St. Lawrence: County, School, River, Saint

St. Lawrence County makes up the upper northwest corner of New York State. It is the largest county in New York.

St. Lawrence County is bordered on the west and north by the St. Lawrence Seaway and is home to St. Lawrence University, in the county seat of Canton, and St. Lawrence Central High School, in Brasher Falls. Across the border, in Cornwall, Ontario, you will find St. Lawrence Secondary School.

St. Lawrence County was named for the St. Lawrence River—”discovered” by Jacque Cartier, a French explorer—and on the Feast Day of Saint Lawrence of Rome—August 10—he named a small bay after the saint and cartographers applied it to the River of Hochelaga (Montréal).

Why was Lawrence So Popular?

So, who was St. Lawrence and why was he so popular to have all these places named after him?

Lawrence was a deacon in Rome, under Pope Sixtus II, in 258 AD. Lawrence was in charge of taking care of the needy and poor. The Roman Empire was ruled by Emperor Valerian, a pagan, from 253 to 260 AD. Valerian was the first emperor to be taken prisoner by the Persians and would die in captivity around 264 AD.

Valerian persecuted the Christians and required the clergy to worship the pagan Roman gods. On August 7, while Sixtus was preaching, Roman soldiers broke in to his chapel and took Sixtus to his death. He was beheaded on August 7, 258. As Sixtus was led to his execution, Lawrence wept and exclaimed, “Father, where are you going without your deacon?” Sixtus replied that he was not leaving Lawrence behind, as he would follow in three days.

Sixtus was correct.

St. Lawrence Gets Grilled

St. Lawrence of Rome, with his gridiron, upon which he was executed, on August 10, 258 AD.Lawrence was ordered to bring the treasures of the Church to the Roman authorities. He, instead, gathered all the poor in the city and brought them and explained that they were “the treasures of the church.”

Of course, this was not a satisfactory response and Lawrence was sentenced to death by being strapped to an iron grill, or “gridiron,” and slowly roasted to death.

Lawrence, it is said, told the authorities that he was “done on this side” and requested that he be flipped over to continue his roasting on the other side. “It is cooked enough,” he replied as death took him. St. Lawrence, one of the more popular saints, is the patron saint of the poor (of course) and of cooks (ironic).

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Accolades on My Master’s Program

Utica College:
Master’s Degree in Computer Forensics and CyberSecurity

From my professors:

Outstanding paper on cyber bullying. This is not only one of the best in the class, but one of the most thorough and historical accounts on the subject that I have read.

Jeff, You absolutely nailed this discussion forum. Your response to the discussion prompt was thorough and analytical, showed great creativity, and was supported by high-quality, properly cited sources. Your proposal of the strict BYOD policy in particular shows that you are “in tune” with current trends in cybersecurity. Keep up the good work.

Jeff, Fantastic job in this discussion forum. As I mentioned in the discussion itself, it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that the Internet is a physical thing that is subject to damage, and not just a virtual, ethereal concept. You also went above and beyond the assignment requirements in responding to your classmates, and cited your sources well. Keep it up.

Such a great submission. In addition to correctly addressing all assignment requirements, the inclusion of all of the photographs added a nice touch. Great work and no issues to report. I really liked how you tied the date to national and historical events; that’s a first!

Well written presentation, correctly addressing all aspects of the assignment; verification via hashing, as well as discovery of hidden message due to font color change. No issues to report.

Excellent presentation. In addition to correctly summarizing each of the terms in-depth you correctly completed the hashing exercise. I have yet to ever have a student examine the HTML so that was really cool. Nice work and be sure to retain this presentation for future reference.

Excellent presentation or report; I can’t tell! Comprehensive and accurate summary of computer forensics evidence presented, as well as the grandmother’s testimony and how it conflicted with her work schedule. Nice inclusion of screen shots, as well as identification of NetAnalysis and CacheBack; you clearly articulated the issues that occurred with the returned results generated by the forensics tools. In short, the evidence was there but in my opinion, the technical challenges presented by the defense brought the validity of the evidence into question.

Excellent submission. I really liked how you identified and labeled all of the discovered devices within the photograph; very professional and easy to follow. Computer handling procedures were spot on and the supporting photographs were very helpful.

The step by step procedural detail was excellent! The supporting photographs and detail left no room for speculation. I could easily identify the specific remote, as well as the specific batteries. Excellent work and no issues to report.

Excellent presentation and supporting documentation provided through email. All assignment requirements were addressed in depth and correctly. Nice work and no issues to report.

Rutgers University: 
miniMBA Master’s: Social Media Marketing 

“Jeff, this is great work! You’ve done a wonderful job outlining your plan. It’s very realistic and I love the logic and targeting information you’ve built into it. …in terms of your strategy, everything looks solid. Nice work!”

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Meta Descriptions of Colleges

When revving up the Googler and searching for colleges, the browser shows a snippet of information it gleans from the site’s source code. This is the meta description that is embedded in the website’s HTML code.

Ideally, that information should be no more than 160 characters. It can be longer, but it will be truncated and after the limit has been reached, it ends with dot-dot-dot. See this link from Moz for a better explanation: https://moz.com/learn/seo/meta-description

A random sampling of university meta descriptions returns a mixed bag of results. Some of them seem well-considered (University of Michigan) and some do not (University of Iowa).

Below is sampling from colleges and universities I randomly searched for in the US, Canada, South Africa and the UK.

If you were searching for colleges and this is the first thing you found out about a particular institution, would you click through?

University of Michigan
(check out the big M in source code!)

University of Michigan<meta name=”description” content=”A top-ranked public university, the University of Michigan has a tradition of excellence in research, learning and teaching, sports and the arts, and more.” />

University of Iowa
The University of Iowa Museum of Art has been without a building since the flood … the help of the University of Iowa will have its world premiere at the American …

University of Montana
Located in Missoula, Montana, the University of Montana is a place where top-tier students, educators and researchers from across the country and around the …

University of Oregon
Oregon’s flagship institution tucked into the scenic Willamette Valley.

Valdosta State
We are a place where all doors are open and you will never feel invisible. Consider the next four years your launching pad. Whatever your goals, Valdosta State …

Mississippi State
At Mississippi State University, we are a world-class research institution. We think inclusively and beyond the boundaries to encourage boldness, imagination …

Savannah College of Art and Design
Visit SCAD. Experience. Calendar · Facilities … SCADTV · Student portfolios · Give. © 2017 (SCAD) Savannah College of Art and Design. Careers Legal Sitemap.

University of Florida
One university. The Gator Good is our campaign to combine those efforts and solve those global problems. Because together, our impact is greater. Learn More.

University of Houston
Located near the heart of Houston, this public, tier one research university offers over 300 degrees and programs and award-winning faculty.

University of Alberta
The University of Alberta is a Top 5 Canadian university located in Edmonton, Alberta, and home to nearly 40000 students in a wide variety of programs. Visit the …

University of Idaho
The University of Idaho, based in the Northwest, is a leading research school, providing majors and degrees for graduate and undergraduate students.

University of Cincinnati
The University of Cincinnati, founded in 1819, offers success by providing a balance of academic excellence, real-world experience and collaborative research.

University of Texas
Like the state it calls home, The University of Texas at Austin is a bold, ambitious leader, home to more than 51000 students and 3000 teaching faculty.

University of Liverpool
For the advancement of learning and ennoblement of life since 1881.

University of Denver
The oldest and largest private university in the Rocky Mountain region, DU offers innovative and rigorous undergraduate, graduate and professional programs.

University of Akron
With more than 250 degree programs, UA is one of the nation’s strongest public universities focused on innovation, entrepreneurship and economic growth.

University of Southampton
Study at the University of Southampton, ranked among the top 1% of universities worldwide. A research-led founding member of the prestigious Russell Group.

University of Pretoria
University of Pretoria is 1 of the top research institutions in Africa and their mission is to be an internationally recognised teaching & research university.

SUNY Oswego
RT @artswego: My Hometown Banner exhibit opens at #sunyoswego’s Tyler Art Gallery @ Oswego StateDowntown this Fri, June 23; rece… https://t.co/ …

Iowa State
Iowa State University is the nation’s most student-centered public research university. 100 majors. 800 clubs. 1 amazing adventure.

Binghamton University
Binghamton University: top-rated public research center; SUNY system; located in upstate New York; 15300+ students; 140+ undergrad/grad programs offered.

Siena College
Siena College is more than a liberal arts college—it is a learning community that prepares students for a successful life filled with compassion and drive, service .

Florida State University
FSU, designated a preeminent university in the state of Florida, is one of the most respected research and learning institutions in the country.


Lynchburg College
Lynchburg College offers opportunities for life through engaging undergraduate and graduate programs. It will adopt the name University of Lynchburg in 2018.

Roanoke College
College isn’t just four more years of school; it sets you on the path for the life you want to lead. At Roanoke College we think the world needs people with passion

UNC-Charlotte
UNC Charlotte alumna Melissa Farling, a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, has devoted her career to investigating the effects of architecture on …

Randolph College
Randolph College is a nationally recognized private liberal arts and sciences college, located in beautiful Lynchburg, VA, focused on you the student.

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Email Spam: Since 1844

Samuel F.B. Morse sends the first email spam in 1844
Samuel F.B. Morse sends the first email spam in 1844

I don’t believe in email.

I’m an old-fashioned girl.

I prefer calling and hanging up.”

—Sarah Jessica Parker

It is staggering to think just pervasive email is in our lives. In 2012, there were 2.2 billion email users worldwide, 144 billion email traffic worldwide per day, 68.8% of it spam, and of that, 51% was pharmaceutical spam. 425 million active Gmail accounts worldwide, making it the leading email service (Cook, 2013).

Not only is email everywhere, but it’s been around, in some for, for quite some time. Email was apparently born in 1965. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology created the Compatible Time-Sharing System (CTSS) in 1961, and in 1965, hundreds of users were using the system remotely and sharing data (Van Vleck, 2001).

However, one could really consider the first email to have been sent on May 24, 1844 by Samuel F.B. Morse, whose message “What hath God wrought?” was emailed from the Supreme Court in Washington, DC to Alfred Vail at the B&O Railroad in Baltimore. There does not seem to be a reply, so Morse’s email probably ended up in Vail’s spam folder (Norman, 2015).

You’ve Got Mail.

A pivotal year for email was 1989. In that year, the phrase “Welcome! You’ve Got Mail!” entered our lexicon. It was so ubiquitous that just saying those words would be synonymous with its creator, America Online (AOL). Nine years later, the phrase became a movie starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan (Lew, 2010).

The death of email has been ballyhooed almost as much as the death of publishing. However, email is just as popular as ever, even after discounting spam. There are three times as many email accounts as Twitter or Facebook accounts (although it is likely that people have several email accounts they don’t remember having or use several different ones depending on work, family, social requirements [it would be fair to say that the vast majority of people only have one Twitter or Facebook account if they have any]). Not only is email still popular, it gains in popularity. From 2011 to 2012, email volume rose 5.4% and 79% of people use their smartphones to check email compared to only 43% who use it to make phone calls (Eastman, 2013).

Along with the popularity and usefulness of email comes a dark side. As easy as it is to transmit birthday wishes to Grandpa in Sarasota and cookie recipes to Aunt Gwen in Fredericksburg it is just as easy to send threats from estranged spouses, solicitations from deposed Ugandan Cabinet officials, war and terrorist plots, embarrassing or incriminating information, or plain old computer viruses. And, this sort of thing has been around since Mr. Morse first spammed the B & O Railroad in 1844.

Confederate Email.

During the Civil War, the telegraph became a crucial tool of communication. It relayed battle plans and results back and forth from President Lincoln to his General of the Day and the Confederates were big fans, too. In December 1863, transmissions from Richmond were intercepted by Union telegraph forensicators and led to the capture of Confederate spies in New York and the confiscation of contraband and ammunition. This is an early example of network forensics, much like capturing packets today (Greeley, n.d.).

The problem with all this free-flowing information is that it can be intercepted, whether you’re a Confederate spy or not, or misdirected and the information contained within can be used against the sender or recipient. So, security is paramount for users but it must also be attainable by law enforcement in the event that email becomes evidence.

Authenticating emails is one problem. It’s not enough to say, “hey, I got an email from Mr. Green threatening me” and Mr. Green says “I didn’t write that.” In the 2012 Maryland case of Donati v. State, Mr. Donati threatened a bar and also sent harassing emails to the Montgomery County Police. He used different accounts, the same tone and followed up with phone calls, but denied writing the emails. The authorities were able to authenticate the emails circumstantially by verifying his IP address, finding paper in his house with the accounts written on it, plus the police responded to the emails, Mr. Donati was found to have been the author (Miller, 2014).

Of course, criminals don’t want to get caught and innocents don’t want their emails intercepted or used against them, and people want to be sure that the emails they send and receive are legitimate. Security measures have been in place for years but “email was not designed to with any privacy or security in mind,” says Geoff Duncan, writing for Digital Trends. Encrypting email poses many challenges, some which include that the message, and maybe the attachments, are encrypted by the metadata is not—which could be read and used to produce a trail of evidence, (Duncan, 2013).

Plug it in, plug it in.

Germany’s De-Mail purports to offer end-to-end encryption for its users. De-Mail. The purpose of De-Mail was to complement regular postal mail for legal documents. De-Mail has struggled to attract an audience, only securing 1 million users since its inception in 2012, which is far below the expected totals. Using OpenPGP, De-Mail offers its users a secure transmission of email from user to sender. However, the user needs to install a plugin to make it operational and that plugin is only available fro Firefox and Chrome, which excludes 60% of Germans who use other browsers, not to mention mobile apps and desktop mail clients (Balaganski, 2015).

It doesn’t look like Germany’s De-Mail encryption push will have much effect. Without mobile support in an increasingly mobile-only world, and with only 40% of the browser use supported and assuming people will even install the plugin if they are able, leaves the vast majority of people unencrypted (Craig, 2015).

Although email remains popular, and will be used for transmitting messages for quite some time, there are many other options depending on what it is you are transmitting. Several years ago, it was common to send all messages and small attachments via email. Just about everyone used it and understood it and didn’t worry about it. But, to send large files, email might not be the best option. Services such as TransferBigFiles, HighTail and WeTransfer are better options to send files that are several gigabytes in size, instead of attaching them to an email. Further, sending a text message is much easier than emailing someone with a short message. One benefit of emailing is that is creates a simple archive. It is easy to search through old emails when looking for something of re-download an attachment that was lost. But, if the information is encrypted, searching might not be as easy (“Searching Encrypted Emails, 2010.”).

Hello, I’m from the Government and I Want to Read Your Email.

I do not believe that De-Mail’s new encryption scheme will have much effect on network forensics. Unless it could be implemented for all users across all platforms and be easy to install and guaranteed to be installed, it won’t matter all that much. Of course, to ensure 100% compliance would require government mandates and government oversight over everyone’s email use in the interest of “making it safe for everyone.” I do not think the people will would accept that much government interference and would simply use other methods, such as those name earlier, to transmit information, making email the next MySpace.

References

Balaganski, A. (2015, March 10). De-Mail: Now with End-To-End Encryption? Retrieved March 26, 2015 from https://www.kuppingercole.com/blog/balaganski/de-mail-now-with-end-to-end-encryption

Cook, D. (2013, January 16). Internet 2012 in Numbers. Retrieved March 26, 2015 from http://royal.pingdom.com/2013/01/16/internet-2012-in-numbers/

Craig, C. (2015, March 13). German E-Government Serivce Gets OpenPGP-Based Plug-Ins But Their Impact Is Unlikely to be Widespread. Retrieved March 26, 2015 from http://www.infoworld.com/article/2895806/security/google-yahoo-openpgp-end-to-end-email-encryption.html

Duncan, G. (2013, August 24). Here’s Why Your Email is Insecure and Likely to Stay That Way. Retrieved March 26, 2015 from http://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/can-email-ever-be-secure/

Eastman, H. (2013, July 7). Communication Changes With Technology, Social Media. Retrieved March 26, 2015 from http://universe.byu.edu/2013/07/07/1communication-changes-with-technology-social-media/

Greeley, A. (n.d.). The Military-Telegraph Service. Retrieved March 26, 2015 from http://www.civilwarsignals.org/pages/tele/telegreely/telegreely.html

Lew. A. (2010, May 24). You’ve Got … 25 Years! AOL Celebrates 25th Anniversary With Big Birthday Bash. Retrieved March 26, 2015 from http://corp.aol.com/2010/05/24/youve-got-25-years-aol-celebrates-25th-anniversary-with-bi/

Miller, R. (2014, February 18). How Do You Get an Email Into Evidence at Trial? | Donati v. State. Retrieved March 26, 2015 from http://www.marylandinjurylawyerblog.com/2014/02/get-email-evidence-trial-donati-v-state.html

Norman, J. (2015, March 25). Morse Transmits the First Message by Morse Code (May 24, 1844). Retrieved March 26, 2015 from http://www.historyofinformation.com/expanded.php?id=551

Searching Encrypted Emails in Outlook. (2010, December 2). Retrieved March 26, 2015 from http://superuser.com/questions/217757/searching-encrypted-emails-in-outlook

Van Vleck, T. (2001, February 1). The History of Electronic Mail. Retrieved March 26, 2015 from http://www.multicians.org/thvv/mail-history.html

First submitted as a Discussion Forum post for the MS-Cybersecurity Program at Utica College by Jeff Macharyas

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Cybersecurity Complacency

cybersecurityIt is human nature that we do ourselves harm or neglect ways to keep ourselves healthy even when we know it is against our best interest. We fool ourselves by thinking “it won’t happen to me,” or “why bother.” We smoke, we text and drive, we consume mass quantities of alcohol—and we neglect our own digital security.

What does John Q. Public think about digital security?

A 2011 study conducted by the National Cyber Security Alliance revealed a shocking lack of knowledge and a high level of complacency amongst educators when it pertains to their own protection and to that of their students. A staggering 76% reported that they have spent less than three hours in the past year on cyber protection training and that only 8% reported devoting six or more hours to the subject in the past year. 42% of adults believe that the individual is responsible for keeping the internet safe—40% of those people have not even taken the simple step of changing their passwords in more than a year—if ever.

Schools do a good job (90% of them) at shielding students from digital threats, but very few teach them anything about how to protect themselves. My son is in a dual-enrollment program in high school. One of his subjects is “Computing.” He spends a great deal of time learning Excel and Word, but not a second on security.

A Scout is Loyal, Brave, Reverent, Trustworthy—and in Danger

I had a similar problem as webmaster for several Boy Scout Troops. When asked to post photos with full names of Scouts, I would refuse. “Why not?” I would be asked. There have been cases in which child abductions have occurred because “bad parents” were able to find their kid’s info on Scout websites. It’s BSA policy not to publish full names. The response I often received was: “Ahh, just do it, what’s the big deal?”

The problem also exists on the other end of the age spectrum. Several months ago I was asked to conduct a seminar on smartphone use for seniors at the YMCA. My students were attentive, inquisitive, and surprisingly knowledgeable on many aspects of their devices. I concluded with a segment on security. There were many blank stares and a few asked me for a definition of “cybersecurity”—and still didn’t understand it.

It’s alarming to see the lack of concern exhibited by so many people in regard to their own safety. There are efforts being made and many resources for those who seek them out, such as the book, Cybersecurity and Cyberwar, by P.W. Singer and Allan Friedman, who make the subject approachable for average people. In 1980, Mothers Against Drunk Driving started a movement and has rallied Americans to take a stand against impaired drivers. Perhaps we now need a Mothers Against Complacent Cyber Victims.

References

Boy Scout Troop 626 Queen of All Saints Basilica Chicago, Illinois (n.d.)  Retrieved January 7, 2014 from http://bsatroop626.org/aboutus

Franceschi-Bicchierai, Lorenzo (2014, January 3). Cybersecurity Simplified: A Reality Check for the Digital Age.  Retrieved January 7, 2014 from http://mashable.com/2014/01/03/cybersecurity-book-singer-friedman/

National Cyber Security Alliance (2011). Retrieved January 7, 2014 from http://www.staysafeonline.org/download/datasets/2076/K-12 Study Fact Sheet Final _0.pdf

National Cyber Security Alliance (2011). Retrieved January 7, 2014 from http://www.staysafeonline.org/download/datasets/2068/NCSA_Mcafee_Online User Study_Final_11_15_11.pdf

Symantec Corporation (2012, October 15). New Survey Shows U.S. Small Business Owners Not Concerned About Cybersecurity; Majority Have No Policies or Contingency Plans [Press Release].  Retrieved January 7, 2014 from http://www.symantec.com/about/news/release/article.jsp?prid=20121015_01

This post was originally submitted in January 2014 as a discussion post in the MS-Cybersecurity and Computer Forensics program at Utica College.

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Online Education

We don’t need no education.
We don’t need no thought control.
No dark sarcasm in the classroom.
—Pink Floyd
Another Brick in the Wall

An investment in knowledge
pays the best interest.
—Benjamin Franklin
inventor, diplomat,
guy on the hundred dollar bill

 

The value of education has been debated forever—from Benjamin Franklin to Pink Floyd. Some people feel it is invaluable and some feel it is of no value. The debate will rage on, but while it does, the “delivery” of education will change. No longer are students required to be planted in a hard wooden chair in front of a Ben Stein-like teacher from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Students of all ages and abilities can learn on their own, in groups, or collaboratively through distance learning. Many systems have been used over the years to provide distance learning, but it wasn’t until the Internet the took over our lives has distance learning fulfilled its age-old promise.

Learn Shorthand—In Your Own Colony

The first distance education system could be traced all the way back to 1728, when shorthand instructor Caleb Philipps advertised shorthand lessons to “persons in the country desirous to learn this art, may be having lessons sent weekly to them.” But, it wasn’t until 1840, when Sir Isaac Pittman taught his shorthand course via a system of postcards. He would mail his lessons to his students and they would return their assignments for corrections. This was really the first interactive distance learning system. Pennsylvania State College used distance learning via radio in 1922. The University of Minnesota, the University of Salt Lake City and the University of Wisconsin also had been granted education licenses to broadcast courses over the radio and the number grew to more than 200 by 1925. However, lack of faculty interest, poor presentation and competition from commercial broadcasters doomed the enterprise. Although radio-delivered education waned, the Australian “School of the Air” began operation using shortwave radio in 1951 to reach students across the great distances Downunder.

In 1953, the University of Houston offered televised distance learning via public television station KUHT. More than 100,000 semester hours have been taught on KUHT. The telephone was later used as a learning device by the University of Wisconsin in 1965. Three years later, Stanford University began the Stanford Instructional Television Network to teach engineering students.

You’ve Got Mail

1969 would prove to be the most pivotal year for distance learning—and the world. It was in that historical year that the US Department of Defense created ARPANET—a system of linked computers that allowed researchers to share information across distances. It evolved over the years, but it would be almost 30 years later that we all became, in some way, part of the Internet.

I’m a Phoenix!

The University of Phoenix was founded in 1976 and now offers distance and on-site learning for adults in more than 200 locations. Many more such institutions would spring up over the years with varying degrees of “respectability.” In 1985, Nova Southeastern University awards its first PhD earned through online education, in Computer and Information Sciences. America Online got in on the action in 1992, by establishing the Electronic Education Network, and offered a PhD in Integral Sciences. CALCampus, based in New Hampshire, first began total Internet-based learning in 1995 as calcampus.com, although it began offering distance learning courses as early as 1986 on systems such as CompuServe and GEnie.

That same year, Utah Governor Mark Leavitt met with Northern Arizona University President Clara Lovett and sparked the initial idea of a regional university. 19 state governors got together and in 1996 announced the creation of the Western Governors University to offer distance learning to a growing Western United States population that was spread across the much larger Mountain and Western states and out to the territories of Guam and the Northern Marianas in the Pacific. WGU is based n Salt Lake City, Utah, and as of 2012, has graduated 16,000 students.

In 1999, online learning “tools,” such as Blackboard, came online. These tools would grow and expand and would help facilitate learning and instruction between teachers, students, and administration. In 2003, 81% of universities offered some sort of online coursework, and by 2012, that number jumped to 97%.

I don’t give a damn ’bout my reputation.
You’re living in the past, it’s a new generation…

Although online education sometimes gets a bad reputation, 83% of CEOs reported in 2010, that online education is just as credible as on-site education. Those students would be in good company. Many well-known personalities have earned degrees, or finished degrees, through online education. Amongst them: Steven Spielberg (CalState-Long Beach, film production, 2002), Dr. Shaquille O’Neal is “a Phoenix,” earning his MBA in 2005 and then earning a PhD in Education from Barry University, Arnold Schwarzenegger was an early proponent, taking online courses at the University of Wisconsin way back in 1979.

In 2009, David Nagel, writing for Campus Technology, reported that 5.5 million post-secondary students have taken some online courses and that by 2014 the number would jump to 22 million.

Just a Coupla MOOCs

Online education has now become available to the masses. Through a blend of licensed and non-licensed content, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have been available for the past few years. MOOCs (the term was first used by David Cormier of the University of Prince Edward Island in 2008) offer coursework and tests, but also create a shared community amongst its users. Several MOOCs are available on a paid and free basis and offer a variety of courses. Udacity and Coursera are just two. MOOCs aren’t limited only to post-secondary education, though. In November 2012, the University of Miami launched a high school MOOC as part of the Global Academy. Students can use it for SAT prep.

As a lifelong learner myself, I have had a varied experience with different forms of distance learning and I have developed a wide range of opinions about them.

When I was younger I was a licensed Ham Radio Operator. I thought, recently, that I would like to get my license again—just to see if I could do it. Unlike in the past, I did not have to crawl all over the library or order books via the mail. There are several online study courses and I settled on HamTestOnline.com. For $20, I received a two-year subscription to study questions, practice quizzes, diagrams and everything I needed. The lessons are well-prepared and the quizzes offered questions in a random enough basis so I wasn’t able to “game the system.” My subscription ends in September, so I need to get crackin’ on getting this done.

Florida Nights—Scarlet Knights

My next foray into distance learning was with Rutgers University (cmd.rutgers.edu). In an effort to expand my knowledge of marketing, I signed up for what they call a “miniMBA,” or a Graduate Certificate in Social Media Marketing. For $3,000 I took a three-month course online and earned 3.0 credits and a Rutgers diploma (suitable for framing!). My feelings on that course are mixed. The lessons were interesting and they did add to my body of knowledge. I was able to use what I had learned in practical form as well. The final “exam” was to prepare a social media marketing plan for a real or imagined company. I was able to use what I learned and prepared a plan for a fencing studio in South Florida.

The instructor would post videos and lessons online and hold “office hours” every week when the students would log on to a chat room and ask questions or get updates. It was very helpful to have that interactivity once a week. I was surprised that the course did not make use of the very tools we were learning about. One drawback to being an online student is that you are all alone in your house, far away from your peers. With all that is available in social media tools, it would have been very easy to bridge that human connectivity gap. I do feel connected a little bit—for Christmas, my son found a Rutgers T-shirt for me, and I will root for the Rutgers Basketball team whenever I catch a televised game.

My next online learning adventure took me to MediaBistro.com. MediaBistro is an online portal for journalists, media types and publishers. They offer a lot of relevant information, job boards and online learning options. I signed up for a “Job-Hunters BootCamp.” For $79, I took a class similar to my Rutgers course. We learned much of the same thing, but this one was tailored more to marketing oneself via social media, not necessarily a brand or product. This course was a bit more interactive, and there was more consistent discussion between students and with the instructors. The online interface was also much nicer and easier to navigate. The Rutgers lessons were not of the best quality and the audio and video sometimes lagged. MediaBistro’s quality was just much better. Although this wasn’t for a diploma or a certificate, I did feel that I received a lot of value for my 79 bucks.

U and U

In January 2014, I was accepted into Utica College’s Cybersecurity and Computer Forensics program (programs.online.utica.edu), which consists of about two years of classes and two on-site residencies in Utica, New York and Udacity (Udacity.com), one of the MOOCs mentioned earlier. The program I graduated from at Utica College is a Masters of Science Program and carries a price tag to go with it, so this was a decision I did not take lightly. I did a lot of research and compared programs and schools and methods and decided that Utica was the best choice. I am happy with my choice and I think it is a great program and would encourage anyone interested in pursuing a Masters to check it out, along with several others for comparison. Here again, I think the school falls short in using readily available tools to bridge to connectivity gap with the distance students. We started the program with an on-site residency in Utica in January (26 below and snowing) and met with the professors and fellow students for four days. It was a fantastic event. I met some great people and collaborated with others doing what I was doing and felt it had really connected us together and got us onto a great start. We were separated into groups of four and even though I was in Florida, another in New York, one in Ohio and one in California, we were all able to work together on our assignments.

We had to figure out the connectivity problem on our own. So, we experimented with a few ideas. We used the telephone and email, which did not work so well. Then, I tried Skype. It turned out that Skype required a fee for the amount of people we were included. I then discovered Google Hangouts (who names this stuff?) and that worked great. We were able to log on through our school-provided Gmail accounts and were able to conduct videochats for free and (almost) glitch-free. This was a great experience, but I was surprised that the school didn’t offer that as a matter of course. It turned out that the group idea was for just one class. So, I was back to be an isolated online student again. I feel that the schools may fail to realize that distance students don’t want to be distance students they have to be, and that they should take any measures possible to bring the community together.

Several weeks ago, I stumbled upon Udacity. Udacity is a MOOC that grew out of Stanford University in 2012. With 1.6 million users, it is fast becoming the “Kleenex” or the “Coke” of the MOOCs. Udacity offers paid and free courseware. I didn’t want to get too involved with Udacity while I was still working on my Utica College courses, so I started with one free course, “Intro to Psychology.” I believe I will get a “certificate of completion” (suitable for framing, too!) when I’m done, but I’m just doing it for the experience. I am through about four of the lessons and, so far, I like to program. The lessons are presented in well-scripted, high-quality videos and they offer a quiz at the end of each lesson. There is also a bit of text-based interactivity off to the side for students to comment or ask questions. I don’t know how it will turn out, but you can’t beat the price. If I find the free course of any value I may try some of the others, which really aren’t too expensive. Udacity and Georgia Tech have teamed up to offer a full Master’s in Computer Science.

Finding online courses is easy. You can simply search for them—well, online. Although you can be in Fort Pierce, Florida and take classes in Utica or Georgia or Pennsylvania, the local colleges and universities offer online courses worth checking out. The College of Central Florida offers Ed2Go (institute.cf.edu/online_training.htm), Saint Leo offers continuing education programs (www.saintleo.edu/resources/distance-learning-program.aspx), Rasmussen has many choices (www.rasmussen.edu/locations/online-campus/degrees/), and if going to Utica, New York in January is just a bit too cold for you, you can get a Cybersecurity Master’s at the University of Central Florida (programs.online.ucf.edu) or the University of South Florida (cyber.usf.edu). These are only a few options, the entire world is your classroom and there are too many courses, programs, or providers to list here.

Like any kind of training, you will only get out of it what you put into it. If you were a slacker in high school and you just skated by don’t think that taking online classes in your bathrobe chugging beer will be any easier. It requires just as much, if not more, dedication to make sure you keep up with the lessons and manage your time better. As an online student, you are in control of the classroom. You can go to the bathroom without a pass, you can sharpen your pencils without asking permission, and you can listen to Led Zeppelin on 10 without headphones if you want to. But, you still have to take tests and you still have to pay for it.

So, if you are making the commitment be prepared to be committed. Assignments are due, books need to be read, videos need to be watched and you have to do all the admin work, like registration, add/drop classes, grade verification, by yourself, over the phone or online with people who are probably hundreds of miles away. My advice would be to try a free Udacity course, or check out MediaBistro before diving into a full-blown program, like a Master’s Degree. It takes getting used to but once you do, it almost becomes addictive. There is just so much to learn out there, you just want more and more. Good luck to you if you decide to pursue your continuing education online.

Yes. This will be on the final.

—Jeff Macharyas is a creative services specialist and writer. A lifelong learner, he has a BS from Florida State University, an AA from Indian River Community College, a miniMBA from Rutgers University, a Dale Carnegie graduate, and earned his MS from Utica College in 2015.

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