Online education’s case is not a simple one to decide.
Online classes are increasingly common in today’s university, and not everyone agrees that these courses are really good for education. When one sifts through the evidence on both sides of the issue, arriving at a verdict for online classes becomes far from easy.
Exhibit A: Effect on Students
Online classes effect students both positively and negatively. For one thing, students are big fans of the flexibility of online courses, as The Chronicle of Higher Education reports. Students have so much more “control over course schedules” with online classes.
Drew Wingard, a sophomore government major at Regent University, says online classes save him a lot of time. He can remove any actual classroom time from his schedule, and he does not need to study as heavily for online classes. Required discussion questions often center on only select sections of the readings, freeing up Wingard to concentrate on more important classes. “Really what you’re working towards on an online class are…the completion of assignments,” not a participation grade, Wingard says.
Clarin Gniffke, a senior communication studies major at Regent, agrees that online classes help create more hours in the day. Gniffke is taking thirty-three hours a semester, and without online classes, she would be in class too often to be really efficient. “I wouldn’t have that extra time to just be alone and study, which is when I get the majority of my work done,” she says.
Even though online classes are a time saver for Wingard, he feels that he retains less of the course material. “I thrive in a setting where I can discuss my views with other people,” Wingard says. Gniffke also laments the lack of interaction. “It’s much less personal,” she says.
Exhibit B: Effect on Professors and Administrators
University professionals have differing views of online classes among themselves. According to a 2011 Pew Research Center survey, 51% of presidents say “online courses offer an equal value compared with” traditional courses. Some college professors concur. Regina McMenomy, a professor with Shasta College, writes in The Chronicle of Higher Education that teaching an online class helped make one of her poetry assignments better. “Now, when I teach this course in person, I use the assignment as I have it online,” she writes.
However, not all professors prefer an online format. The results of a 2009 survey by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities show that most faculty members feel traditional courses educate better than online classes do. Faculty members also think that the preparation and instruction of online courses require them to expend themselves more.
Exhibit C: The General Public’s Reaction
Even if academia had fully accepted online courses, the general public would not agree. The 2011 Pew Center survey referenced earlier reports that less than one-third of the public believes online classes provide as good of an education as on-campus classes do. Ginger Zillges, the Assistant Vice President of Online Learning and Instructional Technology at Regent University’s Center for Teaching and Learning, says that this perception is ultimately false. She says the “delivery mode” has little to do with educational quality. “It’s the instruction that’s the powerful piece,” she says.
A decision about online education is not easy when the evidence from students, staff, and the public is taken together. Now, you be the judge.