Topic: 2. Course History and Advantages of Online Courses
posted May 17, 2007 12:22 PM
History of Starpath Courses
Our first classroom course under the name "Starpath" was on celestial navigation in 1977. It was part of an "Experimental College" program at the University of Washington in Seattle. We worked in that program for about one year, until it became clear that the popularity of the courses and the constraints of that program were not compatible. So we rented property and hung up a shingle across the street from Mariner's Square, at the North end of Lake Union. As the school program and course options grew, we expanded and eventually moved into the Mariner's Square complex next to Fisheries Supply, where we taught classes until the early 90's, going for long periods with classes every night of the week. When we eventually turned our energies more toward training software production, we moved the working office to the Queen Anne area, and limited our courses to tuesday and thursday evenings. Our classes were then taught at the Doc Freeman's Chandlery for many years. "Doc's" finally closed down in 2003 after 56 years on the Seattle waterfront. It was a sad closing and many Seattle mariners miss them as much as we do.
In 1999 we purchased our present property and have been here in the Ballard neighborhood ever since. At one point here we had 5 full time employees and again ended up teaching every night of the week, and on many week ends as well. It was a fun and active time. We were also at the same time developing our online courses and making improvements to the teaching materials. Our online courses have actually been in place since about 2002, but we have not had much promotion for them till recently.
As of the end of 2005, we have had a total of over 25,000 classroom students since we started keeping records in 1980—this includes our onboard courses over the past 5 or 6 years we have done this, but does not count home study or online students. It has been a lot of work and it takes a lot of energy. We decided it was time to take a break and focus our energies on the home study and online courses, and not offer classroom courses for a while.
Several factors contributed to that decision. First, we simply do not have the staff to do full time teaching and product development at the same time, and if the online work was going to progress, we would have to focus on it. But second, there are now some schools in the Seattle area and around the country that are using our course materials for their own courses, and this trend is actually increasing rapidly. This is good for us as students do get to benefit from our work, and we get the time to carry on with making new materials.
But there are also other key factors emerging as we gain more experience with this new format—the online courses are now in many ways a better learning experience than the classroom courses. Needless to say, our classroom courses were good and they were popular. But look at these advantages.
Advantages of Starpath Online Courses
(1) Students get far more individual attention than they ever did in the classroom. We did not realize this would evolve this way but it did. In the classroom, we were on a schedule and when the class ended folks went home. Many came long ways or had ferries to catch, etc, and it was not fair to discuss only with those who could hang around. So our discussion was limited to before class and questions during class. But to stay on schedule, this was limited. Also some students did not want to ask questions in public, which was a factor. Now anyone can just press a button and post your question. Even if it is just being stuck on a particular problem. And we have found—as you can see by skimming through the discussion groups—that people ask questions frequently and get prompt thorough answers.
(2) We can answer questions in depth with cross references. Since we are only answering the question "one last time" as it enters the database we try to be as thorough on the topic raised as possible. Subsequently, students can just search the database and find the answer to their question without even having to post it. This is another great advantage of the online format. We archive all discussion and it can be searched by keywords. Thus in the middle of the night if a question comes up with your studies, chances are you can search and find the answer to it.
(3) You work at your own schedule. No need now to give up your evenings after a long day of work. You can log in and work on the course any time you choose. By default, the course study period is set at one year, however, anyone who calls to ask for an extension would be given one. We have had people come back a year or more later and resume their studies. We can reset their work to date, or they can carry on as before.
(4) You can work at your own pace and depth. In a classroom setting we are forced to reach a median between those who have more experience or work faster for any reason, and those who wish to digest things at a slower pace. After 20 plus years of classroom teaching, we did learn how to do this pretty well, but that is nevertheless not the optimum for either group. Now with the online courses, you can work fast if you like or need to, or take your time. Some people want a lot of extra details and others do not. Now you can have what you want in your training program. We can provide any level of support desired for those who want it.
(5) With the online course and electronic materials, we can provide far more course content than we could when we were limited to printed materials in the classroom. We can solve problems and give examples with live data from any part of the world. We have built online computer functions that solve specific problems, and we can link to amazing resources around the world, and use then actively during the courses themselves.
(6) ...and the courses cost less. The electronic media is less expensive to produce and distribute and our instructors can work part time supporting the courses in an efficient manner. We now have expert instructors around the world monitoring the courses from numerous time zones. On average the online courses are roughly half the cost of their classroom counterparts, in spite of the advantages they offer.
We know the online learning is new to many, but we encourage you to give it a try. Remember that all Starpath Courses include printed materials that we have used for very many years as stand-alone home study courses. Thus, even if you choose to not take part in the online aspects of the course, you still have a complete package of materials to learn from that have been tested by thousands of students over several decades.
From: Starpath School of Navigation, Seattle WA