Assistant physics professor Jonathan Secaur teaches two classes and a lab online at Kent State.
He is the man behind the online versions of Seven Ideas that Shook the Universe and Physics in the Arts and Entertainment and believes online classes are necessary because of the high demand for them.
“It’s not a matter of trying to replicate a face-to-face class but rather to optimize the experience for people who are doing it online,“ Secaur said.
The number of students enrolled in online classes has been steadily rising since 2009. As of 2013, more than 16,000 students are enrolled in online classes at Kent State’s main campus, according to a Distance Learning and Online Courses and Enrollment Data report from Kent’s research, planning and institutional effectiveness website.
Provost Todd Diacon said there are various reasons for the incline in enrollment in online classes, and one is that anyone can take them. He said during the semester, online class enrollment is driven not only by Kent State students but also those who want to earn credit at another university.
“There is a significant number of general education courses that non-Kent State students can take and transfer those credits to another college,” Diacon said.
Diacon said two out of every three Kent State students has taken an online class. He said one of the reasons students take online classes is convenience.
Deborah Huntsman, executive director of the Office of Continuing and Distance Education, agreed that convenience is a reason students take online courses.
“By taking online classes, [students] are able to balance more in their life,” Huntsman said.
Junior finance major Olivia Biasella said she likes online courses not only for the convenience but also for the available class resources.
“You can do it on your own time,” Biasella said. “If you don’t understand something, you can go back and look at Power Points and listen to lectures.”
Sophomore psychology major Seth Sparks said he enjoys online classes, but he would not recommend them for core classes.
“Because you have to take it, you’ll probably have little interest and will be less likely to retain information learned in the class,” Sparks said.
He also said that while it’s nice to work at his own pace, it’s best to not put homework off until the last second. He said his three tips to someone taking an online class are: “Have a reliable Internet connection, don’t wait until the last minute, and don’t forget about it.”
Huntsman said many graduate students take online classes, which is beneficial for them because they are better able to work around other classes. She also said undergraduate students take online classes for more than the flexibility.
“Some just prefer the interaction,” Huntsman said.
While some students like the online environment, freshman anthropology major John Jones said he thinks online classes are impersonal because he doesn’t have a physical presence in the classroom. He also said meeting the people in his classes is important for interaction.
“I think I would be missing out on part of the college experience that way because part of the college experience is networking and making friends and meeting new people and widening your horizons,” Jones said.
“It enriches your life and makes you a more adaptable person. It makes you smarter — I think — overall and makes you better prepared for a world full of people that are different than you. It let’s you respect them.”
Secaur said at first he was concerned about how he would be able to teach an online class without using in-class demonstrations until he thought about it differently. He said he realized what he couldn’t do in class he can do online.
Secaur also said he wants to make his online classes more interactive because students learn from their own experiences. He said it is not the teacher who fills students with knowledge, but the students themselves.
“I really believe that nobody can really teach anything to anybody, which sounds crazy for a teacher to say,” Secaur said. “What we teachers do is not teach you anything. What we do is design quality work for you to do and present a wide array of pieces, like Lego blocks, that you as a student can build your own understanding.
“All knowledge is constructed in the mind of the learner. Simply passing the pieces whole doesn’t really do much. To really understand something, you have to assemble it yourself.”
Secaur said good teaching is not defined by whether or not a class is online or in person, but online classes make it easier for students to learn.
“It isn’t just filling up your head with stuff,” he said. “It’s giving you stuff, but making you responsible for building that stuff into meaningful, understandings. The online environment is really good for that.”
Secaur said he engages his students by giving them quality work that causes them to be more involved in learning.
“I really believe the things I ask them to do are worthwhile,” he said. “They’re not busy work. They’re as engaging as I can imagine making them, and they’re as realistic and meaningful as I can imagine making them, too.
“I give students different modalities in which they can learn, in which they can pick up the pieces, and then they can assemble them in their own minds to really come to an understanding.“
Secaur said people are like planes — planes are built to fly, people are built to learn.
“We’re wired to understand — it’s in our very nature,” he said. “We love to learn. We may act like we don’t, but we love to learn.”
Contact Marissa Barnhart at [email protected]