By Megan Roth, CVPost Intern
As online classes at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire have increased, a key question has become whether they offer the best educational option for college students.
That question has become more pertinent for students, faculty members and administrators as the school has increased the number of online course options. There will be a total of 206 such courses for the spring, 2018 semester, according to the UW-EC Registrar’s Office.
Are Online Courses Equally Challenging?
The key question with online courses is whether they are equally challenging and as thorough as traditional in-class instruction. To begin to provide an answer, the Chippewa Valley Post interviewed 15 current UW-EC students.
Nine of them said they felt the online classes they took were beneficial and provided learning opportunities at their own pace. The other six said they felt the courses were not as beneficial long term since class material was available to them even during exams, and therefore less memorization was required.
Some students said they didn’t receive as many benefits as they would have if they attended in-class courses, due to the lack of face-to-face communication. Students who took online courses in Nursing or Psychology said they focused less on memorization because their notes were always readily available to them.
This was true even during exams, since faculty members aren’t able to monitor how each individual student takes the exams and quizzes.
However, four students, in the fields of Business and Communication, felt they received equal learning benefits online as they would have in class, except for the lack of interpersonal communication.
Martha Fay, a UWEC faculty member in Communication and Journalism, said that when she first started teaching her online course she was afraid she would not enjoy it as much as in-class courses. However, she ended up loving it due to the online discussions and the personal drive of her students, she said.
The course was offered to non-traditional as well as traditional students. Fay said she feels that online courses are beneficial for her students because they provide an opportunity to complete the course work with a more flexible schedule.
Brenda Thalacker, a Senior Accounting Lecturer at UW-EC, taught a beginning level accounting course this fall, along with an MBA course, both online. She said, much like Fay, that online courses offer unique opportunities for students who need a more flexible schedule with classes. She added that a disadvantage of this option is the reduced interaction between students and professors.
The benefits of an online class could also depend on the area of study. Lori Snyder, Senior Lecturer in Geology, has taught “Future of Global Energy” six times online and said, “Online courses allow me to use a lot of online sources and materials.”
However, she noted that online courses do not offer the same positive learning discussions as traditional courses. She believes a good alternative to this could be hybrid courses.
Such courses consist of half online class and half in-class materials. UW-EC will offer 44 hybrid courses for the upcoming spring semester.
Madeline Lunzer, a UW-EC Communication Studies student, took a Communication and Journalism Public Speaking course as a hybrid. She said she would learn the course material outside of class and present her speeches in-class.
Lunzer said she enjoyed this style of course because it made the speeches less intimidating since she was able to learn the course material at her own pace.
Growth in Online Courses
UW-EC has offered courses since 1916, but in the last 15 years online courses have become more popular. In the spring semester, UWEC will offer 3,367 classes in-person and, as noted above, 206 others online.
According to Michael Carney, UW-EC’s Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, the university did not start offering online courses for budget reasons, but rather to help UW-EC stay competitive with other universities. He explained that the online courses help students complete courses more conveniently, such as during summer or winter break, as well as taking classes from remote locations and finding classes that fit neatly into their schedule.
Carney said that the challenge with online courses is professors being comfortable teaching them and effectively converting in-class materials to online courses. However, he said the use of online courses will continue to grow, so UW-EC can stay competitive with other universities.