Computer Skills Requirements

You need to have a basic knowledge of computer and Internet skills in order to be successful in an online course. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Knowledge of terminology, such as browser, IMHO, application, etc.
  • Understanding of basic computer hardware and software; ability to perform computer operations, such as:
    • Using keyboard and mouse
    • Managing files and folders: save, name, copy, move, backup, rename, delete, check properties
    • Software installation, security and virus protection
    • Using software applications, such as Word, PowerPoint, Excel, email clients
    • Knowledge of copying and pasting, spell-checking, saving files in different formats
    • Sending and downloading attachments
  • Internet skills (connecting, accessing, using browsers) and ability to perform online research using various search engines and databases.
  • Ability to use online communication tools, such as email (create, send, receive, reply, print, send/receive attachments), discussion boards (read, search, post, reply, follow threads), chats, and messengers.

Strong reading and writing skills

You need to have strong reading skills and be able to communicate effectively through writing. Most of the material in the online environment will come from your textbooks and written lectures, therefore strong reading and critical thinking skills are very important for success in an online course. Online students communicate through such text-based tools, as emails, discussion forums, chats and instant messaging. You need to feel comfortable expressing yourself in writing.

Self-motivated and independent learner

While online courses can offer more flexibility in scheduling, they require more self-discipline and independence than on-campus courses. Some students can find this uncomfortable and not suitable for their learning style. They may miss face-to-face interaction with an instructor and peers, which helps to keep them on track. In the online environment, you have to be able to start and to work on tasks on your own, without someone keeping you focused, and you have to be self-disciplined in order to follow the class schedule and meet deadlines.

Time commitment

Online classes take as much time as regular on-campus classes. You need to set aside sufficient time for study. Plan to spend at least as much time working on the assignments and studying as you would with a traditional course. Note that some students report spending even more time for online classes than for traditional ones. Time that you need to devote to a 3-credit course will be approximately 12 hours a week.

Time management: log-in frequently and develop study schedules

Even though you may not have to “be” in class on some specific day and time, you still have to follow the course schedule provided by your instructor. Remember that online classes are not independent study courses; you are still required to “show up” and participate actively.

Since online courses are asynchronous, they will continue developing and changing even if you are not online. You need to be online frequently enough and log in at least three to four times per week in order to keep up with the content flow, complete assignments, follow discussions and communicate with your classmates and instructor. Some courses may even require you to log in every day.

Never wait until the last minute to complete your assignments. You may have a technical problem or run out of time which will cause frustration. One of the major reasons for failing online classes is procrastination, since it is very easy to fall behind in the online environment. Make sure to set aside specific time on a regular basis to participate in your course. Schedule specific times to log in and to study.

Active learner

Online students must be active learners, self-starters who are not shy or afraid to ask questions when they do not understand. Remember that you, not the instructor, must be in control of your learning process.

Since your instructor cannot see you, you need to “speak up” right away if you have problems and be as explicit as possible; otherwise there is no way others will know that something is wrong.

Remember that your instructor is not the only source of information. Most of the time you will be able to post your question in the discussion forum and your classmates will help you as well.

If you have technical difficulty, problems understanding course content or difficulty meeting the deadline, seek help right away and contact your instructor to make arrangements.

Free Resources for Learning Python

A short, but hopefully growing list of free online resources that may help you learn Python. The default for these links is Python 3, unless noted.

Tutorials and Books

Videos

I thought you died alone, a long, long time ago

I’m a big David Bowie fan, but not because I heard his songs and listened to him on the radio. The first song of his that I liked was the collaboration with Queen “Under Pressure,” and even then (early to mid-80s) I associated that song more with the supergroup than I did with just Bowie. Radio hits of the 80s that followed (“Let’s Dance,” “Blue Jean”) were a welcome splash to the otherwise repetitive string of pop put out at the time.

Because pre-internet times demanded to do so, I was a member of the Columbia Records and Tapes Club, and one fine day, after failing to reject the album of the month, I received a copy of “Nirvana Unplugged in New York,” which I diligently listened to, it being the 90s and surely anything by Nirvana was worth listening to. The truth is, only one song stuck in my head, and that was “The Man Who Sold the World.” I couldn’t quite understand who Kurt Cobain credited the song to, although I was able to figure it out in not-too-long a spell (I actually had several conversations with friends and co-workers — pre-internet days, remember?).

It was during those times that I also frequented driving to the big Metropolis (Houston) to visit the big stores (Barnes & Noble) and I was able to secure my own CD copy of Bowie’s The Man Who Sold the World, and suddenly, maybe 20 years too late, I became a big Bowie fan. I don’t know that I can easily rattle off the names or melodies of the rest of the songs in the album, but “The Man Who Sold the World” is enough to fill a library of memories, hopes and doubts that were otherwise filled with synthesized chords and other regrets.

After my initial approach to “The Man Who Sold the World,” slowly I absorbed the rest of the Bowie library, which lives with me even without the help of Spotify or any other recorded medium.

Nirvana’s cover was a faithful rendition of the song, and I guess that any artist that attempts to do so will triumph in his or her or their own way, which is why that accidental CD delivery made up my mind once and for all that performing a cover song is indeed the most sincere form of flattery. If I had any talent at all, I would pick up an instrument and record R.E.M.’s “Find the River” and call it a life.

Why IT support is hated

This morning I had an issue creating a new content folder using the Blackboard software we use at the college when suddenly it stopped dead on its tracks and warned me of an unidentified error. I tried to copy an existing folder to see if I could coax the system into cooperating, but still — no love.

I asked a colleague about whom I should call to clear up the problem, and after a couple of tippy-taps on the keyboard, and navigating through a maze of vaguely worded headers on the Interweb, we came upon a sole PDF file proudly displaying a phone number for faculty to use in case there were some kind of problem with the system (DON’T SHARE THIS NUMBER WITH STUDENTS, a legend blazened below the digits).

I returned to my office and sat to follow the same rigamarole path that led us to the PDF, but before doing so, I decided not to call the IT desk number provided, but rather called myself to see if I had any answers. I extended my thumb and pinky finger on my right hand and cradled a make-believe phone on my chin and dialed my number. I already knew what I was going to ask myself, so I quickly told myself that yes, I had already logged off the system and logged in again, I had quit the browser and restarted it and yes, I had even turned the computer off and then back on again.

What I did not expect was my next question: “What browser are you using?”

“I use only Chrome,” I answered, with such disdain that surely I would quit answering the phone when people called for IT advice. “What’s that got to do with anything?”

My response sent chills down my spine, because not once during the 20 to 30 minutes of having this issue had I even considered what I recommended: “Have you tried opening the page using Internet Explorer?”

No. Not at all. Not for a second.

I sat and clicked the Start button to find IE, since I don’t even have the shortcut embedded in my taskbar anymore, and upon pasting the offending URL and requesting a new folder, a shiny icon popped to inform me of the successful build on the system.

“I hate you,” I spoke into my my hand, and quickly air-slammed the receiver above my desk. “I hate all of you.”

New school year, new password

Hello, Monday (Wednesday — actually, Friday)!

As we all get ready for the new year, and then again 90 days from now, and in yet another three months, ad nauseum — the computer system will ask you to pick a new password to access the information you so desperately need right now.

Although this may seem like a burden — and by all means, maybe it is — you should take a couple of minutes to take care of the computer’s request to change your password and pick a secure code that is hard to decipher and easy for you to remember.

There are applications available that will remember passwords for you (like LastPass or KeePass) although some of us (not me) have survived for decades writing down passwords on small pieces of paper and storing them somewhere “safe.”

When considering your new password, be sure to read the system’s requirements for new passwords, choose a strong passwordbased on those specifications, and make sure your new entry key is not one of 2015’s worst passwords. Here’s the top 10:

  1. 123456
  2. password
  3. 12345678
  4. qwerty
  5. 12345
  6. 123456789
  7. football
  8. 1234
  9. 1234567
  10. baseball

It’s the new style

It’s new to me, anyway.

Starting with the Spring 2016 semester, I’ll be moving toward more open-source software options in my classes, ergo my Photoshop may include some GIMP, my Dreamweaver will have some bootstrap, etc.

Gotta get some reading done.

2018 EDIT: I can’t believe I never saw these guys live: