Schmidt faced a dilemma.
He wanted to offer a course on global costal policy
during the summer, yet he didn't want it to be a
standard course held in an Ames classroom, far from
Schmidt immediately thought of offering an online
version of the course, allowing students from
throughout the world to take part. Even then though
he wasn't quite sure how to proceed.
"The normal distance learning course may include a
PowerPoint presentation and some audio," the
University Professor of political
science said. "I wanted something a little
The class, "The
Policy and Politics of Coastal Areas" was just
that. Offered completely on the World Wide Web, it
was developed and taught by Schmidt. Forty students
took the course, which was offered through ISU
Extension, logging on in California, Washington,
Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut, South Carolina,
Minnesota, and Nebraska, in addition to current
Iowa State students.
"One student even managed to get access to a
computer and completed some of the coursework while
she was on a research trip in the South Pacific,"
The first half of the course covered how coastal
areas are formed by nature and the impact of humans
on these areas. Students learned about
controversies over land use, constitutional issues
regarding access to the beach, techniques for
reconstruction of beaches, and debates about
development vs. preservation.
The remainder of the course examined global coastal
and oceanic issues in various areas of the world,
including the Black Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, Belize
and the Marshall Islands.
While the content may have been normal, Schmidt's
method of delivery of the material was anything
"When you teach courses online there is a very big
psychological barrier because we're used to face to
face contact both as an instructor and a student,"
Students accessing the course's web site were given
day-by-day instructions of the course's content.
Schmidt interspersed video clips throughout the
"Since this was a course on coastal policy, I
wanted the class to see me at the venue that I was
lecturing on," he said.
Schmidt's videos placed him at different locations
along the coasts. He also edited in footage from
other coastal sites. Another video was shot when
Schmidt was airing his "Dr. Politics" show on
WOI-AM at a remote location at Nova Southeastern
University Oceanographic Center in Dania Beach,
Fla. An avid scuba diver and ocean sailor, Schmidt
is an associate of that university.
"Most of the content for that show was appropriate
to the coastal politics course including a special
guest," he said.
"In all these videos I made an effort to add a
little bit more value to the course that you can't
get in a normal classroom lecture. The students got
to see their instructor in different
Through the web site, a discussion forum was
developed that students were required to
participate in. Students posted comments on ten
different topics related to the course.
"I wanted them to have the same dialogue as they
would have in a normal classroom," Schmidt
Those discussions tended to bring additional
conversations about the course from students that
Schmidt didn't expect.
"I knew a couple of the students who took the
course and while they are excellent students they
tend to be somewhat shy and wouldn't speak up in
the previous classes I had with them," he said.
"Here they had very complicated points that they
made on the web that they probably would never
would have made in a face-to-face situation."
Schmidt shot and edited the footage himself with
some assistance from current Iowa State students
and staff members including Doug Bull in
zoology/genetics and student Loren Porter. The
course was marketed by Catherine Hunt of Continuing
Education and Communication Services. Schmidt
streamed the video on the web.
He readily admits that the preparation for the
first version of the coastal politics course is
much more than for a normal classroom course.
"Whenever I travel someplace related to this
course, I had to be prepared to take along my
equipment and have my lectures prepared in
advance," he said. "While it's a lot of
preparation, I think the videos and most of the
footage I have will have a good shelf life."
Despite the amount of work involved, Schmidt is
looking forward to continually push the envelope in
"Not every topic is suited for distance learning,"
he said, "but many of these type of courses hold a
great advantage over a normal classroom