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UVI CLASS VIA COMPUTER AND RADIO OPEN TO ALL

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Sept. 14, 2003 – Technology has taken teaching to places where it would not have been dreamed of a decade ago in ways that have valuable application in the Virgin Islands:
Via teleconferencing, students can sit in a University of the Virgin Islands classroom on St. Croix and not only see and hear their professor lecturing and demonstrating via computer on St. Thomas but take part in face-to-face discussions with their equals in a classroom on the other campus.
The limitation, of course, is that you have to be physically in a place set up for such teleconferencing.
Meantime, via so-called distance learning, students can take courses online without attending classes, downloading lectures and demonstrations emanating from virtually anywhere and interacting with their professors and colleagues via e-mail and chat functions. This, however, involves "asynchronous," as opposed to synchronous, or real-time, communication. That is, for the imparting and accessing of information, and for dialogue, students and teachers participate at different times.
On Tuesday evening, UVI's Alan F. Lewit, professor of computer science and mathematics and coordinator of computer science, will launch a project that falls somewhere in between, bringing real-time audio, including feedback, to students attending class via computer in the comfort of their homes, offices, dormitory rooms or wherever. And he'll be doing it using a technology that's been around for the better part of a century: radio.
He's partnering with Power 101.7 FM on the pilot project.
For several years, Lewit has been offering a four-module, Web-based introductory course in Visual Basic computer programming for students on both UVI campuses and at the University of St. Martin. Students on the two UVI campuses also can attend his live tutorials on site and via teleconferencing.
But come 7 p.m. Tuesday, Lewit will be sitting in his office and from there will host tutorial participants in the territory who will connect to his computer via the Microsoft NetMeeting software program. On their computer screens, they will see the Visual Basic programs he will be creating on his own computer. They will be able to communicate with him via the chat window supported by NetMeeting.
And to hear him — both lecture and respond to chat-window queries — they will tune to 101.7 on their FM radio dial, where, patched into the station by telephone, he'll be simulcasting the tutorial.
"This is a non-profit community outreach project," Lewit says. "Power 101.7 is volunteering the air time, and I'm volunteering my time." He said he was approached by Power 101.7's A. Whalid Whitehead regarding the project more than a year ago.
Lewit sees such simulcasting as the beginning of a new trend in distance teaching.
The fall tutorial, covering the first of the four modules, will meet Tuesdays from 7 to 8 p.m. through the end of the UVI fall semester in mid-December. It's being offered free as a non-credit course, and there's no advance registration. All you have to do is eventually acquire the course textbook and "be there" Tuesday night with your NetMeeting program launched on your computer and your FM radio turned on.
(For more information regarding the course and the tutorial, including how to access the NetMeeting program, visit the Program By Radio Web site.)
"While UVI could eventually stream audio online, the throughput quality would be lacking," Lewit notes. "And with most of the participants having dial-up [modem] service, they need all their throughput capacity for NetMeeting. It makes sense to get their audio through the radio."
Lewit is hoping to reach a lot of local high school students. "I believe they need more exposure to problem solving through algorithmic solutions," he says. "Most of the incoming freshmen who take my introductory programming course have severe deficiencies in this area. I am also targeting the adult work force who are interesting in moving into this field."
Participants should at least be in high school, he says, as some of the programs require a minimum of ninth-grade level mathematics. But there's no "class size" cutoff: "The more students who participate, the better," he says.
"I think this short course will be attractive to adults who because of their work schedules and home commitments will find it convenient to stay at home to learn," he says. "I also think parents will want to expose their high school children to this course to give them a greater potential to succeed in the computer science field or related field."
The topics for the tutorial will be the same ones covered in the first module of the college-credit course taught in traditional class format. In fact, some UVI students who have registered for the course will be taking it via the Power 101.7 simulcast.
Those not taking the tutorial for credit at UVI this fall could still see an academic payoff, Lewit notes: Participants who want to take the course for credit can register for CSC 117 in the spring. Those who meet the requirements this fall for taking the first module test "can immediately sit the exam and, upon passing it, move on to the second module."
For those wondering just what Visual Basic is, Lewit describes it as "a sophisticated programming environment to create commercial applications (programs)." In the course, he says, students "will get exposure to the basic language elements. They will enhance their problem-solving skills by analyzing and breaking tasks down to smaller components and linking facets of these subtasks with Visual Basic statements and structures. It is, therefore, a process of analysis and synthesis.
"Students will learn the elements of programming on the course Web site. We will then use the tutorial to go over and ground the concepts they learn online by going through a series of tasks."
Lewit says that while he is "not aware of anyone else trying to teach synchronously via computer telecommunications and radio," he hasn't researched the matter. "In the past, I have taught similar classes to St. Martin with NetMeeting and a phone call to a conferencing phone," he says. And last spring semester, he taught an intermediate course "completely on NetMeeting, and all of us communicated by NetMeeting's chat window."
If you're interesting in participating in the tutorial, contact Dr. Alan Lewit by e-mail.

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