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1 million log in to LON-CAPA

March 28, 2005

A program formed in 1999 with courses mainly in the areas of math and science now has a course selection that spans campus and just reached another milestone - the millionth student login.

The online course management program, LearningOnline Network Computer-Assisted Personalized Approach, or LON-CAPA, celebrated the 100,000th student to login last fall.

LON-CAPA was first used in math and science courses, but that has changed with time.

Gerd Kortemeyer, director of LON-CAPA and assistant professor in Lyman Briggs School, said use is "growing strongly and steadily."

"It used to be that faculty believed it was a tool for geeks," Kortemeyer said. "It had the reputation that you had to be a computer wizard to use it. Faculty were a little scared of it at first. The growth is coming because the system became more general and user friendly."

CAPA started in 1992, to provide a physics class with personalized homework and tests online.

Another program, LectureOnline, was created in 1997 to allow professors to put class material on the Internet.

In 1999, LON and CAPA combined to form a program where students can do homework and view course materials online.

Brian Thomas, a computer science and engineering sophomore, was the millionth person to login and got an iPod mini as a prize.

"I didn't even believe it at first," Thomas said. "I thought it was a hoax or virus - I was afraid of it. I was amazed that it happened."

One feature that sets LON-CAPA apart from other course management programs is its ability to customize homework, said John Merrill, director of the Biological Science Program and associate professor of microbiology and molecular genetics.

"It has extremely powerful homework functions," Merrill said. "Every student gets a slightly different problem, which encourages collaborative learning. We want students to talk about their homework - we don't want them to say, 'the answer is A.'"

Use also could have increased because of the program's ease of use, some professors said.

Setting up a course to use LON-CAPA used to be a time-consuming endeavor, but that is no longer the case, said psychology Associate Professor Deborah Kashy.

"There's a big start-up cost - developing courses and questions - and that's very time consuming," Kashy said.

But as more professors began to use the program, they share documents and questions, Kashy said.

"Once a library has been developed, it's shareable across the world," she said. "As more and more material develops, it becomes more appealing because you don't have to do your own stuff."

LON-CAPA also solves a problem some professors struggled with in large classes - assigning and grading hundreds of homework problems, Merrill said.

"With large enrollment courses, we can't possibly do turn-in homework - there are too many people to grade," Merrill said. "But with it computerized, it becomes a benefit to students that we can offer them homework to try out their learning."


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