|Student Handbook for online classes at SRJC using the CATE system||CATE Handbook More Info for Students Distance Ed Home SRJC|
Chapter 3: The Internet
After you have a firm grasp of using your hardware, operating system, and basic computer software applications (such as word processors), then you'll probably want to get connected to the Internet. If you don't already understand all those preliminary concepts and skills, you should take an appropriate face-to-face class in order to master that material before attempting to take any online course.
Connecting to the Internet is a requirement when taking an online class. While it's possible to use someone else's computer (such as at work or in a campus computer lab), you'll almost always have greater success in an online class if you have your own computer and your own connection to the Internet.
Topics on this page
The Internet is a huge topic and there's so much to know about it that it's probably impossible for any single person to comprehend the entire Net, let alone explain it all in a short online Handbook. However, once you have a computer and understanding of your hardware, operating system, and basic software, it's relatively easy to get connected to the Internet. Most folks follow this process:
Consequently, this chapter focuses on those key elements within the context of preparing for an online class.
To access course materials, you'll need to connect to the Internet and the World Wide Web. To get connected, you need an account with an ISP (Internet Service Provider) and the hardware (modem) to make the connection.
You can get an account with a local ISP (such as Sonic.net) or through an international online service (such as AOL, MSN, etc). Either way, an account will typically run anywhere from $10 to $40 monthly and should provide you with all the connectivity required to get online.
When choosing which ISP to use, you'll also need to decide what method of connection to use. Following are descriptions of the three most often used methods of connecting to the Internet.
Dial-up is the cheapest and is available in most places. Dial-up connections will use your telephone line. You will not be able to make or receive telephone calls while you are connected to the Internet. If you have call waiting as part of your telephone service, incoming callers will either bump you off line, or they will hear a continuous ringing as if you were not home. You'll need a modem to connect to your computer. The modem can be internal or external; these days most computers come equipped with an internal one. There are many makes and models, but you'll want at least a 56 kps modem for taking an online course, and faster connections are always better.
DSL offers higher speed connectivity, requires a special modem, and uses your available phone line but does not interfere with your telephone calls. Depending on your ISP, many DSL lines are permanently connected to the Internet, so you do not need to go through the dial up process. DSL service is only available to you if you are located within a specified distance from the telephone company's central switching office. You will need a DSL modem, available from your DSL provider or a computer store.
Cable modems use your TV cable network, freeing up your telephone line and offering higher speeds than dial-up. Depending on your provider, you might find that your cable is always on, with no need to dial up or initiate a fresh connection each time you want to access the Net. Cable service is available in more areas than DSL, but there are still some rural areas that do not offer cable. DSL and cable services are competitive in cost and speed. Contact your local cable TV service provider to get set up with an account and a cable modem.
Taking the plunge
Check your local Yellow Pages or a similar resource (you can always go to a library or campus computer lab to conduct an online search) to see what options you have in your local neighborhood for connecting to the Internet. Then contact a variety of ISPs to see what services they can provide and at what cost. Remember to try to compare apples to apples, even though different ISPs will offer you different packages. After choosing an ISP, their tech folks should be able to provide you with all the information you need, supply any necessary hardware, and walk you through the entire process, which might involve waiting for a visit from a utility truck.
Students without access to the Internet through home or office might be able to use a computer in one of the campus computer labs. These offer very high speed connections to the Net, but labs might not always be open (and seats might not always be available) at times that are convenient to you or when you're running up against an online deadline.
Even if you rely on computers in the campus labs, to utilize the email aspect of a course, you must have your own email account. See below for more information on choosing and using email accounts.
The software used to visit webpages is called, generically, a browser. There are many different browsers available for free, including Microsoft Internet Explorer, Netscape Navigator, Safari, Firefox, Opera, and others.
At the time this Handbook is being written, we recommend if you are using Windows, you should use Internet Explorer 6.x or higher. If you are using a Mac, you should use Safari 1.x or higher as your browser.
In general, there should be no problem with other modern browsers, but if you encounter any difficulties, switch over to the recommended browser for your platform. Whichever browser you use, updating to the latest version should help ensure that you don't encounter problems.
Certain browser settings and security software can affect your ability to view webpages optimally. Visit the CATE Check Your Browser page to ensure everything is in order. Just by visiting the page, you'll get a report of what browser you are using, your browser's compatibility with CATE sites, and if any settings or security software are likely to interfere.
Working with URLs
Every webpage has a unique address, called a Uniform Resource Locator (URL). You should know the following about working with URLs:
Depending on your browser, the version of your browser, and your configurations for the browser, you might have a plethora of buttons across the top of your window. In general, there are four main buttons you'll almost always have and you should know how to use:
You have the ability to specify a start page where your browser will always go whenever it's launched. Clicking the home button will also take you to that page. You should pick a suitable start page and configure your browser to use it.
Reload (or Refresh) and Stop
If a page is still loading, you'll see the Stop button and can use it to halt the process. If a page has finished loading, you'll see the Reload (or Refresh) button and you can click it to tell the browser to go out on the Web, find the page, and load the latest version (in case it has changed).
Back and Forward
You should know how to use the browser's back button and forward buttons. These are usually an arrow facing to the left (back) and an arrow facing to the right (forward). The back button takes you to the previously viewed webpage. It is only active if you have visited more than one page during a browsing session. Press the back button again to keep going to previous pages. The forward button becomes active after you have stepped back a page, and it allows you to go forward to the more recently viewed page.
Navigating among pages
You should know how to recognize and use text links, graphical links (such as icons or buttons), and clickable "image maps" to navigate around the Web.
Your class site might be just a one-page schedule or syllabus, or it can have many pages. If a site has more than one page, the pages will be accessed by a navigation systembuttons that link to the various pages of the site. Look especially at the top of the page for buttons or text that can serve as navigation. Links can also be used in the body of the page to connect related pages. Look for text that is a different color (frequently blue) and underlined. If it is not apparent to you what is navigation, move your cursor around the page. If you see a hand icon replace the arrow icon of the cursor, this signifies a link. Clicking on a link will take you to another page.
You should know how to fill out and submit online forms using radio buttons, check boxes, and text fields. When taking a test, you should know that if you shut down your system before the form is submitted you will not be able to retrieve your partially completed answers. This also applies to online tests and exercises. See Chapter 10 of this Handbook for more information.
You should know how to bookmark a page (make a "favorite") so you can easily return to it. Once you are on the page you want to bookmark, look for a button in the browser interface that says Bookmark or Favorites, or something similar. Pressing that button should add the page to your list of bookmarks or favorites. If you do not see a button, look for a menu item from the top of the screen labeled Bookmark or Favorites. From this menu, you should see a choice such as Add to Favorites or Add a Bookmark. From this same menu you should see a list of bookmarked pages. Selecting from the list will cause the currently active browser window to go to the page. You should always bookmark the homepage for each class you're taking.
Use your Browser History
A time might come when you want to return to a page you have viewed many pages ago or viewed previously in another browser session. Your browser is saving the URLs of pages you have visited, up to a certain number. Typically, this could be a week's worth of pages you have visited, or if you have been surfing a lot, a couple of days. (The number of stored addresses is determined in the preferences of your browser.) To access the history, look for a menu item such as History, Window, or Go. From this menu item, you should see a list of sites you have visited or a command to bring up the list in a separate window. Choosing an address from the list will cause the currently active browser window to go to the page.
Open multiple browser windows
You might find that you want to have more than one browser window open at once so you can compare pages or easily reference more than one page at a time. Just as you can open more than one document in a program at a time, you can have more than one window in a browser open at a time. Typically, opening a new browser window will be similar to opening a new document in a programgo to the File Menu and choose New or New Window. You can set each browser window to a different webpage. You can resize your browser windows to view more than one at a time.
Newer browsers also offer the ability to open URLs in multiple tabs within one encompassing window, so you can quickly tab from one pane to another.
Be aware that many sites will include hyperlinks that open a page in a new browser window. If your browser is set to fill the screen, you may not be aware that the previous page is open in a different browser window underneath the current one. On a PC, at the bottom of the screen, there is an icon for each browser window open. On a Mac, under the Window menu, you'll see a list of every browser window open. If your back button is grayed out, that is an indication that you have just opened a new browser window.
Search on a page
If you are looking for a specific word, name, or phrase, you can search a webpage by using the Find command. This command is for searching just the currently opened page, which is not the same as searching the Internet using a search engine. Generally, you can access this command by going to the Edit Menu and choosing Find or Find on This Page. You'll get a dialog box with a field for typing in the word or phrase you're trying to find. There will be a button to continue to search for the next usage of the same word or phrase.
Search a class site
For sites created with the CATE courseware system, the instructor has the option to turn on a search function for searching all the pages of a class site for words, names, or phrases. Once you are on your class site, look for a search box in the upper right corner or bottom right corner. If you don't see one, the instructor has chosen not to use this function on the site. Note that this class search engine only searches through pages of the class website, not other class pages, not the larger CATE site, and not the SRJC site. For more information, see Chapter 14.
Search the Internet
You can search the Web for words, names, phrases, images, etc by using a search engine. There are numerous search engines, such as Google, Yahoo, Dogpile, and Alta Vista. Visit the links below for tips about searching.
The check-in process for online classes (and for Web-based resources for face-to-face classes) at SRJC requires you to have an email account for receiving and sending electronic messages.
If you have an account with an ISP, you should have an email account. You can choose to use that account for your class email, or you can obtain another email account. Some students prefer to use a free Web email account (such as Hotmail, Yahoo, Google, etc) or a free SRJC student account. Check the appendix on email accounts for more information.
Whatever choice you make, you must have a functional email account in operation before you begin an online class. Make sure you know your email address! You'll be called upon to use it on multiple occasions, and entering it incorrectly can lead to problems.
A typical email address looks like: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. The first part represents your name or a name you choose (typically your username), followed by the @ symbol, followed by the name of the service provider. If you are unsure of your email address, contact your provider.
Accessing your email
Once you have your email account activated, you have two main choices for sending and receiving email messages: an email client application (such as Outlook or Eudora) or using your browser.
If you want to read and send messages from an email client application, you'll need to acquire a program such as Eudora or Microsoft Outlook. Otherwise, you can usually access your mail via a browser. The exact techniques for accessing, sending, receiving, and managing mail are at least slightly different depending on what application or browser you use, so you'll need to practice to make sure you get it down pat.
Email client application
Email programs such as Outlook, Eudora, or Mail (Mac only) offer a great deal of functionality and many bells and whistles, some not directly related to email.
These kinds of email clients typically connect to the server, download all your new email messages to your local computer, and remove the records from the server. That means you need to manage your mail locally and arrange for your own backups for important email you want to preserve. These clients also allow you to work on mail off-line, and it's only necessary to connect to the server when you actually want to send or receive messages.
Browser access to email
Alternatively, you can send and read your email using a browser. You will need to know the URL to log in to your Web-based account. The webpage for your account will have the interface necessary to compose and send email.
The downside to accessing email via a browser is that your messages only reside on the server, so you need to be connected in order to manage your mail, and accumulated mail can quickly overflow the server space allotted to you. Especially if you are using the free services (Hotmail, Yahoo, NetZero, etc), you have a limited amount of space to store your email. If your mailbox gets full, new email messages will be blocked from coming in and you might not even know that you're missing messages. You must make sure to check and delete your email often.
Sending and managing email
Using either your email program or your browser, you can send email messages. Following are the four basic steps to sending an email:
You will also need to know how to receive new mail, delete email messages, and organize email messages. Look for buttons or menu bar commands for these simple tasks.
Using an email link
Clicking an email link on a webpage will open a blank message in your email program with the email address entered in the "To" box. You can fill in the subject and message and send. If you are not using an email program, copy the email address, navigate to the webpage to log into your email account, and paste the email address into the "To" box. Note that in some campus computer labs this feature is disabled, making it difficult to compose and send an email message by clicking on a mail link on a webpage.
Changing your email address
If you change your email address while taking an online class, you must update your account in the Student Configuration Manager and/or notify your instructor. See Chapter 15 for more information about using the Student Configuration Manager.
When sending an email message, you can attach files such as image files, text documents such as Word (.doc) or .rtf (rich text format), Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoint files, etc. Sending an attachment involves clicking on an "attach" button or command and browsing to choose the file from your hard drive or other local disks. Some email interfaces will have you click an additional button to add the file to the list of attached files. You can attach more than one file.
Keep in mind that recipients need to have an application on their computer that can open the files. Sending large files can cause problems for the recipient and can even be rejected due to size limits. Contact your intended recipient and ask permission if you want to send attachments over 1 MB in size.
Note that the CATE messaging system used by most online classes at SRJC does NOT permit attachments.
Spam filters and blocking
With the proliferation of spam, many email providers have implemented filters to block unwanted nuisance email. Some providers have filters in place by default and some offer settings for you to control the usage and intensity of the filters. Some email programs also offer spam settings. When these filters are working optimally, only unwanted email is directed into a spam folder. However, sometimes these blocking filters can misdirect messages that are not spam. When taking an online class, you will need to make sure that class messages are not getting blocked. Look over your spam folder of messages. If you find that any class messages have been directed there, you should become familiar with the settings of your spam filters.
In addition, some ISPs (such as AOL in particular) offer tools that block email unless it comes from an approved email address. Make sure that you configure your account to permit arrival of email from your class!
Audio and video helper applications
Instructors may offer video or audio content as part of the class materials. When receiving an audio or video broadcast via the Internet through your Web browser, a "helper" application automatically launches to handle the file and provide an interface through which you can control the sound and image. The file format of the audio or video, plus your browser configurations, will determine which application will play the files. You might need to download a software application. In all cases, free software will be available on the Web for you to download. Look for directions provided by your instructor as to what player you will need.
In the CATE system, Real audio and Real video are the recommended formats for instructors to use. These include .ram, .rmm, .ra, .rax, .rv, .rvs, .rm, .rmx, .rmvb, .rmd, .rmj, and .rms files. If your instructor is using Real format, you will need to have the RealPlayer on your computer. The RealPlayer should also play mp3, mpg, mpeg, m4a and QuickTime files.
If you don't already have the Real Player, go to the Real website, which will automatically analyze what platform you're using and take you to either the Mac or PC page as appropriate. Look for the RealPlayer "Free" button or link.
Other common formats used by instructors are QuickTime and Windows Media, which can be played using the Quicktime player and the Windows Media player. These applications have VCR-like controls to pause, rewind, fast forward, etc.
Given the high bandwidth demands of video, keep in mind that it's best to have a high-speed connection to the Internet (rather than a dial-up connection) when attempting to access Web-based video files.
Viruses and spyware
When you're connected to the Internet, the opportunity for infection by viruses, spyware, and other unpleasantness increases dramatically. Make sure you have fully protected your computer! See Chapter 2 of this Handbook for more information on protecting yourself.
When communicating by email there are certain courtesies you will want to keep in mind.
About the Internet SRJC Library
Family Internet Computing help for families
About browsers (PDF file) SRJC Library
Connecting to the Internet (PDF file)
Take the self-assessment quiz to ensure you're comfortable with all the concepts and skills in this chapter. The quiz will open in a new browser window, and after submitting the quiz you'll immediately see your score.
Practice exercise: Identify the ISP with which you have an account. If you don't have an ISP, how will you connect to the Internet?
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Last Modified: Tuesday, 10-Feb-2009 09:04:38 PST
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