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The curious case of keeping up with online classes

by George Menexis October 29, 2013
The curious case of keeping up with online classes

In an age where the simplest of tasks are being made easier through online access, it would only seem natural that even our education would adopt a place online. Well it has, for a while now, with online classes. Although it does have its advantages, it also has certain issues that have some students, including myself, thinking twice before registering for them.

Graphic by Jennifer Kwan

There are two types of students who take online classes. There are the disciplined ones, the ones that set a day to complete assignments and go over the weekly chapter. Then, of course, there are the ones who can’t learn a thing without teachers constantly reminding them what their homework is.

“Courses delivered solely online may be fine for highly skilled, highly motivated people, but they are inappropriate for struggling students who make up a significant portion of college enrollment and who need close contact with instructors to succeed,” said a New York Times editorial from earlier this year.

Online classes are much more difficult for the second kind of student. A lack of discipline when taking an online class is like travelling down the most slippery of educational slopes. Therefore, it isn’t recommended if you have trouble staying on top of assignments, even when you have a teacher to constantly remind you.

Getting in touch with the teacher can sometimes be exceedingly difficult. Due to the fact that there is no face-to-face contact throughout the semester (except perhaps during final exams), getting questions answered is more difficult than one may think. Teaching assistants become overwhelmed with the number of emails they receive, and some may end up going unanswered. The last thing a student really needs is to end up on a wild goose chase looking for their TA or their teacher for a simple question that can be answered in two minutes.

Also, what if a student has connection issues during a quiz and ends up failing because of it, despite their best efforts? This is a serious issue that deserves the professor’s attention, and yet can take weeks to fix.

“I’ve had so many issues with online classes, I don’t think I’ll be taking one again any time soon,” said JMSB student Panagiota Papagrigoriou, who enrolled in Concordia’s “Chemistry in our Lives” (CHEM 208).

“I missed a quiz once because of scheduling issues, and didn’t get an answer for weeks,” she said. “It’s stressful not knowing what’s happening with a huge chunk of your grade.”

Montgomery College located in Maryland, just outside Washington D.C. recognizes the disadvantages to these classes, and makes them known to those interested in enrolling in an online class through a top “Ten Disadvantages of Online Classes” list on their website. This type of precaution is a good idea for classes that are still somewhat new to our education system. On this top 10, the warnings vary from procrastinators beware, to the fact that these classes often create a sense of isolation for the student. The main warning is to be careful what you do with the excess freedom these classes give you.

According to Columbia University’s Community College Research Center, which has completed nine academic studies on online classes, results show that they do not provide a better education than traditional classes, and that online classes aren’t more advantageous for low-income students.

Overall, make sure you know what type of student you are before you enrol in one of these ever-popular online classes. It just might be the opposite of what you expected.

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