JIU Cyber Demo Needs More Pictures

Jones International University (www.jonesinternational.edu) displays
its seal of accreditation against a classic arch to form the logo for its home and other
pages --appropriately, since the site proclaims itself "the first cyber university to
be granted regional accreditation by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
(NCA). Accreditation was granted March 5, 1999."

The free demonstration materials offer a sampling of two
fields of study, "Integrated Humanities" and "Negotiation and Conflict
Management." A course for cable operators' customer-service representatives is
apparently not yet available, at least not in JIU's demo.

The opening page for the Integrated Humanities demo is a
graphic of an eye in a yellow, orange and rust vortex over a desert valley, with a river
and lake glinting in sunlight -- in a sort of Dune-meets-New Age philosophy style
that jars a bit if one recalls the accreditation-seal logo.

The eye image's allegory extends to the text, which refers
to "the quest for self-enlightenment" and "the journey to the underworld,
the struggle between Culture and Nature, the process of education -- these are some of the
'universal' themes of Western Culture." Not entirely untrue, if one were
inclined to let the reductionist clichés slide.

In Homer's Odyssey, it alleges, "the Cyclops
obviously is associated with Nature, and Odysseus (with more than a bit of pride)
associates himself with Culture." But Odysseus also associates himself with gods and
goddesses, as well as his own mental agility. Interpretation calls for nuanced balancing,
rather than allegorical formula-crunching.

You need to download Macromedia Inc.'s
"Shockwave" and "Authorware WebPlayer" to view JIU's multimedia demo
(a jungle of links within links, with no clear path back to JIU).

After the nuisance of the download, the only graphic
provided in the Humanities demo is a flat and static diagram of Odysseus' itinerary.
Clicking on a location dot pulls up a text box that is sketchy and almost cartoonishly
oversimplified. One might expect a bit more from an accredited university course.

So although we're told by JIU that it's a "recipient
[of] two NewMedia Invision Awards," it's not apparent in the demo why: The entire
demo is predominantly text-based. Its bulleted lists are mostly graphics-free, despite
their frequent allusions to the courses' multimedia presentations.

As with other new-media services, much is promised, but few
are chosen to beta-test.

The site has the good taste to link to Tufts University's
Perseus Project, with its scholarly, annotated photo collection of Greek arts,
particularly architecture; and to the Internet Classics Archive at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology. But that raises the question of what JIU has specifically
contributed on its own.

The sample quiz asked about the role of "gender"
in Minoan and Mycenean art: Of course it existed, but in the way we think of now?
"Analyze the images you see before you from a 'gender' point of view. What is
'male' about Mycenean productions? And what is 'female' about the Minoan

Certainly, it's worthy to help students see their personal
connections to significant or classic documents of history. But does it help anyone to
paint the customs and values of those documents in the colors of late 20th
century pop psychology and TV stereotypes?

A minor quibble, maybe, but two glaring grammatical flubs
were found on the Humanities demo, of all places, and they proliferate in other areas
(e.g., "to facilitate students learning process") -- certainly not a rare
phenomenon on the Web, but shouldn't a university help to set the tone and contribute to
our language health?

The demo in Negotiation and Conflict Management describes
its goal as to "actively manage conflict in a manner that has the greatest potential
to produce positive interactions and outcomes."

It gives a role-play sample posing this case: "The
Elroy Township road-maintenance crew consists of George, Andy and Pat Bill is a new
employee who joined the crew six weeks ago The immediate supervisor of all of them
is Rob. Al is the big boss, who supervises all maintenance activities of the township.

"For several years, the crew had tolerated problems
caused by Al overriding Rob's directions, but no one had said anything to Al.

"You will be scored on how well you define appropriate
aspects of conflict and how well you apply the theories and models from the course. The
clarity of your interactions will also influence your grade. The assignment should take
four to six hours, and it is worth 40 points."

One student's "Online Conference" reaction to the
dialog was: "[Al] definitely has a 'Competing Style' with a slant toward forcing
(as described in Fogler, Poole and Stutman, p.188). His main concern is with his own
position, and he disregards others' concerns."

This response uses textbook labels, as directed, then
proceeds proactively to motive analysis, recognizing classification's utility as a
starting point for detailed discussion, and not as a conclusion.

Another student responds: "The problem is that Al and
Bill are somewhat similar in their reactions. Bill will not give in to Al, but he is more
flexible in his competing style. I think, using the book's terminology, we can classify
his style as contending, and not forcing."

The perception of similarity beneath the surface difference
reflects some depth of thought and creativity.

Neither the professor's case study nor the student
responses are presented in Media Player, Shockwave or WebPlayer format (why bother
downloading them?) -- again, they are merely text-based. So much for drama. It's hard to
see the use of computer resources that even a bare classroom can facilitate replacing
actual theater games and human contact.

The sample quiz is in multiple-choice format, and although
not clogged, it's not entirely jargon-free. In fairness, that jargon is probably
translated in the textbooks.

The multiple-choice quiz sample calls for
judgment-demanding selection among shades of difference in the choices, avoiding the
oversimplification in other sections. Its sample assignment emphasizes the application of
studied principles, rather than mere regurgitation.

Aside from the bachelor's and master's programs in business
communications and the courses in humanities and conflict management, neither the demo nor
the intro materials make it clear which other fields the university offers degrees in.

Tuition for B.A. and M.A. programs, while a fraction of
that of major U.S. universities, is still not inconsiderable. One hopes the instructors
are fairly compensated for their extended availability.

A major advantage of JIU as a "cyber university"
is: "The convenience of taking classes on the Web lets you meet your educational
goals without sacrificing time at home and/or work. You'll never miss a class, since you
determine when to log on and when to study." But the as-yet-limited use of multimedia
is a drawback.

Perhaps videoconferencing via cable telephony could someday
facilitate online face-to-face interaction, with live voices expressing such responses as
doubt, reservation, surprise and even the elation of discovery in learning, which can be
contagious to classmates. The best colleges and universities tap the synergies of a
community of learners.

JIU is a promising alternative educational resource, and
its technology might enable one of the key factors in successful education -- one-to-one
interaction with talented instructors, or at least detailed feedback from them.

Let's hope that JIU continues to develop its use of
available Web technologies to extend such interactions.