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Computer courses at the University of Illinois have a reputation for teaching computer science skills like math and data science.
Now, an interactive virtual classroom at the university’s computer science department has given them a boost in that field, teaching students how to use the Internet to explore data and learn about other people.
“It’s all about social impact,” said Leland T. Brown, director of the Computer Science Department.
“There’s a social impact from that.”
It was introduced in September as a pilot project, but the university has begun using it to help students learn how to navigate a variety of computer-related websites.
It was designed to help those who can’t access a computer to gain access to them, as well as those who don’t have the time or resources to install and maintain a computer.
“This course is really meant to help people find their way around the Internet,” Brown said.
“We think that the virtual classroom is really helping people get a little bit of a feel for how computers work.”
Brown’s team began developing the course last year after seeing a study that showed how a virtual classroom can boost learning for people with disabilities, particularly those who are limited in their ability to interact with computers.
“The course was a way to get people to see how they could learn by themselves, how they can be more social, get a better sense of how computers are used in society,” Brown explained.
“To give people a place to start their learning, and help them learn a little more about the technology.”
A group of students at the computer science program have been experimenting with the virtual environment since its introduction.
They’re using the platform to study data visualization and to practice coding.
“So the virtual space is really giving people a way into their own brains,” Brown added.
Brown said that the courses are not intended to be used as a replacement for a full-time computer science degree.
“For students who want to go to university, we’re not talking about getting an MBA or a Ph.
D. degree,” he said.
Instead, the virtual classrooms are intended to help learners build up a solid foundation in computer science before they begin taking classes.
The online classes are free to students who enroll in a course and who do not pay.
Brown’s office will continue to develop the courses and offer them through the semester, with the goal of launching them for students who are ready to go.
In the meantime, the University has launched its own online courses, which are free and open to anyone with an Internet connection.
Brown is hopeful that the university can offer more opportunities for students to explore computer science online, especially for those who do have limited access.
“Our hope is that they can make it easier for people who are on a tight budget, to be able to do a little research, get their hands on some computers, have a little fun,” he explained.
Brown also said that he thinks that it will be helpful for students looking for a computer science course to take the virtual courses to see if they’re up to speed on the topics they are studying.
“If people are interested in computer studies, and they want to get a computer, it’s not necessarily going to be that easy to get into a computer course,” he added.
“But we think this is a way of helping people with limited budgets or who just want to take a computer for fun.”
Brown is optimistic that students will continue taking the virtual computer classes, but he also acknowledged that there are some drawbacks to using the virtual platform.
“I think the virtual learning environment is a good way to be really active, but it’s also going to have its challenges,” he noted.
“And there are also a lot of limitations, including that you can’t do everything you can do on a computer.”
In the coming weeks, Brown said he plans to introduce new courses that will cover topics like statistics and data visualization.