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Monday, July 19, 2004

  • The early days of UW distance education
  • Bookit: It's time to switch
  • Monday, Monday
Chris Redmond

Information and submissions: bulletin@info.uwaterloo.ca


The correspondence program, renamed Distance Education in the early 1990s, has been in operation continuously since its beginning in the physics department. One of UW's early physics professor, H. J. T. (John) Smith, recalls those days, in an article abbreviated from the UW Correspondent newsletter.

The early days of UW distance education -- by John Smith

In the mid-1960s, because the province had recently introduced new regulations for high school teachers to be educated to degree standard, the Physics Department was offering a number of courses to help them upgrade. These courses, including the electronics course I taught, were offered on campus only at a six-week summer school session. Both the participants and the instructors found the schedule a challenge. My colleague Jim Leslie wondered if there was a way which would make the courses more accessible and which did not require participants to travel to Waterloo. A university level correspondence program was Jim's solution.

Up to this time other models of correspondence courses used only written material. To make the courses seem more like live lectures, Jim wanted to offer them with an audio component to supplement the written material. It was decided that lectures would be recorded on tape and be accompanied by written notes from the professor.

The recorders were of the reel-to-reel type and somewhat pricey. The audio cassette tape, though just around the corner, was not yet available. Jim sent out questionnaires to students who had taken the upgrading courses to ask if they would be interested in a correspondence program and what courses they would like to see offered. The responses were so encouraging that four physics courses were chosen to be launched in 1968: astronomy, electronics, electricity and magnetism, and atomic and nuclear physics. I accepted the invitation to prepare the electronics course.

None of the original four instructors had experience in taping lectures, but we were young and eager. We quickly learned some of the recording pitfalls -- threading the reel-to-reel tape, the background noises caused by telephones ringing, coughing, paper rustling, and people knocking at the office door. Another challenge was to time the lecture so that we did not run out of tape. If a mistake was made while recording, the process of recording over it with a correction of the same time length was almost impossible. Even where to place the microphone for best sound recording had to be researched. Eventually I solved most of my background noise problems by recording in my basement.

The following year was much simpler because the course material had all been prepared. Now my challenge was to incorporate some hands-on experience for students in my electronics course. Initially I organized weekend laboratory sessions for those who lived within driving distance of Waterloo. The lab exercises were the same that an on-campus student would complete. To my surprise, people were coming from far and wide and the courses were appealing to a wider group of people than school teachers. So in 1979 I designed a laboratory kit and a workbook which students could use at home -- without travelling to Waterloo. The kit was physically small and robust enough to be sent through the mail. A version of these kits is still in use today.

Very quickly students from many different occupations were enthusiastically taking the courses and a surprising number of students phoned to speak to me. One student, taking a number of courses, 'phoned regularly from some distance. The other instructors and I often wondered how he was financing the frequent calls. During one of my conversations with him about electronics, there was an incredibly loud roaring noise on the telephone line. After a few minutes, he came back on the line quite unnerved by the commotion. "Oh," he said "that was the 10:46 freight." He was a lineman working atop a telephone pole at the time with a headset clipped to the line!

Bookit: It's time to switch -- from Carol Vogt, information systems and technology

By now, most groups who will use Bookit -- the replacement for Synchronize as the campus calendaring system--have userids, and many users have attended or are attending training sessions. I am now being asked by many people when they should stop using Synchronize and start using Bookit. It would be easy to declare a switch date if we could turn Synchronize off on a specified date. We can't really do that because we need to keep it running into September, to give people who were not here for the summer a chance to get set up on Bookit and to get their Synchronize data converted. However, many groups are keen to make the cut over soon.

I strongly recommend that each department or group selects either August 3 or August 9, and from that date on, only use Bookit. There is a possibility that if you book a meeting with someone in another department they will not be in production with Bookit yet. To make sure they know you have booked them, for the first few weeks at least use the Bookit option for sending email when a meeting is scheduled. In Options, under Scheduling, Notification, check the box that says that you want to be asked if an email should be sent when a meeting is booked. (On the web client, you will find this entry under Email Notification). Also, if you receive notification that you have been booked for a meeting via Synchronize, respond to that person and say that from now on, you can only be booked via Bookit. It will be a confusing few weeks, but I think we can get through it.

Bookit has its own web page. Information about upcoming Bookit courses can be found on the IST home page. A mailing list of the primary Bookit contact in each department or group is being maintained. If you would like to be added to this list, please go to mailman.uwaterloo.ca/mailman/listinfo/bookit-contacts and enter your email address and click Subscribe. (If you have received email from bookit-contacts, you are already a member of this list).

Monday, Monday

The UWShop is having a summer sidewalk sale on July 20 and 21 in South Campus Hall. UW apparel such as t-shirts, hoodies and various other items are for sale at 40 per cent off the regular price.

The Jewish Student Association (JSA), Muslim Student Association (MSA), and Waterloo Christian Fellowship (WCF) will be working together on Wednesday to help feed the homeless -- and, at the same time, make a point about the meaning of community. Club members will be making peanut-butter-and-jam sandwiches that will later be taken to homeless shelters in the Kitchener-Waterloo and Cambridge areas. "Helping the less fortunate is an integral part of each of our religions," says a note from the organizers. "By combining our efforts and working together towards this goal, we feel that we can reach more people. Since there have also been a lot of hate-motivated incidents in our community lately, it is especially important at times like this to come together while working towards the common good of the community." Club members welcome anyone else who wants to help. Non-perishable food donations will also be accepted. Come to the multi-purpose room in the Student Life Centre, July 21, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.


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