Web classes offer alternative learning

Megan Whinnery

Five years ago, Assistant English Professor Marilyn Seguin never thought she would be able to establish relationships with students she never actually met. That was before she realized students who take her online classes can have just as much personality as the students who take her traditional classes.

“I have one student I still correspond with, although we have never met,” she said.

Online classes are increasing in popularity. When Seguin taught her first Business and Professional Writing class online, there were two sections of the class. Now there are eight.

Students and faculty alike have differing views on the pros and cons of online courses.

Reaping the benefits

Seguin’s course was developed in partnership with Lorain County Community College. Seguin said many students who attend the community college also work, and would not have the opportunity to take the course if it were only offered at Kent State.

“One of the benefits of taking a course online is that the student has more control of his/her time,” Seguin said. “But one of the hardest things for students is remembering when things are due.”

Seguin sends students e-mails reminding them assignments are due.

Seguin said the students who are most successful in online courses are organized and very self-disciplined.

The flexibility of online courses could be why they are becoming more popular.

“Since the students aren’t tied to a traditional classroom, they can fit more into their own time frame,” multimedia developer Deb Murphy said.

Murphy said she couldn’t think of any disadvantages of taking courses non-traditionally although she said Internet problems could cause a temporary loss of coursework.

Accounting technology major Krista Golden didn’t get to choose the format for her economics class. The class was supposed to be offered traditionally, but was later changed to a WebCT section online.

“What I really liked about taking a class online is that I can access my grades,” she said. “I take quizzes and as soon as I’m done I get the results immediately.”

Golden finds it beneficial to play back the class lectures when studying for an exam. Stopping the lecture also helps her take better notes, although she said it is frustrating having to wait until the end to ask the instructor questions.

Accounting professor Norm Meonske gets more questions online than he ever did from students in his traditional class. He said many students are reluctant to ask questions in class for fear of embarrassment.

Meonske said that while technical difficulties do sometimes occur, they aren’t as bad as in the early days of distance learning. He said technology is what is standing between Kent State and more distance learning classes.

“I think Kent State is behind in online education,” he said. “A lot of faculty are too lazy to create an online course.”

When online goes wrong

Lee Boyle, a junior English major, rarely misses class, but when he took an iLinc English grammar class with Associate Professor John Jewell, he didn’t feel as guilty when he skipped.

“Taking courses online makes students feel much less guilty about skipping class,” Boyle said. Boyle said he had mixed feelings about online-based classes, but given a choice he said he would much rather take a traditional desk-and-lecturn class.

“The level of intensity in the class is much greater in person,” he said. “I prefer traditional classes because you just feel more of a connection altogether.”

But Boyle said Jewell’s personality really came through the camera, but there were auditory drawbacks of not taking the class in person.

“I’m a really auditory person,” Boyle said. “It’s easier to pick up expression in a live voice because the computer muffles the sound.”

The flexibility online courses offer causes some students to fall behind.

This flexibility is one reason sophomore nursing major Ashley Bryant would never take a course non-traditionally.

“If I could do the work whenever I wanted, it probably wouldn’t get done,” she said. “I’m the biggest procrastinator in the world.”

Bryant said she wouldn’t take an online course is because students get more interaction in a traditional classroom setting.

Associate English Professor Craig Paulenich said human interaction is critical to the acts of teaching and learning.

“It’s the interaction that can’t happen with a screen,” he said. “You can’t overcome the fact that you’re just not there.”

Paulenich works off of what his students do in class, something technology at this point won’t allow.

“I’ll be the last guy at Kent State using a chalkboard,” he said.

Contact academic computing reporter Megan Whinnery at [email protected].