MSU ventures into the world of online classes

By CASSIDY GEOGHEGAN/Montana State News

The Montana State University administration has been trying to increase the availability of online core classes. However, finding faculty that is both willing and has the time and knowledge to do so has been a struggle, according to English professor Josef Verbanac.

“Online courses are extremely time-consuming, not easy, and often there is not a lot of support when using technology as a teaching tool,” Verbanac said. On average, an online class is three to four times more time-consuming than a typical on campus class, according to Verbanac. He believes that the amount of time an online class requires is not adequately stressed by faculty.

“Online classes aren’t for everyone. They require a tremendous amount of self-motivation and discipline. The faculty stresses that online classes are great because of the flexibility, but that is a misnomer. They don’t stress the rigor.”

Also, it is a much heavier workload for the teachers, as well. “Administering tests online often takes double the time to administer than tests in the classroom,” Verbanac said.

Kristin Ruppel, chair of the Native American Studies department says, “It really depends on the course, whether it is difficult or not. They can be more challenging than face-to-face courses simply because students have to be more self-motivated, and because they usually require substantial amounts of reading and writing.”

When asked what the largest benefit of teaching online is, Ruppel said, “Being able to work from anywhere, but that is also a drawback because you can never get away from it.”

What classes MSU chooses to offer online is completely up to the department itself. Ruppel explains, “No one has told us what we should or shouldn’t put online. We’ve been encouraged to offer more courses online, that’s all. What we decide to put online is up to us, and there are certain courses that we’ve decided wouldn’t work well as online courses, such as graduate theory and method courses.”

When considering what the most effective methods of online education are, Verbanac points to a blended model, which uses online resources and online learning with face-to-face activity and in-class learning.

Ruppel echo’s Verbanac’s claim that a blended model works best. “I don’t mind teaching online, but I prefer a blended approach, which it turns out, seems to be the most effective teaching and learning method.” Ruppel teaches several NAS courses.

What remains to be seen is whether institutions look at what is most successful for students and instructors or what is easy to administer and profitable, or if the answer is somewhere in between.

The future of online education is bright at MSU, and Ruppel believes there will continue to be an increase in virtual classrooms in the future. “But I think there will always be a place for the face-to-face.”

One of Ruppel’s students, Stacey McMillan, says she benefits from online classes. “I can fit them in around work and being a mom. I don’t have a set time that I have to be in class.”

But even for supporters of online education, there are certain things you just can’t glean from taking a class online.

McMillan explains: “The largest drawback is the lack of spontaneous discussion that typically occurs in a classroom setting. Comments made in postings can also be misconstrued and the author doesn’t have a chance to clarify.”

Right now, MSU is working towards obtaining the resources and infrastructure to continue a solid online education program. One thing holding students back, however, is that the costs of online classes are more expensive than those in the classroom. Verbanc explains “Once institutions get more of those things automated, those extra fees will go away.

However, for MSU junior Monica Van Hatten the two classes she has taken online, Drugs and Society and Human Sexuality (both taught by James Carter), were not difficult. “I would say they were more fast-paced than normal, but not that much day-to-day homework.” However, when asked whether cost was a factor, she was quick to explain that it is.

“I definitely will try and not take any more online classes because they are a lot pricier than brick and mortar classes at MSU. However, they were a great option for me when I was home in California during the summer.”

Another student offers a different perspective.

MSU Junior Madeleine Sherrier said she completely underestimated the time that was needed to do well in an online class. Last summer, she took Introduction to International Business. “I had never taken an online class before and I thought it would for sure be easier than classes in the classroom. I don’t think I could have been more wrong about that.” According to Sherrier, “Halfway through the session, I was struggling to keep up with the weekly assignments.”

Sherrier offers some advice to students who are considering taking an online class. “Students should definitely treat it as a regular class. They should set up a time and log in everyday for an hour at that time. That will really help them take the class seriously so they can succeed, which is ultimately what MSU wants.”

– Edited by Kevin Knapek

 

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