Using Internet in Distance Education

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  • 1 Horticultural Sciences Dept., Univ. of Florida, Gainesville FL 32611

In Spring 1994, a 2-h course in Agricultural Meteorology was handled primarily by e-mail. Six off-campus students asked to take the course by e-mail, and two on-campus students voted to join them. Seven students communicated with each other and the instructor via VAX-mail on the UF IFAS Computer Network [ICON]. The remaining student used a NASA supplied link to Internet. A few students used V-mail on ICON's VAX, in preference to the basic MAIL facility. A good textbook was found indispensable because the rest of the course content flowed through the network. The conversational characteristic of e-mail messages accommodated questions about the text and a term paper topic well. There is a tradeoff of commuting costs vs. computer and modem costs. Each participant worked at an individual—an advantage for students who have production responsibilities. Those students ranked the course as highly desirable [compared with the average for other courses in the department 1.33 vs. 1.39 (where 1 is top score and 5 lowest)]. Procrastination is a hazard, and the keyboard is a limiting factor. Both the preparation for and conduction of the course is more time consuming than conventional methods. This time requirement is expected to decrease with familiarity, the use of graphics, and commercial links to Internet.

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