ATLANTA - A handful of college students in Georgia this fall can forget about traffic-choked campuses, no-parking zones and all the other headaches of rushing to class.
Instead, they will settle in front of computers in their homes or offices and begin the state's first college degree course designed to be taught almost entirely on the World Wide Web.
The pioneering effort of Southern Polytechnic State University in Marietta won't appeal to everyone. It's a two-year master's degree course in quality assurance, designed for professionals who tell businesses how to do things or make products better.
But if it is successful, it could lead to other degree offerings on the Internet by Georgia colleges.
The concept already has attracted the interest of other college presidents, who urged the Board of Regents to spend $2 million to test Internet degree courses next year on other campuses.
"It might be possible to deliver a good portion of our education this way," said Sherman Day, interim president of North Georgia College and State University, who made the funding request last week.
"This has great promise for the alternative delivery of education," he said.
At Southern Tech, interim president Daniel Papp feels like a pioneer.
"If the information revolution winds up doing what everybody thinks it's going to do, this is clearly one of the ways it's going to impact education and we're excited to be at the forefront of it," he said.
The college expects 20 to 25 students, potentially from anywhere in the country, to sign up for the course, which will be identical to the program already taught on campus.
The Internet students will pay the same rate other students pay - $260 per quarter for in-state students and $950 per quarter for nonresidents.
Instead of attending class, however, they will download the course syllabus, list of assignments and any special notes from the instructor.
They will have to turn in assignments about every two weeks - by electronic mail, of course. Occasionally, they will have to work on team projects with other online students.
When questions arise, they can pose them directly to the professor in an online chat room several times a week. Students can also use the chat room for conversations among themselves when the professor isn't there.
They will have two exams during the quarter, and must have a monitor watching them as they take the tests. The monitor could be any state-certified teacher or the head of their company's personnel department.
To complete the degree, students must take all nine courses and participate in two symposiums on campus.
"The human dimension of education is something you can't get away from," said Papp. "It is good to have that face-to-face contact. And maybe we're not quite ready to make that leap into 100 percent noncontact."
The loss of contact between student and teacher in desktop degree-granting is a troubling aspect for others, as well, including the University System of Georgia's Jim Muyskens, vice chancellor for academic affairs.
"We all know that face-to-face meetings, the kinds of things that happen in a well-run seminar, go far beyond just communicating information or thoughts," he said.
Further, Muyskens said students who are most excited about their degrees usually are able to point to one or two professors who became their mentors and helped them develop their talents.
For that and other reasons, Muyskens said he does not see a time when bachelor's degrees will be offered via the Internet, although individual courses could be completed by computer.
"I think master's level is more natural," he said.
"In order to do this, a study has to be extremely, extremely motivated, and that's why it's good to do it at the advanced level. At some point, it might be possible to do it among a very motivated cadre of students at the bachelor's level, but the key is motivation."
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