Navigating the online classroom! Experts say it’s not the easy way out

Monday, December 8, 2014
DEKAEFTA

By Robert Craig

Jessica Baschoff, like many college students, goes to school full time, works and has several off-campus responsibilities.

In addition to her full course load, Baschoff opted to enroll in a few online courses while acquiring her associate’s degree in psychology at DCCC.

“I decided to enroll in an online course at first because I didn’t want to overwhelm myself during the week going to classes, and thought that an online course might help lighten the load,” said Baschoff, now a psychology major at the University of Scranton. “However, though I did spend significantly less time in class, I found myself spending twice as much time reading from the textbook and writing papers than I would have spent sitting in class.”

Baschoff is part of a larger community of online learners across the United States.

According to an Online Learning Consortium national survey, more than 7.1 million students were taking at least one online course in 2013 and the proportion of college students taking at least one online course is at an all-time high of 33.5 percent.

DCCC is one of many colleges that utilizes the distance learning approach. According to their website, DCCC has been offering online and blended courses since 1998 and now offers more than 120 online and 30 blended learning courses throughout most of their majors.

DCCC uses WebStudy as its online learning platform. Other platforms include Blackboard, Articulate and Coursera.

According to many counselors and professors at DCCC, it takes a very self-motivated and disciplined student to be successful in an online classroom. However, there is a common misconception that taking online courses is easier than taking them in the classroom.

Chris Dungee, associate professor and counselor in the Career and Counseling Center, said that a good candidate for taking online courses is someone who can work well under his own self direction, follows course syllabi and course materials and feels comfortable directly asking professors for help when needed.

On the other hand, Dungee said that someone who needs a lot of direction is not a good candidate for taking online courses. He suggested that students who fare well from in-class discussions wouldn’t acclimate to an online learning environment so easily.

“Someone who is not self disciplined is not a good candidate for taking online courses,” Dungee said. “You have to be a self starter and know how to go at your own pace.”

Taking the same stand on online learning, Jennifer Kalligonis, associate professor and counselor in the Career and Counseling Center, said that a good candidate for online learning would be a student who is comfortable working independently and has great time management skills.

“I would have to say a student who has already taken a fair amount of traditional classroom courses and has an established GPA of 3.0 [would be a good candidate],” Kalligonis said. “Someone who isn’t in their first year of college and especially not someone who has never taken a college course before.”

Kalligonis also suggests that students seeking a traditional college experience should avoid online courses.

“A student who is looking to experience campus life, make connections and meet other students shouldn’t take online courses,” she said. “It’s hard enough when commuting to meet other students. When you’re not coming to campus, it’ll be a little harder.”

DCCC alumna Dawn Glancy took about 30 credits online during her college career. While juggling a full-time job and a full-time course load, taking online courses allowed for flexibility in her schedule, she says.

However, she too agreed that gaining and maintaining connections takes a little more effort when taking classes online. “It is difficult to obtain a sense of community and establish relationships with peers other than through electronic communication,” she said.

Kalligonis urged students who are interested in taking online courses to access DCCC’s online learning website to review the all-in-one document about online learning as well as to take the online learning readiness quiz, which determines if online learning is a good approach for particular students.

According to DCCC’s website, students must possess the following technical skills to be successful in an online learning environment: the ability to access and maneuver the internet with confidence, the ability to download, save and open a variety of file types (documents, audio/video, etc.) and the ability to install plug-ins and related software upgrades, if applicable.

Susan Scalzi, assistant professor of Allied Health and program director of the Medical Coding and Billing, agreed with the notion that students must have strong computer skills in order to be a successful online learner.

 “If a student is not fully confident in using a computer and computer applications, or may need face-to-face interaction to learn best, these students might not be good candidates for online courses,” Scalzi said in an email.

Scalzi, who has taught many online courses at DCCC, believes there are many benefits of online learning.

For instance online learning offers flexibility that traditional in-class courses do not.

“Online courses may also be ideal for students with children,” Scalzi said. “Online classes allow them to attend college without having to find and pay for childcare while they attend school. The student can work around their child’s schedule and still complete assignments, exams and courses.”

Similarly, experts agree that online learning is ideal for students who are also working full time.

“After being at work for eight hours with commuting time added on, many students want to be at home but still want to gain an education,” Scalzi continued. “Online courses provide this opportunity for working individuals to further their education, gain new knowledge and skills without having to be in class in the evenings and then having to commute home.”

Dawn Glancy took online classes with exactly that in mind.

“I really enjoyed the flexibility of the online classes since I work full time during the day,” Glancy said. “It allowed me to get my education around a very busy schedule.”

Still, students, counselors and professors emphasize that online learning is not for everyone. To be successful in an online classroom, one must be extremely motivated, hard-working, possess strong time-management skills and above all, take it seriously.

“Definitely read up on it first,” Dungee suggested. “Read all of our literature about online learning and watch the online learning videos on DCCC’s website.”

Baschoff said that she plans to continue taking online courses while finishing her bachelor’s degree, especially during inter-sessions and summer semesters since she will also continue to work.

Although she understands that online courses require much more attention than traditional in-class courses, Baschoff embraces the flexibility that online courses give her.

“My advice to a student preparing to begin an online class is to take it seriously,” Baschoff added. “It is a huge commitment and requires a lot of self discipline and willingness to teach yourself. I appreciate the flexibility that the online courses allow, but would not recommend taking more than a class or two online [at one time].  And if you are going to try taking online courses for the first time, start with just one and pick a subject that you feel you could adequately teach yourself!”

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