine Bert and I are working on has a "Look Confused" button and a "Raise Hand" button

I don't think that's enough. You need a "OK, we get it... move on" button.
 
Kathy Sierra
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Originally posted by Thomas Paul:
I don't think that's enough. You need a "OK, we get it... move on" button.


Oohhhhh good one! Yes. Especially in scenarios where the student doesn't have full control over the flow of content.
I suppose there would have to be a "duh" button, as well, to give the system the kind of feedback that says, "HELLO! Any *idiot* would already KNOW that..."
Hmmmm... so now you have me thinking about what *other* kinds of feedback the student might want to give to adjust the way the course is going... because the "got it, move on..." seems like one that would give you valuable info you could use.
What else might a distance learning instructor (or elearning software engine) want to know, given the fact that they can't *see* the student?
cheers,
Kathy
 
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Just to add that I've seen a whole lot of worthwhile "distance learning" right here at the Java Ranch. Just because we don't have a proper syllabus with lesson plans and such like, doesn't mean people don't learn stuff.
I sometimes have the feeling that the whole set up of pre-prepared material and more than one student per teacher is a mass-production compromise, and a decent discussion thread here can be pretty much as adaptable and personal as one-to-one teaching.
 
Pauline McNamara
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*nodding in enthusiastic agreement*
When you think of it, add a little more and you have the Cattle Drive: online distance learning using the most basic tools, just web pages, forum and email. No fancy WebCT or other "Learning Management System" needed.
 
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