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Q What is online learning, e-learning, distance learning, etc?
A “Electronic learning (or e-Learning) is a type of education where the medium of instruction is computer technology. ... pedagogy empowered by digital technology” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E-learning)
A “Learning conducted via electronic media, especially via the Internet…” (http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/e-learning)
Q Why is there a limit to the number of students for online classes? Can't you just let everyone who wants to, sign up?
A Our online classes are not just voice over power points. We have live instructors assigned to every class to help people along, and to answer questions directly and via the chat boards. Our classes are limited to a manageable size for our instructors to have proper quality control.
Q What are the benefits of online learning over in-person or ‘hands-on’ learning?
A No travel required, can be ‘in’ the course anywhere you have an internet connection, flexible time management, exposure to wide range of students around the country and the world, and more!
Q What are the disadvantages of online learning?
A Lack of practical ‘hands-on’ activity, limited direct and ‘real-time’ interaction with your fellow students and instructor(s), computer/technology requirements, increased need to be self-directed and motivated.
Q Does online learning cost more or less than in-person learning?
A Online courses cost a bit less than in-person workshops. The same course offered online or in-person will vary in duration – because covering the same material/curriculum takes longer in an online format.
Q Who should take online courses? Who shouldn’t take online courses?
A Just about anyone can take an online course – from an office worker to an engineer. All you need is time, a computer, a good internet connection, and a desire to learn! We do NOT recommend online learning if you don’t have access to a computer or reliable internet connection, you just really don’t like computers, or if you learn best/only through practical, hands-on activity and practice. If you must touch it to get it, online learning isn’t for you. However we must note, many of our students opt to learn the fundamental concepts online, and then gain practical experience by following up with an in-person hands-on lab workshop.
Q What do I need to be able to learn online? What kind of technology do I need?
Laptop and Desktop Platforms
- PC (Windows XP, Vista, or Windows 7)
- Intel-based Mac (OS X 10.4 and later - Power PC Mac has limited support and may have issues displaying the presentations)
Hardware / Internet Requirements
- Minimum screen / monitor resolution is 1280 x 600
- 256 MB of RAM, 2 GB of free disk space
- Computer microphone or regular telephone for Webinar or Live Office Hours participation
- Built in sound or sound card with speakers
- High-speed Internet connection (at least 1MB download speed - click here to check your speed )
- Valid email address
Apple iOS Devices (iPod touch, iPhone, iPad) and Android Phones and Tablets
With smart phones/tablets, you CAN:
- Take lesson quizzes
- Download and read PDF lesson reading and resources
- Participate in online forum discussions
- Check grade book
- Complete questionnaires and surveys
With smart phones/tablets, you CANNOT:
- View presentations and interactive exercises
- Microsoft Silverlight (lecture capture video/PowerPoint presentations in some courses)
- Adobe Flash (latest version for presentations & interactive exercises)
- Java plugin (Live Office Hours and Webinars)
- Adobe Acrobat Reader (viewing & printing PDF files)
Q How do I register?
A Registering for an online class is simple and easy. You can register online, call (970-963-8855 option 1), or mail in a registration form. Note – classes fill early; we recommend registering at least a month before the class starts, especially for in-person workshops.
Q How does the schedule work?
A The majority of SEI’s online courses are 6 weeks in length and are comprised of around 10-15 lessons. Once you register, you will be sent a confirmation email that you are registered for the course. About 1 to 2 days before the course start date, you will receive an email with instructions of when and how to ‘login’ to your course. Once the course begins, you can follow the suggested course syllabus and your instructor(s) guidance to stay on track. Each week you can generally expect to work on 1-3 lessons; each with their own required reading assignments and ‘challenges’ (i.e. exercises, homework, and quizzes).
Q Can I work at my own pace, or do I need to login at preset times?
A The majority of SEI’s online courses are completely self-paced and you can work on them as your personal schedule allows. While instructors will be available to answer questions via email and the discussion board M-F, approx. 9-5pm MST, you are welcome to work on the course during nights and weekends too. We also recommend that you try to follow the suggested weekly syllabus as best you can so you don’t fall behind. We also recommend working in chronological order. Course ‘challenges’ do not have specific due dates but must be submitted to fully complete the course. Challenges should ideally be submitted per the suggested weekly lesson schedule.
Q How does testing and evaluation work?
A SEI’s online courses generally consist of three types of assignments that are referred to overall as ‘Challenges.’ They are: exercises, homeworks and quizzes. All three of these challenges are completed and submitted online, from within the course. Each has its own set of instructions and point value. Typically, you will go through the course materials, readings, presentations, and link first, then practice what you’ve learned with the exercises and homework, and finally take the quiz(zes). Depending on the course, challenges can span a wide variety of formats – from short essays to calculations, multiple choice to internet research, discussion board posts and more. While some challenges are manually graded by instructors, often times they are automatically graded within the system.
Q What if I have questions about the course material? Can I contact the instructor(s) and how?
A Yes! SEI’s online instructors strive to be available as much as possible, with ambitious response time goals. Although instructors are not available ‘on-demand’ or via the phone, they are actively monitoring the course discussion board and email inbox. For all course related questions, you are encouraged to ask your question publically on the discussion board, so that other students will benefit from the interaction. And for all personal issues or grading questions, you can email the instructor directly. You can expect a response to your questions within 24 hours at the absolute longest (excluding weekends), and in fact, many times you will receive a response in 4-8 hrs or less. In addition, if you need help regarding any logistical, login, course format or computer related issues you can email the SEI Online Technical Helpdesk for support!
Q When will the text book be sent to me, and are course materials available through the online campus?
All materials are provided online, within the course itself—this includes: lesson presentations, readings and resources (articles & web links), exercises, quizzes, links to content specific discussion forums and more. The course textbook is often provided via PDF chapters in each lesson, as well as mailed out as a hard copy. In this manner, you don't need a physical textbook to progress through the course; it is a supplement. Given that the textbook can not be updated as frequently as the curriculum in this online course, it should be considered as supplemental material only.
Hard copies of online course text books are sent by USPS Media Mail. They will usually be sent by 2 weeks prior to the course start date, if not earlier. If you enroll near the start date of an online course, the hard copy of the text book may arrive after the start of the course. All required reading for this course is fully downloadable from within the course, so there is no need to wait for your course materials to arrive in the mail. If you live outside the Continental US, please know that even though SEI sends materials promptly, we have no control over when materials will be delivered. SEI also has no control over Customs Charges for International shipments; Customs charges are the responsibility of the participant.
Q How do I submit assignments online?
A While the ‘challenges’ can vary from one course or one lesson to another, submitting them is easy and straightforward. Generally you will type in your response(s) (i.e. type in your answer with your calculations or, choose from the multiple choice drop down boxes, etc.) and then simply click a ‘submit’ button and you’re done! On occasion, you may need to submit your answer via a discussion board post or emailed document. But either way, there are always clear instructions provided and help if you need it. There is no mailing or faxing required.
Q Is there a penalty for late submissions?
A Since SEI’s online courses are primarily self-paced, course challenges do not have due dates. However, assignments submitted after the course end date will not be graded and you will not receive a Record of Completion for the course. Other than that, consistent ‘late’ submissions will only cause more stress and confusion as you fall further behind.
Q What is required of me to pass a course?
A There are two main criteria generally required (depends on course) to pass a SEI online course: (a) you must pass the course with a 70% or better cumulative score and (b) you must fully complete ALL course challenges by the course end date (blank submissions don’t count). While ‘attendance’ is generally not enforced, discussion board participation may be.
Q How much time do I need per week to complete an online course?
A While this will vary from course to course and student to student, in general the average weekly time commitment seems to fall in the 10-15 hr range. But remember, this will depend on the specific course and YOU – your background and existing training, your compatibility with online learning, and your ability to dedicate blocks of time to the course. While some students finish a 6 week course in just one week, others feel they could use another 6 weeks, so it really depends. At a minimum, be sure to budget no less than 10 hrs per week.
Q Can I interact with other students in the course? How and how often?
A Yes, in a number of ways! Each course has a discussion board, or public forum (think online classroom) where students can post their questions and comments. The discussion board is broken down by lesson and category to help keep conversations organized, including both an ‘open discussion’ and a ‘introductions’ forum. You are welcome to post your questions, comments and even network with your fellow students here. Instructors actively monitor and facilitate the discussion board. In addition, every student has the option of creating their own personal ‘homepage’ (similar to Facebook or MySpace pages) where they can share contact info, pictures, and other personal information.
Q Will I have access to the course material on the online classroom when the course ends?
A After the course end date, you will have two additional weeks for instructorless review-only time. During this time you will not be able to complete any graded activities. We strongly recommend saving, printing and bookmarking course materials and your work as you progress through the course. There are no extensions for online courses.
Q Can I transfer my course if I have a medical emergency, death in the family, etc? How does it work?
A Yes. At SEI, we understand that sometimes ‘life happens.’ If you experience a personal, medical or family emergency and don’t feel you will be able to complete the course in time, contact your course instructor(s) right away – don’t wait until the last minute. Once you have provided SEI with the proper documentation (i.e. doctor’s note), you will be able to take the same course over again in the near future. This only applies to emergency-type situations however. Regardless of the scenario, you must contact SEI about your situation prior to your course end date. All inquires after your course ends will not be considered.
Q What are my options if I am not able to complete the course in time because of a non-emergency based reason?
A For all non-emergency based situations (i.e. personal work load increases, travel delays, car breakdowns, etc.), we have a "re-take" option that allows you to re-take the course for 1/2 price within one year of the start date of your original course. All assignments will have to be re-submitted, as the online classroom will not retain or transfer any work from your original course to your re-take course. Regardless of the scenario, please contact SEI about your situation prior to your course end date. For more on SEI's workshop policies please visit http://www.solarenergy.org/workshop-policies.
•Q Do I receive a certification upon completion of an online course?
A Upon successful completion of an SEI online course, you will receive an electronic SEI Record of Completion that you can print and save from within the online campus. This is not an industry certification, but formal documentation from SEI (that you can frame!) that you completed a course with SEI. These are helpful documents when applying for a job or for documenting training history.
Q Does SEI offer the NABCEP (North American Board of Certified Energy Practioners) entry-level certificate exam at the end of SEI's photovoltaic related online courses?
A No. The entry level exam is as yet not offered during or after online PV courses. However, upon successfully completing the first level online PV course (PV 101), you are eligible to take this exam. SEI recommends that you also take PV202 and PV203 as well before taking the exam. Please visit http://www.solarenergy.org/nabcep-certification for information on how to sign up.
Q Are there prerequisites to take an ‘advanced’ level online course?
A Yes. To take the PV202 or PV203 course, you need to have either of the following:
(a) Successfully taken and passed the basic PV Design course (PV101 or comparable), or
(b) Successfully passed the advanced placement quiz (or been given special SEI permission). If you have not taken the basic PV Design Online course but feel you are qualified to jump into the advanced course, contact SEI to discuss your options. Typically you will be asked to provide details on your background and experience, before taking the placement quiz.
Q Once I have completed an online course, am I ready to start installing/building?
A No. Please understand that SEI online courses are only intended as a solid foundation of knowledge. They are intended to give you the fundamentals necessary to ‘enter’ the field. Online courses must be accompanied by extensive field/hands-on experience before you can begin installing on your own. SEI recommends following up an online course with either: (a) a hands-on SEI workshop, (b) an internship or apprenticeship with an installer/builder in your field, or (c) employment with an installer/builder in your field.