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The Question

A few weeks ago I was asked by a student of mine the following question:

"I live in Alaska. What should I know, considering the fact that I live so far from traditional schools, colleges, and universities. What should I learn, and how can I best learn it?"

My research

I set out to find the answer by doing a bit of research. Of course, I must say that I already had my suspicions as to the answer, but I tried to be as thourough in my research as possible.

When asked about programming languages, I always advise my students to take VB, C++ and Java, in that order.

At times I must admit I have tunnel vision. I'm basically a programmer, and so my recommendations always center on programming languages. To be as thorough as possible, I decided to check with some colleges and universities to see what they thought students should be learning.

I teach at a big university (Penn State University), and we have a campus in the system (not the one where I teach, but just a bit down the road), that has developed a national reputation for putting together cutting edge technology programs. Here is what Penn State is doing in terms of High Tech Computer training. Basically, they offer three tracks in:

In evaluating their program, I immediately dismissed the Client Server program, which to me should have been the most interesting of the three. However, I don't think it's nearly as defined as the other two---you can check for yourself. Ultimately, my recommendation in today's world is to informally follow one of the other two curriculums. Here are the details:

A possible curriculum for the independent student

Webmaster Curriculum

Computer Technology Curriculum---Broken intro three concentrations

This is just my opinion but ...

Not surprisingly, (it isn't too hard to be right in this field), Penn State agrees with my assessment, which is to take VB, C++, and Java as programming languages. Add HTML and CGI for Web development. And let me say this: If they have put together a curriculum like this, it's because the big corporations in the Philadelphia area are demanding it, and students are paying big bucks to take them!

Also, I think what their curriculum slant emphasizes is the dichotomy that currently exists---Application development and Web development. I sensed this, but I didn't quite realize it until I was finished with this research.

I should have seen it more clearly. I do business with a small consulting firm where the Web guru and Programming guru sit 10 feet apart. There are some commonalities (each one has programming background), but each is bringing in big bucks for the company in their own way.

OK---let's say that we now have a proposed curriculum for you (the 'what' part). By the way, I think it fits in with the ZDU curriculum quite well. Now, for the hard part. Where do you acquire this knowledge?

If you are lucky, and live near a big university, you can take these courses face to face, which is great for some people, not for others. I teach these courses, and I can tell you that teaching them during the evenings is murder on the students. They're tired, worn out, usually after a full day of work.

You can also take one of these 5 day courses somewhere, usually at an Authorized Education Center---but I really hate those courses. I've taught those as well, and I just don't think you get the payback for your money with these. I still think the best way to learn is to spend 8 to 10 weeks or so immersed in a new technology ---in other words, it can't be poured in. But that's not to say those 8 to 10 weeks have to be spent in a classroom.

I think in today's world, where people are incredibly busy, online or distance learning is the greatest thing since sliced bread, and is an area of education that is going to take off and zoom. And I'm not saying that because I teach in that forum---after all, I still do traditional teaching. But I can honestly say I see it all falling into place. And so do the traditional colleges and universities, as they all seem to be fighting for a piece of this pie.

In terms of high tech computer learning, because standard certifications exist for many of the disciplines I am recommeding, you're in great shape whether you take these courses traditionally or through distance learning. In fact, except for some progressive instituions, you're able to find the cutting edge courses easier via distance learning than you are in traditional venues. With distance learning institutes offering these courses affordably, take the certification test and you're right where you should be.

Now, where to take the courses?

Distance Learning Web sites

There are a number of sites that catalog distance learning opportunites on the net. You can check these links yourself to find them:

Distance Learning Programs!

In checking these out, I only found two (yes, only two) sites that provided adequate coverage of high tech computer learning. Those two are: Of course, ZDU you know about. I still think it's the greatest, and I guess I wasn't surprised to find it in my own research. The University of Phoenix I've heard of (from ZDU students). You may want to check it out. The primary difference between the two is that ZDU offers CEU's, whereas with the University of Phoenix you can get a Bachelor's degree in Information Systems. Something that might appeal to you.

Get Certified!

Towards the end of my research, I turned my attention towards the big guys who do the certifications---Microsoft, Sun, Oracle. I'll stick with the biggest of those, Microsoft, and close by saying that ultimately, you can't go wrong if you just pick one of their certification programs, find some learning materials (books, ZDU, or otherwise), and take and pass the certifcation tests. That will get you hired by someone.

Here's the Microsoft Certification site

There is one other site that I found interesting. It isn't an educaton site, per se, but a site that prepares you to take certification tests. I don't know of anyone who has used it, but it did have some decent references on it:

Cybertech Institute

Recent additions

In recent weeks, students and other visitors have been providing me with additional useful links. Here they are:

The Number of visitors to this page since September 22, 1998

© 1998, Smiley and Associates, Inc.
Revised - October 1, 1999

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