Saturday, July 16, 2005

APA Style References

Imported from my old Online Education blog

Here are some additional references mentioned by one fo my instructors, Dr. Janet Hopkins.

She also comments that "... when something in a document is yours, let your audience know: 'In my experience...,' 'Where I used to work, we did it this way...,' etc."

Monday, May 16, 2005

Community Part III: Live Chat Classes

Imported from my old Online Education blog

Live chat is the "classroom" part of class. At CTU the instructor has an audio feed that the rest of the students can listen to and all participants (students and instructor) have text-chat capabilities. The client was created with Macromedia Flash and has some multimedia features like the whiteboard that allows the instructor to draw figures on the screen. Control can also be passed to one or more students so they can draw as well. All of the sessions are recorded so students that could not attend the live session can review the content later. I am not sure if the whiteboards are recorded or saved or anything since they don't get used very much and I usually attend class pretty well so I don't need to review the content much.

I mentioned in Part II that this would be a lot more fun. I was really trying to say that the Live Class Chats were pretty fun but even this is not entirely accurate since it depends a lot on the instructor. Naturally, if the professor has a dull monotone voice and reads from the textbook, things are not going to be very exciting. On the other hand, if he starts out the class by playing the classic "Let's get ready to RUUUMBLLLLLLEEE" audio clip then the chances are good that the class will be a blast.

In my opinion, the best instructors guide the discussion more than they dominate it. Obviously, Algebra is not a very controversial subject so there is not a lot of room for debate but topics like software development (including design and programming) and network engineering can certainly stir up some religious fervor. Good facilitators present ideas that the students can use as a springboard for further discussion and they ask questions that lead students to discuss together. During the discussion, the instructor may offer help if the group is stuck on something or may present an angle that the students did not think of on their own. There are times when even the greatest instructors have to lecture though but even they allow the students to interject different ideas or alternatives. Sometimes the student is wrong but that is all part of the learning process.

I have not had any really bad instructors and I hope it stays that way. There have been some that were a bit less than average though and I would like to discuss some traits that instructors need to have so that if any other online professors see this then they might learn from us.

Know Your Tools
Please learn how to use your equipment and the software tools. I have seen (well, heard) instructors that could not adjust their microphones so that certain noises caused blasts of static on the students' end. It wouldn't hurt to have tested the microphone and the audio settings and learn how to adjust it so that the static could be avoided and if the problem was with the hardware then it should have been replaced. (The static lasted about all session – six weeks!) I don't know if this was a training issue or something but there was another professor that seemed to have a lot of trouble using the chat tools. This teacher avoided the use of the whiteboard due to lack of knowledge about the controls.

Leverage Student Experience
Many students in the online environment are already working in a field related to the degree they are pursuing. I am a software developer and have been working professionally in software development for over ten years. The main reason I attend classes is to provide alternate viewpoints and help out other students that might be new to programming. If there are people attending the chats that really don't need to be, chances are they are there to help. Take advantage of this! One way to do this is to encourage us to contradict you. This spurs us to present different angles on the topic and can really get a good dialog going in the class. Another thing to do is to ask controversial questions in the class and let the students debate the issue. The more experienced students will take the lead at first but the others will join in pretty quickly. Students are more likely to ask useful questions of other students, their peers, rather than the instructor; if there is a good class-time debate then the instructor really has some material to work with towards guiding us in the right direction.
I am not trying to say that we should get together in the chat room and party like its IRC or something but if the students enjoy meeting they will show up more often and the entire learning experience will be better for it.

Thursday, May 5, 2005

Community Part II: Group Projects

Imported from my old Online Education blog

Wow, it's kind of a good thing I did not get to this topic until now. I just finished two simultaneous group projects and it was rough. It ought to be though, the group projects generally count for 20-25% of our final grade in a course.

Each course has at least one group project. The instructor assigns about five people to each group and the group works out how they are going to work together on their own. The resources available to them on the virtual campus are discussion boards and logged chat sessions. If not all students can attend a particular chat, the results are archived for future review by anyone in the group. The group discussion boards are also limited to the individual groups. Email and off-campus chat can also be used but it is important that instructors can gauge the level at which each of the group members participated as individual grades are assigned to each person for overall performance.

When I first found out about group projects I thought it would be great if the group succeeded or failed as a group. It was not long before I found out how bad of an idea that was. Individual participation in group projects can vary widely. Some instructors make an effort to identify students that participate in class more than others and group them together. This did not work so well in our last session because two group projects were scheduled side-by-side and most students are in the same two classes. Both instructors made special efforts to ensure that people were grouped according to their participation level but there really isn't any way to take into account their levels of involvement in the other class. As a result of spending more time working on and helping some students in one project the other suffered. I'll see just how much it suffered when I get the grade' hopefully I managed to pull it out in the end.

I have a couple other problems with group projects. For one, they certainly don't correspond to real-life group projects. In real life you have a job and even if you're working with a team spread all over the world, the employer generally provides communication methods that are tied to the workplace. You get phones, email, etc. and when you leave for the day you can leave your work with you. In the school environment you have to give out your home phone number if you want or need to speak with other students. I don't know about you but I am very uncomfortable with handing out my personal email address, much less my home phone number. Another thing that exists in real world group projects is a fairly common schedule. Sometimes you need to adjust the work schedule if you have international coworkers or something but when it comes to adjusting the school schedule at the expense of the work schedule, that just ain't gonna happen. When it comes down to it, coordination of group projects is usually a nightmare.

I do like the concept behind the group projects and it does help encourage the community spirit of higher education but I don't think the good outweighs the bad at this early juncture in my online university experience. Sure, it is important to learn how to work together as a group, share responsibility, and mentor others. This environment does not really teach these concepts though and just engenders frustration in the process.

I tried really hard to pull something positive out of the whole group project thing but I have not had an experience with it that I can call good yet, fair maybe but not good. I think that it could be a good, if not excellent, experience but that would require some amazing team coordination and that is very difficult to achieve. The Live Chat topic should be a lot more fun so see you then.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Generate MLA and APA citations

Imported from my old Online Education blog

This looks like a neat idea. I will check it out later and add some more information. Comments in the mean time would be highly appreciated!

Cites, Sites, and Thoughts: Site: Landmark Citation Project -- Generate MLA and APA citations

Community Part I - Discussion Boards

Imported from my old Online Education blog

I was going to cover cheating but decided that I need to do a little research. In the meantime, I am going to talk about the Online Education Community. Granted, my experience has been limited, one school and not even two full quarters yet, but I can always change my mind later if my first impression turns out to be wrong. This issue is about working together, how students help teach each other whether they know it or not.

I posted once before about discussion board projects but I want to elaborate a little bit more on this topic. Many of you that use the Internet as a research tool will catch this first analogy right away. There are a few web sites that I use frequently to track down technology problems I have to solve at work. Most of them offer forums for us to post a description of the problem and other people will read the post and respond with their experience or additional documentation that might know about. These forum posts hang around out there and help others find solutions to the problems they have without them even having to ask anyone for help. The class discussion boards are like this in some ways. Our initial posts are usually a solution to a problem or a recommendation based on a class scenario. It doesn't stop there though. We are required to post comments about other people's posts as part of the assignment. The more active students will even banter a little bit in defense of their stated positions. When we're lucky and get responses between some astute students there can be some pretty good conversations where we can learn more about the issues at hand. This reinforces the work we did researching the topic tremendously and it's kind of fun too.

Admittedly, it is pretty rare to see a long banter session but not all topics really have a lot of angles to them. One thing we do get with every assignment though is a different spin on what we have discovered. If you're in a class like this, try to make a point to read a lot of other posts even if you don't respond to them all. You will learn a lot from people that think a little differently than you do. In the technology industry there are a lot of ways to do things and the last place you want to be is stuck in your ways. If that happens, you'll be left behind, maybe without a job. I have seen this happen to others first-hand.

Finally I want to give a testimony on the discussion board concept from my own experience. Just a couple weeks ago we had an assignment where we had to look at an existing network setup for a fairly small company. Each of the three departments in the company had their own network and they were all very different. Our assignment was to come up with some options for merging the networks and connecting them to the new parent company as they had been bought out. It was the beginning of the quarter and we had just had a two-week break from classes. I work in a Microsoft shop so over that two weeks I had gotten back into my Microsoft-centric ways and totally ignored Linux as a serious option in the assignment. I also missed the part about the parent company being a primarily Linux shop. Duh! Well, two classmates quickly pointed out my error and I was forces to admit the mistake. Being such an obvious blunder I am not sure I would have gotten such a good grade had those two not chimed in with their comments and given me the opportunity to correct myself. Not only that, but on the next assignment (a PowerPoint presentation) I gave Linux its proper position beside Windows Server 2003 as a contender in this environment. So, simple comments of constructive criticism from two intelligent students helped me get two A's in a row.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

No Tests!

Imported from my old Online Education blog

I got a comment from one of my instructors and he said I might be getting some publicity so I figured I would get some new content out here. I have a couple ideas for articles that I hope will spark some discussion so here goes…

At CTU Online we don't have tests. (I don't know about other online schools so if you have first-hand knowledge of other institutions, please add your comments.) At first glance, that almost seems to imply that there is no basis for measuring the knowledge and learning of the students which translates to their degrees being valueless. On the contrary (I have been listening to a C. S. Lewis audio book during my daily commute so if I start to sound pompous, please smack me down), the measures are there and I believe that they are a much more valuable gauge of students' abilities than tests.

Note: I was about to go into this big thing on honesty and cheating but I decided to save that for another article. Please hold off on related comments or shoot me an email with your comments; better yet, blog it and send me a link!

Our grades at CTUO are based purely on projects. How about that, in the "real world" we are evaluated on our project performance too. Some projects are just a few paragraphs to be posted on a discussion board, others are PowerPoint presentations, and there are other types depending on the course objectives. The thing is, we get to apply the knowledge while we are acquiring it. I have a poor short-term memory so if I don't put something into practice, I forget about it. By applying the knowledge it somehow goes into a different area of my brain that is actually good at remembering stuff so I really learn it. Tests just don't focus on that area of learning; they only focus on the end result, the answer. While I am a good test taker, I think it is a lot more valuable that we have to demonstrate how we came up with the answer and reason out the issues involved. It is not enough to say that a particular network application is the best choice for a situation; we should have to describe why we believe this to be true.

About half of the projects so far have been various deliverables that are turned in to the instructor. Things like PowerPoint presentations, short research papers, programs, etc. Mostly the sort of thing you might do at a regular job. You don't do research papers at work? Has anyone ever asked you a question where you had to look up the answer? I am sure you have. You might have even provided some links to online material where you found the answer; yes, you even cited your resources. Maybe not formally but the concept is the same. The point is that you have a problem, you find an answer, and you document the answer to prove your point. Do a thorough job and you have demonstrated your knowledge; your reward is a good grade which might even turn into some cash in the future when you finish your education (the formal one).

I mentioned earlier that some of our projects are multi-paragraph posts on a discussion board. It is really not that simple and it is a lot more valuable than it sounds at first too. Not only do we have to post our research to the general public (for the particular class at least); we also have to reply to the posts of others. We can't pass the class without doing these assignments that force us to open ourselves to criticism. Whoa! This is too much like the real world! That is what is so great about it. I am pursuing a software engineering degree and I work in the industry at the same time. I also seek criticism of my work on a regular basis. If you have trouble learning from your mistakes or prefer to hide them, it is time to change. It is kind of cliché but it is also true that if you do not learn from your mistakes then you are doomed to repeat them. One more thing about discussion boards; if you really want to get the most out of these assignments, defend your case. The more active students will likely engage in a lively conversation and you will all learn more from it. Technology projects are almost always a team effort and the discussion board projects help engage the students in communication activities. As far as comparing discussion board assignments to tests; discussion boards provide a more positive experience of learning from mistakes while with tests it is too late to fix the mistakes so we often don't even bother to.

We are also honing a key skill that is more valuable than any technical knowledge, research. I was already pretty successful as a software developer and a database administrator and really the degree is not really a necessity for me. I came back, however, to fill in some of the gaps in my general knowledge that I missed by not finishing college in the first place. The biggest life lesson that I learned since I left college was that it is not as important to know the answer but more important to know how to find the answer. That is what we are being "tested" on.

Wednesday, March 2, 2005

APA Guidelines – Names in Citations

Imported from my old Online Education blog

Here’s a quick topic for tonight. I’m trying to get in the groove for posting as close to every day as possible but I just finished a paper comparing Java and C++ so this one is going to be short.

Basic format for an author’s name is simple. Like with most reference formats, the APA style uses a last-name-first (surname, family name, etc.) format. Only the first initial is used for first (given) name and any middle names. Titles (Jr., Sr., etc) come between the last name and the first initial and include an extra comma. That said, here are some examples:

If you are citing a web page that is not based on a print source and the author is not explicitly stated then this is pretty easy; don’t put any names in the citation, just use the name of the page.

When names are available, you will need to use them in the citations. The APA style divides the citation types into two groups; references with one or two authors and references with three or more authors. When building the reference list, each of the authors should be listed for a resource; the differences come in when it comes time to include parenthetical citations in the text of the research paper. Here is a sample of a work with three names (stolen from yesterday’s post :)

    Kraut, R., Olson, J., Banaji, M., Bruckman, A., Cohen, J., Couper, M.
How about that? Easy isn’t it? Now for reference/parenthetical citations. For works with a single author just put the author’s last name and the publication year separated by a comma. If your resource has two authors, use both their last names separated by an ampersand (&).
    (Drapers, 2005)
    (Herbert & Anderson, 2002)

With three or more authors things get a little trickier. The first time you cite one of these resources you will use all the last names separated with commas. Each subsequent citation, however, will only use the first author’s last name and “et al.” will be appended before the comma separating the name from the publication year (including italics). SO, to take from the example above, a reference to this resource would be look like…

    (Kraut, Olson, Banaji, Bruckman, Cohen, & Couper, 2004)
…and following citations would look like…
    (Kraut et al., 2004)
There you have it. One final note though. In references with authors along the lines of “Byrd & Associates” the word “associates” seems to count as one author. I do not have any specific documentation to back this up but that is what it looks like from the resources I have found.

Next Issue: I’ll probably get started on print resources and sometime soon I will try to locate some online resources to back up my articles and give you some more variety. Things have been a little sparse in this area but I will do my best.

Tuesday, March 1, 2005

APA Guidelines – Citing Electronic Resources

Imported from my old Online Education blog

Web-based resources are easy to find via your favorite search engine. For technical topics, I prefer Google but there are other good search engines. (Post comments below if you have a differing opinion!) When citing an electronic resource you must make it available to the reader of your paper so make sure the URLs provided link as close to the document as possible. It is not uncommon to provide several links to pages in the same domain so don’t try to combine all your citations into a single entry. Most importantly, make sure the links work at the time you turn in your assignment. Instructors do check these things out so make sure your information is backed up.

Although not formatted as such here, the official style guide states that the citations should be double-spaces and should have a hanging indent (no indent on first line, all subsequent lines indented). I have not been that particular in the papers I have turned in and have not received any points off yet. I, personally, do not see the value in double-spacing electronic documents but that is what the guide says. I would hope that any instructors will tell us in advance how strict they are going to be with regard to the APA style rules and I hope they do not make me post my Java code in APA style!

Web Site
This will probably be the most common resource in online classes. It is important to note, however, that not all internet resources are necessarily any good. Make sure that your resources are reliable before you use them. I will post some more on checking the quality of resources in future article. Also not that you should use one of the more specific citation formats if they apply; always supply the most information about your sources as possible to enhance your credibility.

Format:
Page Title. Retrieved <date> from <url>.

Example:
CTU Online Career Trackers – IT Consultant. Retrieved on March 1, 2005 from http://www.ctuonline.edu/main/careertrackers/it_consultant/facttracts.asp.

Internet Article Based on a Print Source
This is used if you find a web page that is a reproduction of an article originally published in print. I prefer to use these over print resources because it provides a readily available source that the reader of my paper can verify without hunting down the publication.

Format:
Author(s) (<year of publication>). <article>. <publication>, <issue>, <page>. Retrieved <date> from <url>.

Example:
Kraut, R., Olson, J., Banaji, M., Bruckman, A., Cohen, J., Couper, M. (2004). Psychological Research Online: Report of Board of Scientific Affairs' Advisory Group on the Conduct of Research on the Internet. American Psychologist, February/March 2004, 105-117. Retrieved March 1, 2005 from http://www.apa.org/journals/features/amp592105.pdf.

Electronic Versions of Print Articles
You can use this if you are using a PDF or other electronic version of a print article. If I found the electronic version on the web, however, I tend to use the Internet Article Based on a Print Source format. I would only use this if I got the article on a CD or from a paid download that others would not have access to.

Format:
Author(s) (<year of publication>). <article> [Electronic Version]. <publication>, <page>.

Example:
Drapers, Gert (2005). CLR Checklist [Electronic Version]. SQL Server Magazine, Volume 7 Number 3, 26.

Citation Dates
Note the date format used in the examples above. This is part of the APA style too so make sure your dates are in “Month d, yyyy” format meaning that the month should be spelled out and precede the day number and year. The day number should not have a leading zero (0) and the year should include all four digits.

Next Issue: Citing resources with multiple authors and maybe a start on print resource citations…

Wednesday, January 5, 2005

First Assignments

Imported from my old Online Education blog

I am jumping a little ahead of what I said I was going to do but I ran out of time looking for good APA style resources and actually had to break down and do an assignment. The first assignments I have due are multi-paragraph "papers" to be posted in the class discussion forums. The strange part of this is one of my two classes is a math class. Yes, I have been assigned to write papers on Algebra. Does anyone know how hard it is to talk about math? That was probably the toughest assignment to get started for me ever! I did get started though and got it done but I am afraid to see if it has been graded yet. It is possible that it won't be graded until after the final due-date anyway but we'll see.



The second paper is for my Networking class. It won't be so difficult seeing as how I work in the industry and have a lot of familiar resources to call upon. I interviewed a co-worker today to get an idea of how a certain chemical company's network is set up and got a lot of really good information. I had already downloaded some whitepapers and saved some links to case studies on the web so I should have plenty of material to wrap up this report tonight. After that, I should be able to take a break until Saturday and catch up on the APA Style stuff.



I did use APA Style references in my Algebra report and I will post what I learned from that soon. Probably not tonight, but soon :) I have to be careful with this since many of my resources are copyrighted material so I will have to come up with my own examples and possibly do a proper "research" paper on the subject.

Saturday, January 1, 2005

Getting Started

Imported from my old Online Education blog

Greetings!

I am getting started back to school after spending nine years in the IT industry doing everything from web site design (mostly programming and less graphics) to database server administration. I have a family and want to maximize my marketability in an industry that I am very fond of so I figured that finishing my degree would be a good idea. That part about the family plus the fact that my commute is 45-60 minutes each way limits my abilities to physically attend classes so I started looking into online universities over a year ago. At the time there were no software engineering degrees available (or widely publicized) and all the offerings even close were "Business-Oriented" programs that did not offer much more than web page design. Seeing as how I would also like to actually learn something new I abandoned my search in just a few weeks.



In early November I got a call from CTU Online which was pretty strange because I am rarely in my office at the time and just so happened to be there when they called. I took that as an omen and started looking into their IT programs. Sure enough, in October they had added a Software Engineering degree program. I finished signing up, had my interview, got accepted, and here I am starting classes tomorrow.



I am actually trying to get an early start but, due to the holidays, it looks like it is more of a late start. I was trained in the MLA (Modern Language Association) Style back at Dunedin High School and did some more with it at St. Petersburg College (was a Junior College but has upgraded since I went there). Apparently, MLA is favored in Florida institutions but Colorado Technical University favors the APA (American Psychological Association) Style so I am quickly trying to review resources before I screw up my first paper.



This Blog is intended to cover my experience as an online university student and will likely be a very embarrassing story as I blunder through some things. Hopefully though, this will help others keep from repeating my mistakes and maybe someone out there may offer some pointers to keep me out of trouble once in a while. The first part of this is going to cover the results of my research into the APA Style and I don't expect anyone to come upon this Blog for a while so I will largely be stumbling through this one on my own.



Here goes... Happy New Year and New Beginnings!