Continuing Education Online
There is nothing too exciting about the presentation, but these articles can be useful if there are specific nuggets of information you need or if you are facing a deadline for accumulating required learning units. Recently, these static lessons have been upgraded for computer viewing by the addition of slideshows, PDF files, and PowerPoint presentations.
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Audio Only: Podcasting
Audio learning can be terrific for those situations in which graphics are not needed to supplement explanations, and when you can't sit in front of your computer, such as while commuting or drawing manually.
If you have an MP3 player (iPod or other) you can subscribe to interesting podcasts of your choice and go completely portable. In some cases, you can earn continuing education credits via self-reporting means.
One excellent source is the AIA's Architecture Knowledge Review Podcast Series. You can download various segments, each about 15 minutes long, on such interesting subjects as "Sustainable Design: Current Trends and Measurement Tools," "How Technology Can Complement Building," and" Feng Shui for Residential Architecture."
Other types of lessons, created for Internet viewing, are somewhat dynamic, combining audio with animated bitmap loops, for instance. An animated bitmap is a series of static images played sequentially giving the appearance of real motion.
These images can be combined with an audio feed to simulate animation, but they use relatively small files and so are still suitable for users without fast Internet connections. An example of such a feed is a series of free lessons on playing the blues piano.
Animated Screen Feeds
The next level of online lessons incorporate actual screen captures of computer screens, often with accompanying audio. Programs such as Camtasia Studio, from TechSmith, now make animation capture a breeze for software vendors, so you now see many software applications offering such tutorials, usually for free.
These lessons might invoke a pop-up window, via Java script, in your browser to play the animation, or they might use two of the most commonly available free video players, Windows Media Player or the Quick Time Player.
DataCAD has some nice examples of their so-called "viewlets," with balloon captions but no sound. Also, CADD Tutorials Online offers a number of CAD related lessons —screen captures along with audio commentary by instructor Geoff Langdon — at a cost of $1 per minute.
Finally, requiring the highest broadband of all these options, you can get true video feeds streamed or downloaded. These are much more than screen captures. They feature actual video footage usually via software players such as Windows Media Player, Real Player, or QuickTime.
The AIA eClassroom offers professional seminar-quality continuing education courses as video downloads, for about $65 per learning unit. As a demonstration, they are currently displaying a snippet from "Santiago Calatrava Works His Magic."
The AEC Daily Online Learning Center offers continuing education courses with (free) registration. It offers over 120 courses, mostly provided by product manufacturers, but the site has clear ties to the Construction Specifications Institute, the AIA, the American Society of Landscape Architects, and other professional organizations, with some automatic reporting of credits. The lessons are mostly presented as PDF slideshows.
The American Society of Professional Estimators offers Educational Resources/ Online Courses as downloadable modules, in a self-paced format, at $410/$440 per course.
The American Wood Council offers free (with registration) online courses, mostly in PDF file format, on wood construction, building code issues, wood as a building material, and wood detailing.
The NCARB Monograph Series, from the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, is an acclaimed set of professional development courses — currently with 18 titles — in booklet form, each 100 to 200 pages in length. The books must be ordered for postal delivery (cost $135/$210), but the quizzes can be taken online for professional accreditation.
PDHCenter.com provides online continuing education courses for engineers, surveyors, and architects. Their approach is different from that of many others: registered users can browse the catalog of courses available and study the course materials free of charge. But to earn continuing education credits you pay a fee ($29 to $200 per course) to take the quiz.
RedVector.com offers online continuing education to engineers, architects, contractors, and land surveyors. Courses can be downloaded as PDF files or viewed online. Registration is free and includes one demo course, but be forewarned that the registration process asks for more personal and professional information than is requested at other sites. Also RedVector employs a telephone follow-up sales technique.
VEPOnline is a Web-based continuing education program designed to teach design professionals about risk management in their performance of design professional services. It was originally developed for the CNA/ Schinnerer professional liability insurance program.
Wood University, by the Engineered Wood Association, offers free online courses on various aspects of wood design, connections, and detailing.
Whatever your desire for further education, it will be worth your while to search for it online. This is much less intimidating and frustrating than trying to find the right teacher for yourself, and much more fun and effective than seeking out a book at the library. Give it a try, and who knows? You might learn something!
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Evan H. Shu, FAIA is an architect with Shu Associates Inc. in Melrose, Massachusetts. He is a contributor to The Architect's Handbook of Professional Practice and is publisher and editor of Cheap Tricks, a monthly newsletter for DataCAD users and computer-using architects.
This article was reprinted from the September 2006 issue of Cheap Tricks © Shu Associates Inc. with permission of the publisher.