More than 120 eLearning classes were offered to Pierce College students during fall quarter 2013, nearly 20 percent more than winter quarter 2013.
Online classes offer opportunities to students, but a new set of challenges to instructors.
Pierce College Puyallup President Marty Cavalluzzi praises the accessibility and opportunities offered by online classes.
“Online education has enabled many students to continue their education,” Cavalluzzi said. “It offers a flexibility so they can participate in the class.”
Flexible schedules and accessibility from any place with a computer makes these classes popular with students who aren’t able to travel or have busy schedules.
While online classes are facing higher enrollment numbers, instructors are facing a new form of teaching. Facing the challenges of still developing technology, instructors must breach the divide of an online platform to reach students.
“It can be difficult to help someone understand something when they’re not in front of me,” said Dr. Kathryn Keith, anthropology professor at Pierce College Puyallup.
Keith is teaching a cultural anthropology class online along with her on-campus anthropology classes.
Despite the different class forms, Keith said she makes the workload of her online classes equal to her on-campus classes.
“I went by what the college catalogue said; these classes should be equivalent,” Keith said.
Cavalluzzi said many online classes go through a national panel called Quality Matters. It certifies the class as an adequate online course, as to ensure the online classes have the same academic level as the on-campus classes.
No instructor is required to go through this review panel, but any instructor who has a class certified is better prepared to construct another online class that’ll pass the review panel.
Cavalluzzi said he hopes that eventually all online classes will go through the Quality Matters panel.
While online classes are sometimes perceived as easier by students, they certainly aren’t easier for instructors to teach. The online classes have additional grading because of the inconsistent automatic test grading on the Canvas software, monitoring of discussion boards and answering student emails. Ralph Morasch, a chemistry professor at Pierce College, said he spends 10 to 15 hours a week for each online class.
“It is much harder to interact with students though typing,” Morasch said. “A simple concept which face-to-face could be talked through in a few minutes might take an hour to type in and relay to the student.”
Dr. Joseph Cates-Carney, a natural science professor at Pierce College, chooses not to teach online classes because of the loss of interaction with students, the faulty grading system and the lag time in communication on Canvas.
From the difficulties of dealing with Canvas, Cates-Carney said some classes just can’t translate onto online, such as the dissections in his anatomy and physiology class.
“There’s no substitute for getting your hand in the rat and cutting,” Cates-Carney said. “Something gets lost in this push.”
The loss of interaction between students with other students and with their professors may be good.
No hierarchy is established among the students within the class, based on their previous experiences and classes, Cavalluzzi said.
However, Cates-Carney said students in some classes, such as psychology and philosophy, lose important in-class discussions on an online platform.
“I’d rather have too much interaction than not enough,” Cates-Carney said.
Cavalluzzi said that, in the future, enrollment for online classes at Pierce may involve a slightly more in-depth process, ensuring that students are put in a learning format that they can thrive in.
“Some students shouldn’t be in the online environment,” Cavalluzzi said.
A screening process involving a quiz or a meeting with an advisor could help direct students to a class that is the best fit for the individual student.
Many professors may appreciate this approach.
“Online students either get it and thrive, or don’t and crash,” Keith said.
Students must be self-motivated, and have good time management to do well in online classes, according to Keith.
The online classes have deadlines that often have less room for negotiation, and there’s less opportunity for instructors to change the class schedule based on the needs of the students.
“Students have a different kind of accountability,” Keith said.
Cheating is just as much an issue for online classes as on-campus classes.
To prevent cheating, professors run papers through plagiarism identification software and check for consistent quality in work, Cavalluzzi said.
The approach is not much different than an on-campus class. To prevent cheating on tests, Cavalluzzi said some online classes require students take their tests in the testing center on campus, or at a place where the test can be proctored.
Despite the challenges that online classes produce, the benefits of accessibility and flexibility ensure that more online classes will continue to be offered at Pierce.
As for teaching the online classes, Morasch sees the positives.
“I am helping students learn a subject I deeply love,” Morasch said. “I am teaching.”
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