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Stanford's Channel 51 goes interactive with McNamara class

STANFORD -- Stanford's Channel 51 cable television outlet will kick off its second quarter by offering an experimental interactive course taught by the Hoover Institution's Joseph McNamara.

The former San Jose police chief's 10-week Continuing Studies course, "The War on Drugs: History, Policy and Alternatives," will be broadcast twice weekly on Channel 51 - at 7 p.m. on Thursdays beginning Jan. 11, with repeats each Sunday at 8 p.m., starting Jan. 14.

Viewers with access to the Internet can supplement the taped lectures by going to the course's home page to peruse the syllabus, download related materials and take part in an e-mail discussion group. They also can send e-mail questions and comments directly to teaching assistants Jane Marcus and Stephanie Mann.

The pilot is part of a progression toward expanded "distance learning" opportunities. Last fall, during Channel 51's first quarter, tapes of a Continuing Studies course on European history were broadcast. Next quarter, another interactive course will be offered - this time for credit.

McNamara said he looks forward to taking part in the experiment, particularly to study how students use the electronic substitutes for normal classroom interaction.

"This [the course topic] is an extremely complex area of public policy that has been evolving for more than a century in this country," McNamara said. "I've been studying this subject for most of my professional life, and I find you can learn new things and get different perspectives from different people all of the time.

"In my classrooms, there's always a lot of give and take, and I try to bring in a variety of guest speakers to give students a fully rounded look at the issues," McNamara said. "So this will be fascinating to see the different kinds of input we'll get from people who are taking the course at home."

In addition to the question-answer and discussion group links, the course's home page includes a collection of related materials: a virtual library of nearly 200 links to sites including the home pages of government agencies, officials and lobbyists; texts of policy statements; news articles; and research papers.

All that is missing for students is tuition, course credit and a grade. But in the spring quarter, organizers will offer a Continuing Studies course on English cathedrals for credit, with tuition and grades, and say they hope to expand the offerings in the future.

"This is a pilot for future distance-learning experiments, in which the students will earn credit," said Professor John Etchemendy, associate dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences and chairman of Stanford's Commission on Technology in Teaching and Learning, which last year recommended the pilot program.

"We're trying to utilize the technologies we have access to in a way that is more than just 'watching TV,' " Etchemendy said. "We're hoping to find a package that is equally attractive to the community and to the instructors here at Stanford."

Channel 51 debuted last September and can be seen in about 25,000 homes in Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton, as well as in all university residences and academic buildings that are wired for cable television.

How many people will choose to get their continuing education via a combination of television and the Internet is anybody's guess, said Charles Junkerman, associate dean of continuing studies.

Also to be settled are a number of administrative issues, such as how to charge fees, what the class sizes should be, and what level of instructional staffing is required.

"There are many things about which we're quite uncertain," Junkerman said. "But we do know that the learning dynamics will be different. We don't think they will better or worse, just different."

Students viewing McNamara's course will be encouraged to fill out an initial questionnaire, primarily to provide demographic information, and another at the end of the quarter assessing the course. The information collected at those times, as well as the regular input made by viewers in the discussion group, should prove valuable when developing the course on English cathedrals for the spring, Junkerman said.

The "War on Drugs" classes were videotaped as McNamara taught them during the 1995 fall quarter. Sociologist Bob Scott's course, "Gothic Cathedrals and Great Churches of England, 1150-1350," will be recorded in winter quarter and broadcast in the spring.

"We want to offer a very diverse group of subjects, just as we currently do in continuing studies taught in the traditional manner," Junkerman said.

Overall, he said, "our mandate is to make the intellectual riches of the university available to the community, in ways that are consistent with the mission of the university."

Initially, organizers didn't know whether they would be able to put the package together in time to offer the McNamara class this quarter.

"Having Continuing Studies made available to the community was one of the original goals when the proposal for Channel 51 was put together," said Jan Thomson, director of Communication Services. "It came together very quickly. It really exceeded my expectations for what we could do with Channel 51 in such a short period of time."

She recommended the "War on Drugs" course, without any fees or obligations for people who want an introduction both to Continuing Studies and to distance learning with an assist from the Internet.

"Joe's course is wonderful," Thomson said. "It's stimulating and the subject is timely. The interactivity makes it that much more interesting as a course."

Junkerman said the English cathedrals course taught by Scott, who is associate director of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, should prove to be as popular in cyberspace as it is in real time.

"The way Bob Scott approaches the subject, looking at cathedrals from the perspective of a sociologist, is fascinating," Junkerman said. "And it will also work very well on television; it's a very visual course, with Bob using lots of photographs and floor plans."



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