The Importance of Training to Internet-Based
Geography Courses: A Case Study at Texas A&M University-Kingsville
"There has to be a dialog mechanism in which an individual can engage in a discussion with others to improve their understanding and to enhance their confidence. Effective learning can only be deemed to have taken place when the student can communicate accurately and with confidence." (Thomas, 1997, p. 138)
There is a wealth of information about regional geography, cartography, remote sensing, and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) on the Internet today. Many geography instructors utilize existing material and often create original material in order to develop Internet-based courses. In advanced courses, some instructors require students to create projects on the Web. What is often forgotten is that all students do not have the same level of computer or Internet skills; even though the instructor may have a well-designed Internet-based course and have excellent links to other sites, it may be ineffective if there is inadequate student training. Training is therefore necessary to use current technology in an efficient manner in geography courses.
We developed a training program to acclimate students to Internet-assisted geography courses and materials. Educators cannot teach geography effectively today if they do not use the Internet, and they cannot use the Internet if students are not trained properly. In many areas of geography, particularly remote sensing, cartography, and GIS, students have to be adept with not only computers but also the Internet.
The Development of Internet Elements in Geography Courses
The process of introducing the Internet in geography courses at Texas A&M University-Kingsville (TAMUK) was a gradual and incremental process. In the fall of 1997, Dr. McAdams introduced the Internet to his classroom via an online syllabus for a course entitled World Geography and Computer Cartography. (The syllabus was also distributed on paper.) Student interaction with the Web was minimal.
At this time Ms. Packard, who has special experience with government
documents and maps, was conducting Internet classes for the library. She developed a tailored program that introduces
geography students to geographical Web sites and sites with significant geographically
related content (e.g., federal
government sites, Texas
government sites, cartographic/geographic
sites, Gazetteers, and GIS sites).
In spring 1998, we held the first training session for World Geography. At the same time, Dr. McAdams introduced the Internet into his advanced GIS classes. In summer 1998, Dr. McAdams taught World and Regional Geography as an Internet course. The course included online notes, exercises, and grade posting; chat rooms; and threaded newsgroups.
In fall 1998, the World and Regional Geography courses were fully operational, Internet-assisted courses that included the material developed during the summer. This included an Internet connection in all instructional classrooms. The Internet and computer-based software (i.e. Encarta Virtual Globe) became the sole teaching aid, replacing overheads, class notes, and maps. Students were expected to do the following: use e-mail, download online class notes, participate in threaded newsgroups, submit online exercises and use online preliminary examinations for review. The students were encouraged to use the Internet for all aspects of the class and extra credit was given for additional Internet training. (The earlier referenced links are example of the elements in the World Geography course. For additional information, go to the homepage of Dr. McAdams.)
In spring 1999, all the elements were still being used with the exception of the chatroom, which was used in the Internet course. In the advanced courses of GIS, Computer Cartography and Remote Sensing, students were expected to create project web pages and access data from the Internet. Without training, these elements of the class would have been overwhelming for the majority of the students.
In fall 1999, the threaded newsgroups were expanded so that students responded to the topic and then critically commented on other students' postings. Previously, students had responded to topics but not read other students' postings.
In spring 2000, the course was taught by another instructor and a teaching assistant who had previously worked with Dr. McAdams. Even though the instructor had not used the Internet in the classroom before, there was a minimum of difficulties.
The elements of the course vary in the type of skills necessary. The World and Regional Geography course involves online exercises, threaded newsgroups, and online notes in addition to e-mail and group-e-mail. In the advanced courses of GIS, Computer Cartography, and Remote Sensing students are expected to access links related to the week's topics, submit take-home examinations via e-mail, and construct a Web page in accordance with the individual project assigned for the class.
Student Evaluation of
In fall 1998 and 1999, evaluation surveys were administered in the World Geography class to determine the effectiveness of the Internet training. There was a wide variety of age groups in both survey periods, with the majority being between 17 and 25 years of age. The distribution between the class grouping were also fairly uniform in both groups (See Figure 1: Demographics of Classes.) In fall 1999, the students reflected a greater knowledge of the Internet. In their case, it appears that the jump to an Internet-assisted class was not as difficult as in previous years (See Figure 2: Knowledge of Internet.) In both surveys, students reacted positively to the training. In fall 1999 and fall 1998, 65% and 45%, respectively, rated the training "useful." Different Internet elements of the course were also evaluated. The highest evaluation ratings were given to the ability to communicate with the professor via e-mail, threaded newsgroups and online examinations (See Figure 3: Evaluation of Internet Elements of Course.) These surveys cannot be generalized and should only be used as an indication of the effectiveness of Internet training.
The following are some overall recommendations for developing Internet training for geography courses based on our experience:
Require all students to attend a mandatory Internet session developed for a specific course. Dont assume that all of your students have the necessary Internet skills.
Realize that there will be an adjustment period.
Be specific about the content that is included in the introduction session. If the class is composed of Internet novices, different training techniques are required. If you are teaching a particular topic such as economic geography, you want the trainer to cover links related to economic geography.
Have an instructor/staff that has experience in Internet training teach the introductory session. You may know your particular course material and be familiar with the Internet but not be able to effectively train students on Internet basics.
Change the content of the training classes based on the particular tasks for that semester. Each semester, you will find elements that need to be added or removed. Consult with your trainer prior to the session about these concerns.
Add elements of the Internet incrementally to your course. Some elements may work well and others may not. You may want to start off with an online syllabus and requiring e-mail addresses for all students. Later, you may want to add more advanced tasks as you get more comfortable with using the Internet the classroom.
Teaching a class using the Internet is very time consuming and intensive. Links must be updated, and lecture notes, class syllabi, threaded news groups, and other mail services take an enormous amount of time and can be quickly outdated and rendered useless. The Internet lends itself to world geography, GIS, remote sensing, and cartography to the extent that if we dont teach geography using the Internet, then students miss out on valuable information.
Training is the most essential element in making sure that your students are able to take advantage of the material on your Web page or the Internet-related tasks that you have assigned. With the Internet and computer skills being taught in junior and high schools, the need for basic training will eliminate the need for basic Internet training.
The Internet is transforming education in an entirely new direction.
It will never replace the personal contact of the classroom but will be a powerful
enhancement tool. The professor in this
environment becomes more of a guide, leading the students to material and being available
to share his knowledge to help the student with the material in any geographic location.
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