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Online courses provide expanded class options

September 30, 2011

With online courses growing in popularity in colleges, there is always the question of whether students are getting the same education as traditional classrooms. Just three in 10 American adults, 29 percent, say that taking a course online provides them with an equal amount of education. On the other side of that, nearly half of college presidents, 51 percent, say online courses equal the same education.

According to the Pew Research Center, more than three-quarters of the nation’s colleges and universities now offer online classes, and about one in four college graduates, 23 percent, have taken a course online. While online courses have been steadily growing in popularity over the years, there remains questions as to whether students are really getting the same benefits and quality of a traditional classroom setting.

According to an article on the UWRiver Falls communications website, students that have previously taken online courses said that they were convenient, fit into their schedules, and saved them money. Ninety six percent of these students also said that they plan to take another online course in the future. Leeann Hitsman, 20, a junior at UWRF, says that while she likes the flexibility that online classes offer, “I can do things at my own pace,” she admits there are some disadvantages as well.

“Being able to do things at your own pace is good, but sometimes it can lead to procrastination, you also don’t get that personal connection,” said Hitsman. “The professor says one way, but when it comes to grading it’s something different.”

Rebecca Alden, 21, a senior at UWRF, says that she also liked being able to do the work on her own time, but she didn’t like that fact that the classes moved fast.

“You basically had to cram three months of work into a month,” said Alden.

“The jury is still out,” said Brian Schultz, assistant dean and College of Business and Economics professor. “We’re still not certain, it’s not a perfect system.”

There is a push for more online courses to meet the needs and demands of students. Two groups of people that online courses benefit are nontraditional students who do not live near the campus and would benefit from not having to make the daily commute, and MBA students needing to complete their foundation courses.

Some of the problems with online courses, said Schultz, are that some students sign up for some of these courses because they believe that it will be easier than being in a classroom setting, although this is not the case. “In the College of Business and Economics we strive to make the online courses just as vigorous as the classroom,” said Schultz.

There is also the issue of whether the students are actually doing their own work or having somebody else do it for them. “You have to put a lot more trust in students in online courses to take initiative and be honest,” said Schultz. “Overall though, we have seen some good results from students taking these courses.”

Scott Wojtanowski, information processing consultant at UWRF, doesn’t make distinctions between the two courses. He believes it is more in the delivery of the course than of the course itself.

“Online courses are just a different way of delivering a course,” said Wojtanowski. “It doesn’t matter if it is online or in a classroom, you can have a good experience with both.”