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Online classes, while tempting, need further development


December 14, 2017

Online classes are often subjected to complaints from students across UW-River Falls. One of the more infamous courses that students once had to take was online physical education, which prompted students to exercise with videos and corresponding questions about heart rate and diet. Anyone over the level of freshman knows about this course, and knows that the course was rarely, if ever, taken seriously. Eventually, it was changed to in-person because it was very obvious that it was not achieving desired results.

The online phy. ed. course is a prime example of all of the problems that the Student Voice staff sees with online courses. To begin with, it was ineffective at holding students to do their work, since it was very easy to complete the course without doing any of the assignments. The questions could be answered without bothering to watch the videos, and professors had no way of telling if the registered individual was actually completing their own coursework.

This problem is consistent with most online courses, and it’s not entirely something the professors can control. Because they are not meeting regularly on a face-to-face basis, it’s near-impossible to ensure that students do their own work, or in fact that they do work, period.

Many of these classes are discussion-based, and students are required to post regularly and comment on their group’s responses. This does not work, however, if a significant portion of the class does not contribute. Professors can reorganize their classes so that this only affects those who don’t contribute in a timely manner, but this is still a detriment to the course goals. In a face-to-face class, the professor would have a better chance of encouraging participation from even reluctant students.

Most of the appeal of online courses boils down to the factor of convenience. In a perfect world, online courses would allow students to do their work when they have time off from jobs or other engagements. However, students tend to abuse this feature and use it to push off their workload until the very last minute. This encourages bad habits, and it makes it difficult for students to actually get anything out of the class.

The other reason online courses are a persistent feature at universities is because they offer a way to teach more students material with fewer resources. UWRF has been downsizing its faculty over the past two years, and so a lot of basic, general education classes have moved online so that a single professor can teach 40 or 50 people at a time in a class.

Not only does the university not have to pay for more professors, but it also gets a heftier payment from each online course – an online course fee is attached to the cost of each class, which can tack on an additional $50-$400, depending on credits and which college it falls under.

We urge the university to make every attempt to focus on in-person classes. We understand that online courses will be a necessity when money is tight, and we also understand that the idea of using digital interaction is exciting. However, this is a new technology and there is not yet a solid system for making sure that students actually get what they’re supposed to out of their courses. Nothing can fully replace face-to-face interaction with a professor.