Online courses cater to non-traditional students

Despite the traditionally bad reputation of online classes, university administrators and students alike agree that they provide consistent results for nontraditional students.

According to Dr. J. Goodlett McDaniel, associate Provost for Distance Education, having a wide array of distance education courses is convenient for students with various other obligations which may prevent them from taking on-ground courses. 

“A lot of our students are adult learners,” McDaniel said. “They have jobs; they have families. Having online courses as an option allows them to do what they’d like to in terms of finishing more quickly.”

While online courses are generally stereotyped to be less effective than on-ground courses, some students contend that being able to take most of their course load from a  distance has been the only way to complete their schooling.

“I’m taking online courses primarily because of my lifestyle,” said senior Amber Mellon. “I have to work 40 hours a week.”

Mellon also rejects the notion that online courses are lower in quality than on-ground courses.

“There’s not much of a difference between online and going to class,” Mellon said. “It’s either a professor reading you a PowerPoint in class or you’re reading a PowerPoint at home.”

However, the very nature of an online course significantly decreases the face time that students have with their professors, thus prompting the question of what the university is doing to improve communication between students and professors of online courses.

“When faculty sign up to receive support from our office for an online course, we give them the expectations that we have for how frequently they should contact students and monitor students to see if they’re online and working, and also the amount of time maximum before they return emails,”  McDaniel said. “We normally say 24 hours during the business week.”

In addition to the extra monitoring that faculty face while running an online course, they must also exert extra effort in building the online course itself. However, Provost Peter Stearns contends that while the quality of any given course depends on a variety of factors, the assessment of online courses is extremely rigorous, allowing for a continuous process of improvement.

“It does take extra time for the faculty to build an online course because the learning objectives have to be comparable to a ground based course,” McDaniel said.

However, students may find that these extra requirements for online courses are a bit of a hindrance.

“For all of my online classes, there have always been a ton of extra assignments to do,” Mellon said. “The layout of blackboard is very confusing, and you’re not always sure what’s due and when it’s due.”

Even though he contends that online courses are closely monitored for quality, McDaniel does say that the university receives a small degree of complaints about distance education.

“There are complaints, especially for students who don’t want to take distance education,” McDaniel said. “Sometimes they take courses that are online because there isn’t a ground based equivalent at the time they want it.”

McDaniel also notes that certain types of courses may be better designed for distance education than others. He says that according to a famous entrepreneur, Michael Saylor, the future of STEM courses is headed in the direction of online courses.  

“The futurists are saying that the STEM courses are the courses that would be offered with the most precision,” McDaniel said. “Mostly because they’re formulaic and require more memorization and problem solving.”While there are notable benefits to some students in taking online courses, McDaniel states that there are some advantages to teaching an online course from the professors’ perspectives.

“Research professors that build their courses online are then allowed to be more mobile if they’re doing research in their field,” McDaniel said.

When asked about her perceptions of how invested her professors were in their online classes, Mellon refutes the idea that they care less for their distance education courses.

“I don’t think they care less,” Mellon said. “Their classes provided all the same elements as my on-ground courses, but on your own time. You have all week to do the same amount of work you would do in the classroom.” 

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