Consider the following instant messaging session between a student and online teacher:

> What email program are you using?
> I don't know.
> Is it Eudora?
> I don't know
> Is there someone there you can ask?
> No. I'm here alone.
> OK….do you have it open now?
> My email?
> Yes.
> It's open.
> OK. What can you see?
> many different windows….
> I see…did you or someone else install this email program?
> I don't think so. It came with the computer.
> Mmm. Then it's probably Outlook..
> What's Outlook?
> The default Microsoft email program. Do you have Inbox, Calendar, Contacts down the left hand side?
> Yes I do.
> Great - that's Outlook
> OK!
> Now - what browser are you using?
> What's a browser?
> The program you use to look at the Internet.
> I see. .
> To view webpages. I think you probably have Internet Explorer. Are you looking at a webpage now?
> Yes. I am looking at the EFI study page.
> OK. Can you see a small blue 'e' in the top left corner of your seen.
> Yes.
> OK. Another problem solved. You have Internet Explorer. Now do me a favour…..
Go to Help, about Internet Explorer and tell me what number you see for Internet Explorer. It might be 3.1, or 4.0, or 5.5 or…….
> The version number?
> Yes. The version number.
> It says 5.1
> Great.That will work fine for the pages we need to look at for the course. And the chat room we use will work in IE 5.1.
> What's IE?
> Sorry. IE = Internet Explorer (your Internet browser)
> When can I meet the other students?
> Soon.There are still a few more things we need to set up.
> Oh. OK
> Now we'll try and get your chat working so you can meet the other students.
> Cool.
> Go to

What follows is an excruciating exchange of 30 lines or so over a good half hour until

> Finally. I can see you in the chat room!! Try and type something….
> It worked! Now…just one more thing.
> There's more?!!! ):
> I'm afraid so. You need to know how to use the Web Board.
> What's that? That's where we have many of our online discussions. And sometimes you need to post messages there.
> Alright then. What do I have to do?
> Go to this URL -
> OK…..

More painstaking communication as we inch our way through the register and logging in procedure for the forum software..

> Now try and post a message….
> Nothing yet……
> Still waiting…
> I've sent my message
> OK. Let me check….I see it…fantastic! We're done. You're now ready to start the course. But I've run out if time for today though. Can we meet again this time next week?
> Yes no problem. Thanks for your help.
> It's a pleasure Ron. Next week we can start immediately on the course materials.
> OK See you then.
> See you Ron :)


In the days before I used any kind of platform, this kind of dialogue was rerun many times as new students entered my classes. An FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page was not sufficient on its own. People really did need their hand held as they worked through the download, install, and familiarise steps with each piece of software.

Contrast the above conversations with the following:

Hi Julian.

Welcome to the course. Here's what you have to do:

1) Go to
2) Enter your username and password

You will then see the class home page. Click on these buttons to find the different parts of the course:

* resources: to find course materials
* assessment: to find asssessment tasks
* email: to send email to me or other students
* forums: to take part in class discussions
* chat: to chat to me or other students

I look forward to working with you.

Michael Coghlan
Course Facilitator


Five minutes to send off this email and the student is up and running. Platforms may be for trains, but without them getting students course ready can be a Slow Train Coming.