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Julie Wolper's "Internet Basics" was originally offered by the Telecommunication Community Resource Center and represents a growing phenomena on the Web -- the free course. In fact, this is not so much a course as it is a self-directed tutorial, an outgrowth of the early guided learning modules that first appeared in PLATO and in early DOS and Macintosh programs.
Wolper's work offers its users a brief guide to the Internet (along with an introduction written by Dan Duvall). It includes descriptions of such technologies as the Web, downloads, e-mail and newsgroups, a collection I found oddly conceived till I worked through the site: the technologies chosen all fit within her stated vision of the Internet:
". . . a network of linked computers allowing participants to share information on those computers."
Given that understanding and conceptualization of the Internet (and it's one that is certainly defensible, if not one that is rapidly becoming the standard), her choices make perfect sense. And her information is very down to earth, succinct and accurate; her brief summation of the history of the Internet, for instance, is right on the button, and useful for helping new users begin to think about the issues involved in using and being part of the Web.
Though the site is decidedly kinesthetic in its approach -- users are often enjoined to "try" this and links take them to places where the technology they've just installed can be used. But the instructions can often be mercilessly brief and I wonder if newcomers could hope to follow them without more step by step instruction:
Set up a "downloads" area: The first step here is to create a new folder or
directory on your hard drive entitled, simply, "downloads." This file can reside
anywhere you like. I keep mine on the "desktop" where I can easily find the new
things I get. Some people also find it helpful to put the "download" directory at the
root level of their c: drive.
How many new time users are guaranteed to know how to create a folder at all, let alone locate it on their desktop? Admitted, knowing how to create a folder is not strictly speaking part of the content of a course about using online technology, but it's certainly germane.
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Students could use this site to give themselves a conceptual framework for further studies, but it bills itself as a tutorial, and it needs more descriptions of procedures on a step by step basis, or they might well be frustrated and give up.
One minor complaint: It doesn't really help that each page opens up in a separate browser window. I kept losing the previous page because I hadn't realized I had jumped to a new window and my back button just didn't seem to work anymore!
Wolper, Julie. "The Internet." Web Page. http://www.webcurrent.com/tcrc/basics/html/internet.html (March 20, 1999).
_____. "Internet Basics: Downloading Files and Programs." Web Page. http://www.webcurrent.com/tcrc/basics/html/download.html (March 20, 1999).