Friday, March 25, 2011

Free Foreign Language Courses

The foreign language courses by the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) have had a reputation for many years as a good home study course which enables one to gain fluency in a foreign language in a short period of time. At the same time, the courses have also been quite expensive. However, many FSI courses are now in the public domain and are offered online for free. The textbook comes in PDF format and the audio tapes as mp3 downloads. The courses are offered in a huge variety of foreign languages, including such obscure ones as Igbo, Twi, and Kirundi. The more commonly studied languages are also on offer. Basic Spanish is offered in volumes 1 through 3 with both the audio files and the textbooks, along with the textbook for volume 4. Chinese is offered in the form of "modules" consisting of a textbook, a workbook, and the audio files. The modules are organized into various subject areas, such as money, transportation, arranging a meeting, and living in China. As many people are considering learning Chinese, but find it intimidating because the Chinese writing system is very different from the English one, these courses are a good way to try Chinese without risking money on it. If you're considering learning a foreign language, you can find the courses at

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Free Online Clep and DSST Practice Tests

The CLEP and DSST exams offer a good opportunity for independent learners to gain college credit for much less than attending college courses would cost. However, it still costs $72 to take one shot at a CLEP exam, and a similar amount for a DSST. It's a good idea to be sure of your knowledge of the subject and a feel for the test before you go to the test center. There's a website which offers practice tests for most of the CLEP exams, and some of the DSSTs. The website requires registration, but once you've registered, you can try any of the exams three times each. The exams are timed, just like in real life, but you can stop the clock and start again another time if necessary. I've tried these online tests in biology, humanities, and English composition. For me, it was the biology test that was the most satisfying. The CLEP exam in biology is worth 6 credit hours representing a year long course for college freshmen. I got a passing grade, even though I've never taken a formal course in biology and my only preparation had been reading the online biology book listed in the free textbooks section of this blog. This proved to me that learning at home is possible and effective. The only downside to these practice tests is that only 5 of the 30 or so DSSTs are available. Still, if you're planning on doing either credit-by-exam program, it might be worth visiting here for the CLEPs and here for the DSSTs.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Online Degrees Deserve More Respect

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The internet has helped to boost distance learning in many ways, and the number of degrees offered online is always increasing. To some people, the many advantages of doing an online degree are offset by the fact that some employers don't take these degrees seriously. One hears numerous stories of employers who will automatically not consider an application if the resume contains a school like the University of Phoenix or DeVry. Online degrees are sometimes looked down upon by the students of brick-and-mortar schools, especially if they come from a for-profit university.

However, this disrespect towards online degrees hasn't been earned. It's true that in the case of for-profit schools, the student often took courses which could have been done for much cheaper at the state university. At the same time, the students at the state university paid a lot of money to take courses which could have been done a lot cheaper through independent study and the CLEPs. This doesn't make the coursework at the state university look any less legitimate.

Another argument against online degrees is that for-profit schools allegedly have lenient grading systems. As their existence is dependent on customer satisfaction, they can't make it too difficult to pass the courses. Otherwise, their students won't come back next year. Although it's a disturbing thought that a student might have a qualification without having the knowledge that's supposed to go with it, this can happen at any type of school. The most popular professors at state schools are often the ones who require the least from students in order to pass the course. This is especially the case with the professors of the required courses which have large numbers of students who aren't really interested in the course content. There are many news reports of public universities dumbing down the curriculum to please their "paying customers," or disinterested students. Even with the lower standards, half of all college freshmen never graduate. The problems with dumbed down courses and/or students who don't study exist at most colleges and universities.

It's also worth considering that a graduate from a brick-and-mortar school is likely to have done at least some online courses. Most public colleges these days offer at least some online courses, and more and more are offering online degrees. If taking one or two online courses during college doesn't reduce the value of the of the qualification, why should it matter if the whole degree was done this way? Some of the best universities are offering some of their degrees online. Harvard offers a number of master's degrees that are mostly online, as does Columbia University. Online education is an extension of correspondence courses which have been around for many years. The University of London has been offering distance degrees since the 1800s.

There's no reason to believe that an online degree is any less legitimate than a degree gotten the old-fashioned way. In fact, online students often need more self-discipline as they have to organize their study schedule during their free time rather than just having to turn up in a classroom at 10 a.m. on Wednesday. A graduate with an online degree is also very likely to have met the challenge of getting the degree while juggling a lot of other things in life. Offering college courses over the internet brings knowledge to anybody who's interested regardless of where they're located or when they have time available. As we have the technology, it would be best to get the most benefit from it.



Tuesday, March 15, 2011

GRE Test Preparation

The GRE tests are well-known as a requirement for many graduate school programs, but for independent learners, the GRE subject tests serve the additional purpose as being an option for earning upper-level credit-by-exam. Offered in subjects like biology, mathematics, and computer science, these exams can give you up to 24 credit hours towards a degree in that major. The GRE subject test is one way of proving that you have the knowledge of a graduate in that respective field. There are numerous books and websites to help in preparing for these exams, including guides by the test's administrator, There's also an online simulator for all GRE exams available, which also offers the option of a free trial download. Of course, these preparation aids won't teach you the academic content of a degree in mathematics or computer science. Unless you already have a good knowledge of the subject, it's still necessary to study a good number of books on the subject. Any college website can give the information as to what topics the degree curriculum covers. Still, the GRE option is worth considering as a low-cost alternative to the traditional college route. (Akademos, Inc.)