INTRODUCING THE INTERNET WITH A VIRTUAL CLASSROOM
I began with six simple core competencies to impart to the students. One goal was for my students to grasp the new learner-empowered paradigm evolving out of the technology at our fingertips. The virtual classroom embodied one of the important new concepts the Internet has provided. Negroponte has described it as "-place without space" (Negroponte 1995) . At the opening session of each course I told students who said they would have to miss a session here or there due to business travel that with the virtual classroom, they needn't miss *any* class sessions.
"I enjoyed using the virtual classroom very much. I liked the convenience of 'anytime', 'anyplace'. It was fun to be able to set up our classroom anywhere, as Bob and I have done several times at the bank. We needed only a couple of phone lines and our PCs." Bank Manager, Week 5
The virtual classroom was a direct experience of McLuhan's classic *the medium is the message*. CybrrCat Productions! , building web sites, converting analog documents into digital formats, consulting with businesses and government agencies on technological solutions, giving presentations on the uses of the Internet to the Chamber of Commerce and other groups. Plus, as every dedicated, knowledgeable citizen in bush Alaska does, I offered to teach what I knew at the local university .
A friend took to describing me as an evangelist and my weekly classes at the Ketchikan Campus as "-services". (Rheingold 1991) He patiently listened to me talk aloud as I constructed the virtual classrooms and suffered through many sessions in front of the screen, testing the navigation of the sites and giving me feedback. He was an excellent subject for this type of review as he knew very little about the Internet. (Tognazinni 1992) In fact his only experience on the Internet occurred in when we visited in New York and spent an evening at the @ Cafe.) A factory trained professional who repairs wrecked cars, he once said his only *mental activity* took place when he was trying to make money or impress a woman. Despite those limitations, he did have a very logical view of things and proved to be an invaluable sounding board for ideas of what constituted an entertaining and educational human-computer interface. (Laurel 1990) 
Plus, as any good friend will do for another, he listened when I came home from a class, usually hyper and energized. I described to him the progress of my students: those with a trigger finger, those who had trouble accessing the attendance page, and in general their progress. His sympathetic ear allowed me to better define aloud how I was using the virtual classroom and its effects on my students.
DESCRIPTION OF THE VIRTUAL CLASSROOM
"The search I did last week was very fruitful, and I think I'm finally starting to come out of the "fog"! :/ :) " Housewife/Artist, Week 4
Later, I found instructional courseware (WebCT) from the University of BC which extended the functionality of the course through the use of chat rooms, quizzes online, and student management tools. Subsequently, I used WebCT with excellent results.
The elements of the virtual classroom included some traditional items such assyllabus , bibliography, biography of myself, glossary, and course notes, along with Internet-specific attributes such as an attendance page , bulletin board, chat room, email area. All, of course, constructed in emulation of the ultimate theater, the WWW. (McLuhan 1964) The virtual classroom provided a consistently familiar environment in which the students learned to use the tools of the computer to interface with the Internet and the evolving Internet community. The elements were structured to teach them device control, (even computers crashing became instructional opportunities to discuss prevention and salvage techniques!) navigation, and communication techniques needed to successfully access and navigate the Internet:
Basic device control:
DESCRIPTION OF STUDENTS
"I'm sitting here with my grandchildren, ages 2 and 3, wanting to" play computer" with me! I'm really enjoying everything about the classes, and learning a lot:-) I really enjoyed the emoticons and the abbreviations for use in e-mail and chat rooms :-D" Grandmother, Week 4
Students were motivated to learn; this was an extracurricular class for all of them. Working people sometimes had to tune in from afar on business trips or had to work late the day of class. Some took the classes in order to upgrade career skills (city employees, bank employees, business owners, etc.) while others took it to learn more about a particular field of interest to research on the Internet (primates, where to shop, travel, genealogy, etc.)(McLuhan 1964) .
"I have been using the net (almost too much) since taking the class. It does come in real handy at work though! I just printed about 20 pages on the school to work program. So think I'm finally done with my research and will have to start writing soon."Rural High School Principal, Week 5
The physical facility was a lab room with 14 computers: a few agonizingly slow enhanced 486s but mostly Pentium 100s running Windows 95. the computers had no sound or video cards, and various versions of Netscape Navigator and MicroSoft Internet Explorer were installed. No ventilation and ergonomically a chiropractor^"s delight, the classroom reflected the teaching stance of the pre-computer era: board and podium in one central location with a large screen (portable) on one wall and a mounted large monitor on the instructor^"s side. Two rows of students stretched across the room facing the teacher and their monitor screens. This meant, of course, that the teacher couldn^"t see what the student^"s had on their monitors from the front of the class. It was necessary to go back and forth and up and down the rows to assist students and check on their progress.
SEQUENCE OF THE COURSE
The curriculum included students accessing the virtual classroom at least once during the week between lab sessions. They were instructed to send email each week from the attendance page, then proceed to the exercise area and explore the URLs posted there and be prepared to discuss their discoveries in class the following session. These seemingly simple tasks actually require a fair degree of device control. Some students, especially the older ones, needed the entire seven weeks to accomplish this.(Owston 1997) 
Each week seemed to have a definable flavor which became more pronounced over the sessions I taught. While a complete examination would run many pages, perhaps just look over my shoulder here for a capsulized glimpse into the virtual classroom as the weeks unfolded:
Week 1: " how do i know if have a browser
"I think the Internet is rather overwhelming vast; I am sure that nearly anything one might want is out there, it's just a question of *finding* it!" Doctor, Week 1
Week 2: "OK, everyone remember how to scroll?"
(Turkle 1984) . Everyone assiduously works on correctly keying in the URL (more device control) and the correct email address. As soon as I explain that these things are not written in English and they should cease to read them as such, tensions ease somewhat. One of the big thrills begins this week when they email each other in class and receive the emails.
"Virtual Classroom certainly makes sense for this type of class--but I ran into a lot of slowness and non-working. It was also frustrating when passwords didn't work, but it all worked out fine, just time consuming." Marine Engineer, Week 2
Week 3 "Teacher?! We don"t need no stinking teacher!"
"I have had a little trouble with the [virtual] classroom, But I think that it'll work out in the end. All of the bugs are simple ones but it's new so I understand. I am glad I took this class because I am learning a lot of stuff." High School Student, Week 3
Week 4:"Please, people, sending each other warnings about
viruses *is* the virus!"
^'I've been in the classroom a few times this week[ using the student bulletin board]. Still waiting a reply from Monica. I've discovered she's also from Montana and has information regarding campgrounds on the way there." Middle School Teacher
Week 5: ^"OK, like I'm using these Boolean techniques but I
still can't find ...."
^'I tried to sign up for a list. I found one that sounded interesting on chocolate. The blurb said to sent a request in a certain format to a certain address to request more information to make sure the list is a public list, etc.... So I did and got a response back with the exact same information LISZT had. Computers are always so much fun even if you don't understand them!" City Librarian, Week 5
Week 6: ^"Would you give your credit card number to a complete
^'My purpose in taking the class was just to force myself to have to figure out how to get started, get somewhere, etc. (Not real high expectations.) Lots of the language is real new to me and I just needed to hear it for awhile and begin to try. So my expectations have been fully met. I now use the net every night at home for research and e-mail and with kids at school." Business Woman, Week 6
Week 7 : "Par-tay!"
"I"m going to frame this and put it on my wall, yes ma'am! Right in my office next to my law degree." Elderly Attorney, Week 7
Overall, I found the virtual classroom to be the ideal tool to introduce people of all experiential levels to the Internet. In a familiar environment that they could go to any time at their own pace, most students felt more at ease and better able to absorb instructions and then later, use those instructions to accomplish their online tasks in a short period of time. In the areas of device control and navigation, I found that a familiar environment with everyone working on the same example on the same page kept the group learning together better and faster than the students who used disparate real-life examples on the Internet.
^'^'The medium is the message^' means, in terms of the electronic age, that a totally new environment has been created." p. vii wrote McLuhan in 1964 at the very eve of the creation of the Internet.
. ^"The cyberspace experience is destined to transform us in other ways because it is an undeniable reminder of a fact we are hypnotized since birth to ignore and deny--that our normal state of consciousness is itself a hyperrealistic simulation." wrote Howard Rheingold, Howard in Virtual Reality, p. 387. I have to say that I agree totally with Rheingold on this fascinating point and perhaps the ecstasy of the experience is what my boyfriend perceived in my demeanor.
In one of *the* greatest books on interface Bruce Tognazinni got it exactly right: ^"People don^"t want the most abstract interface. they want multiple channels of information. They want neither just words nor just pictures. They want both. The more visual, verbal, vocal, and tactile the interface is, the more natural it feels, the more feedback and response it provides, and the more confident the user becomes." Tog on Interface, p. 126. He spoke of operating systems, games and entertainment; I found his axioms apply equally well, if not better, to educational computer-mediated experiences like virtual classrooms.
By comparing cyberspace to a theatrical production, and further, one based on ancient Greek notions of theater, Brenda Laurel puts the construction of the a virtual classroom beyond mere pedagogy. For me the challenge became knowing how to teach certain mundane tasks, such as mouse control, using high theater techniques.
I have always been struck with McLuhan^"s analogy of words v images: ^"Suppose that, instead of displaying the Stars and Stripes, we were to write the words ^"American flag^' across a piece of cloth and to display that," p.82.
^"Until the electric age, higher education had been a privilege and luxury for the leisured classes; today it has become a necessity for production and survival," p.103. Ibid. This has certainly been the case with many of my students, both in the university environment as well as the private sector, where many intimidated adults, even those nearing retirement, are expected to use the computer the boss put on their desk.
Ron Owston mentions in the section titled ^"Web Appeals to Students^" Learning Mode^' that ^"students in public schools and in a good many colleges and universities do not know a world without the computer^'. I found this to be equally true in the opposite sense: the older students were much more verbally oriented and had difficulty in the visually icon-rich environment of the WWW.
 I came up with this term after observing so many people clicking uncontrollably on the mouse when their queries or efforts received no immediate response. Oftentimes, although this trigger action is what causes the computer to crash (overloaded with commands it can't process), most people were unaware that they were even doing this!
 Simultaneously holding down the Control-Alt-Delete keys which in Windows 95 indicates the non-responsive application, allowing one to End Task rather than improperly shutting down the computer.
Turkle, Sherry. (1984) ^"In the child^"s animistic world, objects can have the power of active agents, with unknown, perhaps sinister intentions...They play with and manipulate objects to get a sense of control over their powers," p. 41. This is true of adults as well! ^"It doesn^"t want to go there!" ^"This thing is so stubborn!" ^"Maybe it has a virus." All these animistic attitudes became less prevalent as the course progressed. Placating the gods of the computer gave way to accurately using the devices.
As a visionary, Bill Gates^" comment in The Road Ahead is already a known factoid: ^"The [information] highway will alter the focus of education from the institution to the individual. The ultimate goal will be changed from getting a diploma to enjoying lifelong learning, " p. 204. Indeed, I felt I was most effective as a *facilitator* of learning rather than a repository of teachings. I wanted to reconfigure the real classroom to position myself not at the front of the class, *sage on a stage* style, but at the back of the room where I could see the monitor activity and function better as a coach.
 Holding down the right button on a two-button mouse over an image in Windows 95 calls up a popup menu which allows you to choose to save the graphic image on a WWW page.
Dizard, Wilson, Jr. (1994) Old Media, New Media, Mass Communication in the Information Age. Longman, White Plains, New York.
Gates, Bill. (1995) The Road Ahead. Viking Books, New York, New York.
Hayward, Jeremy. (1995) Sacred World. Bantam, New York, New York.
Laurel, Brenda. (1990) Computers As Theater, Addison-Wesley, New York, New York.
McLuhan, Marshall. (1964) Understanding Media The Extension of Man, McGraw Hill, New York, New York.
Negroponte, Nicholas. (1995) Being Digital. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, New York.
Owston, Ron. (1997, April) The Teaching Web: A guide to the WWW for All Teachers. Paper presented at TCC Online Conference, http://leahi.kcc.hawaii.edu/org/tcc-conf. Hawaii
Rheingold, Howard (1991) Virtual Reality. Summit Books, New York, New York.
Robin, Bernard, Elissa Keeler & Miller, Robert. (1997) Educator's Guide to the Web. Henry Holt, New York, New York.
Tognazzini, Bruce. (1992) Tog on Interface. Apple Computer, New York.
Turkle, Sherry. (1984) The Second Self, Computers and The Human Spirit. Simon & Schuster, New York, New York.
TCC Online Conferences