Charlie Jones (Online Student - Adult Learner)

"I want technology to stay out of my way."


Age: 35
Occupation: Educator at the Tilden Nature Area Environmental Center
School: University of Phoenix
Technology level: Definitely not "into" technology, but uses it when needed to get the job done.

Main Points

  • Going back to school as an online student after years in the workforce
  • Studies at home alone without much opportunity for help or (at least real-time) collaboration
  • Sometimes finds the technology in his online course to be more of an impediment than a help
  • Doesn't want school to get in the way of his social life


  • Teach people about the importance of protecting the environment
  • Challenge himself in a new career teaching Biology to middle-school students
  • Obtain his teaching certificate
  • Continue to do well at his job and not let school get in the way
  • Maintain his active social life

Frustrations & Pain Points

  • Course sites that are disjointed, too numerous, difficult to navigate, and time out and lose his location
  • It can be hard to figure out how to use the course sites on his own & to find help
  • Hard to tell what is due when -- no single reference for the course
  • It's hard to get things done efficiently when working with students who don't always pull their own weight and who live across many time zones
  • No notification of new forum posts & announcements -- has to constantly be looking for them
  • Privacy issues with the sites -- are people seeing things they shouldn't be?
  • Teachers so far haven't been very motivated


Charlie has an undergraduate degree in biology and is currently a Naturalist at the Tilden Nature Area Environmental Center in Berkeley where he leads tours and gives educational presentations on wildlife and nature. He's been in the workforce for many years in various positions and is looking to make a career change, but must remain at his present job while he goes to school. He doesn't have formal training in teaching, and has just started working on his teaching certificate as an online student at the University of Phoenix so that he can eventually teach science to middle-school students.

Charlie is very interested in helping preserve the environment, and through teaching would like to influence the next generation to take better care of our planet than past generations have. He loves the outdoors and spends lots of time biking, hiking, water and snow skiing. He's also an avid gardener who recycles and composts. Staying in touch with friends is very important to Charlie, and he goes on dates fairly often as he's still looking for "the one." He owns his own home in Berkeley where he currently lives by himself.

Technology Use

Charlie recently got a cellphone even though he didn't really feel like he needed one. He did it because everyone else had one and you sort of needed it to be a "good citizen" when meeting up with people. Though Charlie uses a computer (a PC), because of what he does at his job he's definitely not on it all day like some of his friends are. Before he began school, he used the computer maybe once a day to check email, shop, plan vacations, research things that came up at work, or look for roommates, dates, or things for sale on his favorite site, Craigslist. Lately Charlie is using his computer more often for school as well as some other personal things, such as organizing photos. Though Charlie can perform many tasks using the computer, he still thinks some of the things the computer does are mysterious and sometimes asks his more technical friends for help.

Study Habits

Charlie is taking his third online course at the University of Phoenix right now. He's been taking classes one at a time because he doesn't usually have time for more than that with his busy work and social life. There don't seem to be any clearly defined semesters at U of P, and there are always new classes starting up. He works on schoolwork a couple of nights a week and on weekends, often sitting on the couch in front of the TV with the National Geographic channel on or listening to music. Since he doesn't really have a desk, when he needs to spread out with all the papers he prints out he'll work at the dining room table. He started writing and taking notes on paper, but has since moved to Microsoft Word for most of his work. When his courses started he didn't do much organizing of the course material on his computer, but as he's acquired more he realized he needed a better organizational structure. He has one U of P folder containing a folder for each class, then a folder inside each course folder for reading material.

LMS & Course Site Use

Charlie finds the many University of Phoenix websites he has to use confusing. Three is one site for forums, one Learning Management System (LMS) for some course work, and another site called Resource where you get online materials such as books. Resource looks totally different and is very hard to navigate--it just takes too many steps to get what he wants. He's often working back and forth between the two sites when writing in the forums about something he's read in Resource. Though they use the same password, they time out at different intervals which he finds frustrating. And when he logs back in after it's timed out, he's not taken back to where he was and has to find the right page all over again.

At the beginning Charlie's courses so far each instructor has sent out a Microsoft Word Syllabus, which he keeps on his Desktop because he refers to it so often. However, sometimes the instructions in the Syllabus aren't very clear, or conflicted with what the Resource system said the tasks were for the week. Charlie often cross-checks across the all different systems to make sure he understands what's due--he feels that he has no single reference.

Coursework & Collaboration

So far, there have usually been about 20-40 students in Charlie's classes. In many courses students are also assigned to "Learning Teams" of 3-4, and there is a lot of group project work. However, students and teachers almost never talk to each other--most work is done asynchronously unless a group of students decides to get together to work over the phone or on instant messaging (IM). Finding a time where the whole team can work together can be challenging as students are located across the U.S. Charlie's teams have collaborated on documents via email or in their private folder in the forum. After completing work on their part of the document they let the team lead glue it together and submit it. Though they all know a bit about each other from the bios everyone must post online, Charlie sometimes finds it difficult to work with students he's never really met. There have been problems in some of his groups with not everyone on the team carrying their weight, people not showing up to the collaborative sessions or not providing the materials they'd promised.

Charlie's course assignments can be anything from reviewing and commenting on reading materials, working on documents, or creating presentations, often with other students. When he has to submit a paper for class, either for just himself or for his team when he's the team lead, Charlie goes to the forum and submits it to a folder only he (and if it's a group project, his group) and the instructor can see. He had trouble figuring out where and how to do this the first time and had to ask one of his "techie" friends for help. Assignments are usually due at the beginning of the week and scores are often given on Fridays as a forum response.

Most weeks, there are discussion questions that all the students are asked to respond to (as well as to other students' comments) in the forums. The instructor usually posts a reminder about the questions the day they are due. However, students have to be looking in the forum often to make sure they get these messages - Charlie hasn't found a way to be notified of new posts. Charlie often reads other people's responses to help him form his own. He writes his response initially in Word then pastes it into the forum, as he doesn't trust that he won't lose his work if he just writes it in the forum. There seem to be some privacy problems with the forums - he's seen postings in the forum before which seem like they should be private, or been able to see other groups' assignments at times. One of his classes also had weekly open-book quizzes which were timed and had to be completed in one sitting, which were given in the LMS.

Charlie hasn't been really thrilled with his instructors so far--it's clear they are teaching about material that they didn't write and he doesn't feel they have been very passionate about it. There have also been problems getting in touch with his teacher, or getting help from his teacher in fixing things on the course site, at times. There haven't been any teaching assistants in his classes so far.


  • Figure out what the assignments are and when they are due: Review Word document Syllabus and compare with what is in Resource & forums. Email the instructor or other students if necessary for clarification.
  • Respond to discussion questions in forum: Find the discussion thread for the week or day in the forum. Read other students' responses. Create a Word document with your response. Create a response in the forum, paste the Word doc into the response, and post it.
  • Write a paper or presentation: Review relevant materials from Resource, the forum, and the web. Print some out if needed, and take notes. Create document in Microsoft Word.
  • Collaborate with other students on assignments: Arrange a time that all students can meet on IM to discuss assignment. Exchange and share information in the forums and over email. Hope other groups can't see your assignments if they are in the forums. Write your piece while you read other students' pieces in separate documents to make sure they all fit together.
  • Assemble an assignment (e.g. paper or presentation) using other students' contributions: Gather all submissions from other students in the group. Follow up and pester them if they haven't submitted on time. Put all submissions into one big Word document.
  • Submit an assignment: Go to the forum and find the private folder for you or your group. Attach the assignment to a forum post and submit the post.
  • Review assignment feedback: Go to the forum and find the feedback post in your private folder at the end of the week and read it.
  • Take a quiz: Gather and review all relevant reading material. Go to the LMS and open the quiz. Complete it in the allotted time without any breaks.