By Scott Smith
In 2001, following the approval from the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, Cameron University launched complete online programs in the fields of Associate of Applied Science, Applied Technology, and the Associate of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies.
Since then, Cameron University has added a number of other degrees that are formally recognized as fully available online.
Currently, there are over 2,000 Cameron students enrolled in one or more online courses this semester.
For students seeking a college education, online classes offer a level of flexibility that traditional in-person classes do not; however, there are challenges that are presented when taking online classes.
One of the initial challenges for online classes is simply learning how to use resources such as Blackboard. Professors upload and structure assignments in many different ways. Each professor develops a curriculum that is specific to how the they want the work to be accomplished.
Outside learning tools such as online textbooks offer homework assignments that link to Blackboard. Learning how those work is essential to completing assignments. Also, online databases are a vital part of many research projects.
One of the biggest areas in online classes that differ from traditional in-person classes is communication with the professors.
In a traditional format, students can ask questions and have discussions, while professors can elaborate on material and interject their wisdom into conversations about subjects that they are teaching.
Additionally, in the online format, students have to rely on emails and discussion board forums to gain answers about assignments and other items. Sometimes, the responses from professors are not received as quickly as wanted or in some cases, needed.
Dr. Christopher Keller is Director of Educator Preparation here at Cameron University and gave his perspective on communication, saying that it is definitely tougher in an online environment.
“If I see a class once or twice a week, I have tactics in my teacher-toolbox for communicating with my students,” Keller said. “Missed assignments, feedback on projects or writing, or even simply checking how they are doing are much easier to just simply ask. Online classes are primarily email based communication, and both teachers and students get text-fatigue after a while.”
Keller also said that it is important for students to call, stop by in person, Zoom, or schedule an appointment with their professors.
“Putting a face with a name will absolutely help both the teacher and the students communicate better,” Keller said.
Keller offered comments in the area of student engagement.
“Engagement is a constant struggle in online learning. It is my job as an instructional designer to ensure my asynchronous courses reach or exceed the same levels of student engagement and interaction as my face-to-face courses.
“Technology helps, and instructors can use multiple modes of media to create authentic learning spaces, but it is difficult and time consuming.”
“Good classroom teachers can shift or pivot on the fly if something is not working in their curriculum, pedagogy, or classroom management. In online courses, one a module or unit or lesson is deployed, changing directions or modifying strategies is a harder task, both for the instructor and the students,” Keller said.
When it comes to online classes, students have plenty to say as well. Megan Bermel is an Organizational Leadership major at Cameron. She takes classes exclusively online and has never been to campus.
Bermel said that one of her most positive experiences in taking online classes is being able to take tests in testing centers instead of in the classroom where she tends to get distracted by other students. She also said that she really appreciates the interaction with her professors.
“It seems to be, there are more email conversations had while being a distance learning student than when I was an ‘in-class,’ student.” Bermel said.
Bermel said that she would not likely take an in-person class as she is better at working alone in a study room or at home.
“I get very distracted by people walking by, talking and fidgeting in class,” Bermel said.
Bermel said she does think there are benefits to in-person learning even though she prefers online classes.
“I do feel like I miss out on events and things around campus,” Bermel said. “Campus life is a huge part of the college experience, but as an adult who has experienced campus life, I really do not feel that I am missing out on much. With online courses, I have made friends in my first semester that I continue to communicate with, and I have more time to dedicate to my job and my family. The flexibility of online course has made my home life not as stressful!”
While traditional in-person classes offer a valuable level of communication and instruction that online classes may be lacking, online classes do offer a high level of flexibility in areas where it would be impossible for some people to further their education due to work or family constraints.
In-person classes also offer chances at friendship, comradery and on-campus events.
While online classes can also build friendships and lasting relationships, it may be much more challenging through discussion boards.
Whether choosing distance-learning online, or traditional in-person classes, be prepared as there are challenges with each method of study.