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ONLINE SUCCESS

FAQs

  1. How do online courses work?
  2. Why teach online?
  3. What are the benefits of online learning for students?
  4. What are the benefits of online learning for instructors?
  5. What are the disadvantages of online learning for students?
  6. What are the disadvantages of online learning for instructors?
  7. How can an instructor prepare to teach online?
  8. How can I ensure that I develop an effective course?
  9. Is online learning/teaching as effective as face-to-face learning/teaching?
  10. What about academic rigor? Can online courses be as rigorous as face-to-face courses?
  11. What about ethical issues? Are there any special considerations for online courses?
  12. Isn't there a higher drop rate in online classes?
  13. How can you be sure the student taking an online exam is the same as the student enrolled in the class?
  14. Won't online course offerings impact enrollment in onsite classes?
  15. What about lab courses - how can you teach hands-on-skills via a computer?
  16. Are there some courses that shouldn't be taught online?
  17. What kind of student is likely to succeed in an online class?
  18. What about articulation of courses?
  19. What is the position of the State Academic Senate?

     

How do online courses work?

Online classes are similar to face-to-face classes in the sense that there is an instructor and students involved in teaching and learning. Grades, presentations, assignments, group discussions, textbooks, tests, and college credit can be components of online classes. Such courses are delivered over the Internet, and instructors can utilize web pages, e-mail, online discussion forums, and other Internet technologies (these tools are often bundled together in a special software package called a course management system, e.g. Canvas and other course management software). Students "attend" class by accessing a course management system through the Internet and completing assignments according to a class schedule. They regularly communicate via e-mail and bulletin board postings, and completed assignments are often turned in electronically.

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Why teach online?

Online learning is an exciting modality, which tends to draw in a whole new demographic group. Many of these students have always wanted to attend college, but have been limited by time constraints and other factors. For example, disabled people, stay-at-home parents, working adults, and servicemen stationed overseas find online courses to be convenient.

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What are the benefits of online learning for students?

Students in online courses tend to be engaged with their instructor and receive more personalized feedback. The online asynchronous, interactive environment may even enhance their collaboration and conversation. In addition, those who might feel less confident expressing their views in a face-to-face environment - such as those from diverse backgrounds - are more likely to 'speak up' in an online forum. And many students appreciate the flexibility and convenience of this learning environment.

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What are the benefits of online learning for instructors?

The most obvious advantage is that instructors can teach these courses from anywhere, which is especially convenient for faculty with young children or those who cannot always be on campus for other reasons. Instructors have the freedom of communicating with students whenever they wish, not just during office hours. And they tend to be facilitators in this environment, rather than lecturers (a guide on the side instead of a sage on the stage).

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What are the disadvantages of online learning for students?

The online environment can feel cold and distant unless instructors strive to humanize their courses. Some students need personal face-to-face contact in order to thrive. And students with certain learning styles or those who lack computer skills may find the online environment to be too challenging.

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What are the disadvantages of online learning for instructors?

Online teaching is more time consuming and requires sophisticated organization and planning, especially for courses that are highly interactive. Some instructors find the 24/7 learning environment to be overwhelming, as it is paramount that they are responsive to student inquiries in a timely manner. Many complain that they have to answer too many e-mail messages and/or bulletin board postings. In addition, if the course is designed well to maximize learning, it will be extremely demanding on the instructor's workload.

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How can an instructor prepare to teach online?

It is helpful to take an online course to find out how it feels to learn in this environment. There are also a number of courses about how to do effective online teaching-many of which are offered online. First time instructors should have strong computer skills and know how to use a course management system, such as Canvas. Experience with creating websites is also useful.

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How can I ensure that I develop an effective course?

In most cases, it is paramount to design the course completely before it begins. This will be time consuming, but will pay off later. Instructors should make sure all online materials - such as links on the course website, class guidelines, and other information - are up-to-date. They should develop a plan to facilitate e-mail and bulletin board postings efficiently. This means setting firm guidelines, as instructors do not want to be answering questions at every moment of the day. Instructors should also attempt to iron out all foreseeable technology issues ahead of time.

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Is online learning/teaching as effective as face-to-face learning/teaching?

Online students generally test as well as or better than students in equivalent face-to-face courses. Peter Navarro and Judy Shoemaker (1999) reported a study involving several hundred undergraduate students taking an introductory economics course at UC Irvine. Their findings indicated that these online students learned as well as, or better than, the traditional learners-regardless of gender, ethnicity, academic background, computer skills and academic aptitude. As Ronald Owston (1997) points out, "the key to promoting improved learning with the Web appears to lie within how effectively the medium is exploited in the teaching-learning situation." It is no secret that college graduates are increasingly expected to apply critical thinking skills, solve problems, write well, and work collaboratively with other learners. These aptitudes are more likely to be developed in a well-designed online environment than a face-to-face course.

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What about academic rigor? Can online courses be as rigorous as face-to-face courses?

Can online courses be as rigorous as face-to-face courses? Research has shown that a well-designed online course can be just as rigorous as its face-to-face counterpart. For example, in one study at CSU Northridge, students were randomly assigned to either an online section or a face-to-face section for a course in Social Statistics. Texts, lectures, and exams were standardized between the two modalities. Surprisingly, the online students scored an average of 20% higher on their exams than those in the traditional class.

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What about ethical issues? Are there any special considerations for online courses?

Are there any special considerations for online courses? As in face-to face courses, always try to maintain communications at a professional level. In your syllabus set clear communication policies about sexist, racist, or aggressive remarks. A helpful suggestion is to review the rules of "Netiquette" with your students. As the instructor you also must set rules about confidentiality of discussions, prerequisite knowledge for the course (if any is necessary), methods of assessment, and deadlines. Everyone should understand your rules when they begin your course.

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Isn't there a higher drop rate in online classes?

Yes. To date, retention rates in community college online courses are hovering at around 50%. As students become more familiar with this learning modality, we may see a change in this statistic. It should be noted that this is still an emerging delivery mode, and many students have not yet been exposed to it. Also studies reveal that faculty can improve retention rates by prescreening students for learning styles; determining their level of computer literacy; offering face-to-face orientations; ensuring frequent student/instructor contact; and increasing the number of projects (opportunities for evaluation). Effective counseling should also improve retention rates. However, there is no doubt that online learning is not for everyone.

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How can you be sure the student taking an online exam is the same as the student enrolled in the class?

Most online instructors require that exams be proctored. Some instructors give take-home exams, writing assignments and discussion board assignments. Or they offer fewer points for exams and place greater grading emphasis on time-consuming projects, with the idea is that it would be difficult for students to convince others to complete these projects. Also, it is frequently pointed out that in teaching a face-to-face class we don't always know if a particular student is really the student registered for the course. John Doe may have convinced Jack Smith to attend all of his classes for him. Or how do we know in a face-to-face course that "Student A" actually authored the writing assignment or term paper that he or she gave the instructor for a grade. It is true that there is some loss of control/security in the online learning environment. The question then becomes, "How much policing do we want to do?'

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Won't online course offerings impact enrollment in onsite classes?

All the evidence, both nationally and locally, indicates that the majority of the students taking online classes would not have otherwise enrolled in school.

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What about lab courses - how can you teach hands-on-skills via a computer?

Many lab classes are being taught in a "hybrid" or "blended" style, whereby the lecture material is delivered online and the lab component is offered in a face-to-face environment. These courses can be made available to students living at a distance if students are able to identify appropriate supervised labs to use. Or instructors can design these courses so that students can do their lab work at home. And many chemistry and biology classes being taught online using "dry" labs. In time more sophisticated lab simulations will be developed and made available for online students.

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Are there some courses that shouldn't be taught online?

There are courses that are not truly suited for the online environment, such as tennis, certain lab courses, or advanced medical work. Still, virtually every course imaginable is currently available in cyberspace.

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What kind of student is likely to succeed in an online class?

Successful online students tend to have the following characteristics: they have access to a computer, a modem and an Internet connection; they are at ease with navigating the web and using E-mail; they communicate well in writing and like to read; they are self-motivated and self-disciplined; they are able to commit from 4 to 15 hours per week for each course; they are willing and able to use critical thinking and decision making as part of the learning process; they are willing to participate in the virtual classroom 5 to 7 days a week; they enjoy working collaboratively with classmates on projects; and they are happily engaged in an online learning environment. Non-traditional students - older students with careers and/or families - tend to do better than undergraduates right out of high school, though this will probably change as online learning makes its way into the secondary schools.

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What about articulation of courses?

Courses taught online are not identified as such in any college document. They transfer and articulate in the same way as their onsite counterparts.

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What is the position of the State Academic Senate?

The State Senate has been on the vanguard of supporting online teaching.

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Citations:

Beffa-Negrini, Patricia, Brian Miller and Nancy L. Cohen. “Factors for success in online
and face-to-face instruction.” Academic Exchange Quarterly Winter 2001: 4-11.

Forinash, Kyle and Raymond Wiseman. “The Viability of Distance Education Science
Laboratories.” Technological Horizons in Education September 2001.

Navarro, Peter and Judy Shoemaker. “The Power of Cyberlearning: An Empirical Test. Journal of Computing in Higher Education October 1999.

Owston, Ronald. “The World Wide Web: A Technology to Enhance Teaching and
Learning?” Educational Researcher March 1997.

Schulman, Allan and Randy Sims. “Learning in an Online Format Versus In-Class
Format.” Technological Horizons in Education Journal June 1999.

Schutte, Jerald. "Virtual Teaching in Higher Education: The New Intellectual
Superhighway or Just Another Traffic Jam?" 1997
<http://www.csun.edu/sociology/virex.htm>.

Sheinberg, Moises. “Know Thy Learner: The Importance of Context in E-Learning Design.” ASTD learning Circuits 2001

Vasarhelyi, M and L. Graham. “Cybersmart: Education and the Internet.” Management
Accounting August 1998: 32-36.

Young, Suzanne, Pamela P. Cantrell and Dale G. Shaw. “Online Instruction: New Roles
for Teachers and Students.” Academic Exchange Quarterly Winter 2001: 1-18.

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