Online courses lack hands-on learning, says SRU professors and students

Published by adviser, Author: Jillian Wilcox - Rocket Contributor, Date: October 26, 2014
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The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) is collectively offering over 600 online courses for students to take over holiday break. Students in PASSHE can take up to two online classes over holiday break.

Slippery Rock University offers over 70 online classes for students to take over the winter semester, called “winter session.” Taking online courses are an opportunity for students to get ahead or catch up on credits, but the methods behind online classes bring mixed emotions among SRU staff and students.

Dr. George Brown, chair of the Political Science Department and political science professor with a Ph.D. from the University of Washington, 62, embraces mixed forms of learning, even though he teaches online.

Brown welcomes student questions about teaching methods. Teaching a Political Film course in the summer for several years with an occasional online class during the school year, Brown knows a thing or two about what happens in the online class setting. Generally, Brown describes the experience as positive.

In his online classes, students watch films about war, which include documentaries and feature films, on their computers and respond to online discussions and quizzes around their own schedules. One concern Brown has with regard to online classes is the opportunity for academic dishonesty. Academic dishonesty is often harder to spot online, with students able to see peer discussion answers or look up information on a particular film. One way to spot dishonesty is setting up the videos through D2L. With D2L, professors can see how long a link was actually viewed. However, Brown maintains that most students are motivated to watch and think about the films and while academic dishonesty does happen, it is not often.

“I like doing that particular course, but I really prefer the mix,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t want to do all my classes online, that’s for sure.”

With the differences in online and face-to-face learning, there are considerations for students to make.   With an online class like Dr. Brown’s, what technical issues might you face? Things like slow internet speed or virus software can get in the way of the ability to complete an assignment, especially when waiting until the last minute. Additionally, Brown says an online class might be more work than you think, especially if you carry a heavy work schedule during the time of the online class.

Online classes are offered at SRU during fall, spring, summer, and winter sessions. While the classes aren’t always exactly the same, you can typically find several liberal studies courses as well as some major-specific courses. As seen on the SRU website, SRU even offers online graduate programs and an online RN to BSN program for nursing.

Christopher Nash, 21-year-old senior psychology major from Irwin, PA, described his experience with thought. Nash believes that the biggest benefit of online classes is the ability to learn a lot in a condensed time period. Still, like Dr. Brown, Nash also thinks that students may underestimate the time that needs to be put into the course.

“You usually have assignments every day, so you’re constantly reading,” Nash explained as he referred to his Developmental Psychology class.

Nash also emphasized that students should really evaluate how they best learn before taking an online class, since everyone is different.

Chris Hays, 21-year-old senior exercise science major, does not normally take online classes, but he has had one in the past.

Like Nash and Brown, he agrees that there is flexibility in the online setting. Hays says one of the main downsides of online classes is the lack of direct interaction.

“You don’t get that relationship,” Hays explained when referring to the differences of the online and traditional classrooms.

Hays believes online classes are good for certain objectives, but they are easy to get behind in because they require so much time management and commitment. On one occasion, Hays did even have a technical issue with submitting an assignment online. Hays said the professor was helpful in resolving the issue and gave him an extension on the assignment.

Hays said he wouldn’t recommend an online class instead of a traditional place setting, but he thinks there is a place for them.

“For learning skills and hands-on, I don’t think they’re a good choice,” Hays said.

Dr. Katherine Cooklin, philosophy professor, with a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin, maintains professional and delicate approach to conversation. Cooklin says she typically teaches classes online during the summer and winter sessions.

Cooklin defines the primary benefit of online classes for students as convenience and believes it is particularly helpful and convenient for those in the Medical Ethics class that she teaches online. Since some of her students are professionals with busy schedules, it allows them to balance work with the need and desire to continue education. Still, Cooklin also shares a fondness of the traditional classroom.

“I enjoy face-to-face classes more,” Cooklin said. “I think there is definitely a place for online classes, but I think there is something captured in the classroom that isn’t included with online classes. It’s hard to identify what it is, but face-to-face conversation carries with it a benefit for learning.”

Cooklin said it depends on the program, but she believes typical four-year students should focus on learning in the classroom. Cooklin added that she doesn’t think online classes should ever take the place of face-to-face courses.

Cooklin also explained the importance of responsibility. With less reminders from professors and anticipation for technical problems, Cooklin said it’s really a personal choice for the student based on their needs and what they want to get out of learning.

“I think the primary thing is their need to be self-disciplined in doing it. I think they need to take more responsibility,” Cooklin said.

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