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Java is unquestionably one of the hottest development languages to learn at this moment. There are hundreds of books about Java, covering all different levels. You can spend thousands of dollars on this subject and still not get any closer to Java nirvana. While you could spend your money on countless books or attend a Java class at some training center or college, MindQ offers another excellent way to learn Java: Computer-Based Training (CBT). You're probably thinking that CBTs are boring and you'll never get anything out of them. In reality, that holds true whether you take a class or read tons of books on the subject. CBT simply offers an alternative. As elegant as the Java language is, it's very dry when you try to learn it. MindQ does an exceptional job of keeping your attention glued to the subject matter through its interactive user interface.

The Learning Process
The MindQ courseware is multimedia-enabled. It ranges from video segments of some of the creators of Java to audio descriptions to exercises that students can work on to reinforce what they've just learned. If you're hearing impaired or just don't want sound, there's an Audio Text Display window that displays what's being said.

Each CD takes between six and 12 hours to complete. Don't feel obligated to complete them in one sitting though. If you want to stop in the middle of a lesson, simply bookmark the area you're in and end the program. When you come back, just go back to your bookmark and continue where you left off. Also, it's designed in a hypertext format so you can click elements on the screen to get more information, just like navigating through a Web site.

As you start each course, you see and hear an orientation of what the course is about, and you see where it resides within the entire curriculum. If you want, you can skip the orientation and go right into the lessons. Figure 1 illustrates the basis of the user interface. On the left-hand side are navigation buttons. The Audio Text Display window can be moved around the screen if it gets in your way.

Figure 1
Figure 1:

The bottom of the screen holds the audio mute button, the pause/play button (an indicator that animates when the audio is playing), a slider bar to show how many screens you need for the given topic and a message bar. Each CD is broken into lessons with various topics. As you go through each lesson, graphic illustrations and animation emphasize the points. At the end of each topic there's a short quiz called "Reality Check." The questions are based on items discussed during the lesson. They are either multiple choice, fill in the blank or matching. Figure 2 is a sample of one of these quizes.

Figure 2
Figure 2:

At the end of each lesson you're given the option to write a program, in some cases several programs, based on a story problem and subject that was covered in that particular lesson. The source code is made available to you so you can study it at your leisure.

The Curriculum
MindQ's Java courseware curriculum is laid out as if you were attending a Java course at a college or learning center. They offer three packages for you to choose from: Essential Java Training, Advanced Java Topics and Developer Training for Java. If you're new to Java or just want to learn the basics to prepare for the Sun Java Certification exam, the Essential Java Training course will prepare you. It covers all the basic subjects of Java development, such as:

  • An overview of the Java Platform
  • Basic Java Language Syntax
  • Java for C/C++ Programmers
  • Java Objects and Classes
  • Advanced Java Languages
  • AWT User Interface Programming
Advanced Java Topics takes you into the Java realm where Essential Java Training leaves off. This track will teach you the areas of Java that industry developers use to create and maintain client/server applications. Its subjects are:
  • Using the Java Foundation Classes
  • JDBC and Databases
  • Programming JavaBeans
  • Java Security
  • Java and CORBA
  • Networking in the Java Language
The Developer Training for Java is the complete library of Java courses, but it also includes a few more courses to round out the entire learning experience. It's broken down into four distinct areas of learning: Fundamentals, Intermediate, Advanced, and Tools for Java. The Fundamentals section covers the first four topics in the Essential Java Training course, including a course called "Java for Managers," which is less technical but offers a good understanding of the Java language, its benefits and how and when to use Java technology. Intermediate and Advanced tracks cover the remaining topics included in the Essential Java Training and Advanced Java Topics tracks. The Tools for Java contains three courses. One, an overview of Java technology tools, describes the various Java development environments on the market today with screen shots of each product. It discusses the features and benefits of each one in detail so you can make an educated decision when choosing which product to use. The other two courses cover Microsoft Visual J++ and Symantec Visual Café for Java, probably the most popular Java development environments. They offer in-depth coverage on using the two products, maximizing their features to make Java applications.

Deployment Options
MindQ offers several methods for deploying these courses in your organization. You can run the CDs on a stand-alone workstation, distributed over your local area network or through your organization's intranet. In stand-alone mode you can run the course either straight from the CD or the local hard drive. To deploy the courses through your network or intranet, you'll need to obtain a corporate license, which includes all the courses plus a network installation package that allows you to choose the best deployment option for your organization. To run the courses over the network, your network administrator runs the installation package, which copies the courses to a server. The files are compressed on the server to save drive space. When a student wants to run a course, the client package on their workstation is started and the data streams to it as if the CDs were running locally. MindQ's streaming technology is what allows it to run over a LAN or an intranet.

I was pretty familiar with Java before reviewing these courses, but because I'm self-taught, some aspects of the language and environment weren't clear. I found myself fascinated by the interface and MindQ's teaching method. From a learning standpoint the lessons are well organized. MindQ obviously gave their curriculum a lot of thought when they put the lessons together. The cost of each package reflects a one-year licensing term, but the CDs won't self-destruct at the end of the year. Think of it as a maintenance agreement. Any updates to the product are free of charge during the one-year licensing term. If you don't renew, you won't receive any updates.

After completing these courses, don't expect to suddenly be a Java programming genius. That will occur over time and after you've used Java for a while. You should, however, be able to sling around the Java buzzwords with confidence and have fairly intelligent conversations with other Java-savvy developers. If learning Java is what you're looking for, and you want to learn it at your own pace without spending a fortune on private lessons or wading through countless Java books, MindQ offers a great solution.

About the Author
David Jung works as a senior programmer analyst. He's a lead architect for all client/server development. He also coauthored several Visual Basic books, including Visual Basic 6 Client/Server How-To and Visual Basic 6 Interactive Course (Waite Group Press). He can be reached at [email protected]


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