Students express mixed opinions about online courses

Nathan Zoschke

In 1997, UMKC offered its first online class: a Ph.D.-level nursing course.

Today, students can enroll in online classes ranging from music theory to calculus through the Pathway website the same way they enroll in traditional classes.

Cindy Amyot, Interim Associate Vice Provost of Online Education, said the Higher Learning Commission classifies courses as online when 75 percent or more of the instruction occurs through Internet instruction.

Registrar Douglas Swink said UMKC offers 195 online classes through three different modes of online instruction: asynchronous, synchronous and blended.

Asynchronous learning classes allow students to complete coursework whenever they choose, while synchronous learning classes require students to log into Blackboard at set times.

Synchronous learning classes may incorporate videoconferencing and other audio-visual elements that asynchronous learning classes lack.

Blended instruction courses combine elements of on-campus and online classes.

Online classes have become a popular alternative to traditional classes because of the flexibility they offer students. They also save universities resources and money because they do not have to maintain a classroom facility.

They also have several drawbacks, including lack of face-to-face interaction and potential computer glitches.

This semester, 2,164 students, are enrolled in online classes, representing 15 percent of UMKC’s total enrollment.

This represents an increase from last semester, when 1,762 students, or 11 percent of the total, were enrolled online.

Students who have taken online classes at UMKC have had mixed experiences.

Sophomore Ashele Adams took her History and Development of Rock and Roll class online last semester.

“I learned a lot about the rock ‘n roll era,” Adams said. “The music was great.”

Adams said taking the class online was not a hassle, adding she plans on taking online classes in the future, if available.

“I just had to remember to watch the clips and do the study guide,” she said.

Student Jennifer Moran said she took history and computer classes online at UMKC in 2005.

“I like regular classes better,” Moran said. “When you post discussions on Blackboard, you can’t see or hear someone else’s enthusiasm. You can’t talk about it in class.”

Moran said the inconvenience of Blackboard glitches and the hassle of checking for updates online outweighed the advantage of taking classes from home.

“If you’re not constantly updating or looking at [Blackboard], you’re bound to miss something,” she said. “You have to be really on top of your game.”

For Moran, interaction is key.

“College is about learning how to interact and go into the professional world,” Moran said. “Certain classes are definitely not meant to be online.”

Moran said she signed up to take another online course this semester, but ended up dropping it.

Dr. Jean Dufresne, who teaches an online Communications 308 class, also prefers the face-to-face interaction.

“My perspective as a teacher is that I don’t get to have the personal contact with the students, which I miss,” Dufresnse said. “[Online classes] require a lot more time and preparation.”

Dufresne said she was unaware UMKC offered online classes when she first taught at the school six years ago. She had previously taught an online, graduate-level methods class at Park University.

Dufresne hasn’t noticed substantial differences between students at Park and UMKC who took her online classes, although she said online classes require students to be more self-motivated.

“I think the students have to put in more effort of checking the website and watching for announcements and information from me,” Dufresne said. “They have to plan their time more so. It’s not as structured time-wise. They have to do it when they get to it and take that initiative.”

Dufresne said slacking hasn’t been a problem for most students, who she said submit homework on time and participate in online discussions.

“You can get a lot of good information through discussions and assignments,” Dufresne said. “Some students are very motivated and actually do more work, and others tend to procrastinate.”

One trend Dufresne has noticed is an increase in students using technology to insult professors, something she has noticed in both online and traditional classes.

“There has been a trend for students to claim the right to send personal insulting emails to faculty when they don’t like their grades,” Dufresne said. “They don’t use profanity, but they insult my class and me personally.”

Some students refuse to take online classes.

When Valerie Brown learned her Argumentation and Critical Thinking course, which she said was not listed as an online course on Pathway, would be taught online, she dropped.

“The online reading materials were extensive and the discussion postings were arguing and commenting on other posts,” she said. “That meant no face time and no real learning argumentation and critical thought.”

Brown said it bothers her a class listed as an on-campus course on Blackboard only met four times during the semester.

“I think that class should have been posted as an online course,” she said. “But it shouldn’t have been an online course to begin with.”

Swink said his office checks with departments and faculty to ensure they follow the Pathway classification.

“Instructors are required to stick with that classification,” Swink said. “We [Registar’s Office] do periodic checks with the departments in conjunction with the Provost’s office make sure they understand the different delivery methods and how those classes are set up.”

The drop rate for both online and traditional classes at UMKC is two percent.

Amyot said students’ GPAs are the main factor affecting drop rates.

“Our statistics held up with what we’re seeing in the literature,” Amyot said. “If a student’s not going to make it, they’re not going to make it regardless of the delivery.”

Swink said online classes help the university adjust to meet students’ changing needs.

“We know students are changing and their expectations are changing,” Swink said. “Being able to provide those different formats will help engage students differently as we continue to help them meet their degree progress.”

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