Online classes are often associated with non-traditional college students that have full-time jobs, families or both but “distance learning” is creeping onto physical college campuses as well.
According to the New York Times, Dr. Mark Rush’s Principles of Microeconomics class at the University of Florida is broadcast and archived online simply because no campus lecture hall could possibly hold the 1,500 undergraduate students enrolled in the course. Dozens of other popular courses in psychology, statistics, biology and other fields are also offered primarily online. In fact, resident students at the University of Florida are earning 12 percent of their credit hours online this semester.
Although many students like that fact that they can “attend class” from their dorm room, some parents that are footing the bill for their child’s tuition feel otherwise. “My mom was really upset about it. She felt like she’s paying for me to go to college and not sit at home and watch through a computer,” Kaitlyn Hartsock, a senior psychology major at Florida who was assigned to two online classes during her first semester, told the Times.
The University of Florida is not unique in this trend. Learning on Demand: Online Education in the United States 2009, a study on the state of online learning in the U.S. higher education system conducted by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, reports that over 4.6 million college students took at least one online class during the Fall 2008 term. More than one in four college and university students now take at least one course online.
Approximately 10% of the 14,000 liberal arts undergraduates at the University of Iowa take an online course each semester.
At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, first-year Spanish students are no longer offered a face-to-face class because the university moved all instruction online.
Penn State University now offers what it calls the Blended Learning Initiative, a school-wide effort to enhance the undergraduate experience by creating both online and hybrid versions of key Penn State courses, claiming that it joins the best aspects of both face to face and online instruction.
Florida professor Kristin Joos has built interactivity into her Principles of Sociology course to keep students engaged. The class offers small-group online discussions and students must join a virtual classroom once a week using a conferencing software.
Arguments have risen that online classes are not as effective as traditional fact-to-fact classes. The National Bureau of Economic Research found that some students, notably Hispanic students, did worse watching classes online than those who physically attended classes.
The University of Florida is moving toward more online instruction following massive budget cuts from the State Legislature. Joe Glover, the university provost, appears unapologetic. “Quite honestly, the higher education industry in the United States has not been tremendously effective in the face-to-face mode if you look at national graduation rates,” he has said.
Insider Higher Ed reports that the notion that “social presence” might help with online program retention has prompted vendors to infuse their online learning platforms with more social media tools such as more advanced text and video-chat features. Even so, most students that choose to learn online do not necessarily want to see their instructors, chat with classmates or make friends.
The results of a rather small study of 65 students, mostly from graduate programs, were presented on November 4, 2010 at the Sloan Consortium International Conference on Online Learning in Orlando, Florida. Education professor Kathleen M. Sheridan said she had heard from her own graduate students that online chats can be annoying, especially if they are mandatory.
The majority of students cared less about getting to know their classmates, looking at instructor profiles, having real-time chat sessions, and simulating face-to-face communication with video than they did about meeting class requirements.
University of Florida professors admit that it’s common to see students watching dozens on lectures from their online classes right before exams because they missed them the first time around, and non-profit association EDUCAUSE believes that developing a realistic, detailed sense of the student experience is key when designing blended learning programs, urging colleges and universities to come up with plans that work.
Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
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