Friday, January 16, 2009

Woman blames Dell (and not herself) for missing online classes from Madison, Wisonsin, had a story about a college-aged woman who blames Dell for missing online classes.

Abbie Schubert said she was talked into buying the Dell computer with the Ubuntu Linux OS, being told that "Ubuntu was great, college students loved it, (and) it was compatible with everything" that she needed.

Unfortunately, Abbie apparently knew very little about both computers and about getting technical support. She couldn't load her Verizon high-speed internet CD, so she couldn't access the internet. And she could not install Microsoft Word, which she claimed was a requirement for her Madison Area Technical College (MATC) online classes. Consequently, she said that she had to drop out of MATC's fall and spring semesters.

This story is so wrong in so many ways. First of all, I find it amazing that a college-aged person could be so clueless about computers. Is she Amish or something? As the story progresses, you learn that Verizon did indeed have support for Linux, and they dispatched a tech support person to help her get connected.

And MATC has reported said that it would accept any of her class work, regardless of what software she had installed. This comes as no big surprise to me, as my work in supporting online learning systems has shown that (unless you're working in a Microsoft Office-specific course) assignments are usually expected to be in the universally acceptable RTF format.

How is it that Schubert was so clueless about taking an online course. I looked at MATC's site, and was not surprised to find this verbiage about online learning:

  • Do I have access to the computer technology and a connection to the Internet?
  • Do I have basic computing skills?
  • Three credit classes may require 12 to 15 hours per week. Do I have the time to take class online?
  • Can I motivate myself to go to the virtual classroom at least five days a week?
  • Am I comfortable with my reading, writing and typing skills?
  • Am I easily frustrated by technology?

Perhaps she was suffering from delusions of adequacy when she read this. Or perhaps, more likely, she didn't read this at all.

Finally, I was not surprised but nonetheless saddened to read in the followup article that the poor girl was being verbally abused by legions of intolerant Ubuntu zealots. That's sad, because more good could have come if they'd offered their help and advice. As it stands, however, the story might have a happy ending, because Verizon and the school have both offered to help.

That's not surprising, however. I'll bet all Ms. Schubert had to do was ask someone.

Postscript: my respect for MACT's web site just plummeted. Check out the Technical Requirements page for their online courses. I'd like to see Internet Explorer 5.0 pass the Blackboard Browser Check! "Last Modified: January 30, 2007" indeed!

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