Experiencing the virtual classroom

Credit: Navneet Pall
Credit: Navneet Pall

Sitting on her bed, Faye Sillas turns on her laptop. She waits comfortably, in her pyjamas, for it to open up. Unfortunately, she still cannot find the motivation to do the required assignment for her online class, which is due in two hours.

With the summer session now in full swing, online classes seem more appealing to students since they are a better alternative to making the trip to school. They easily attract students, allowing them to plan their time accordingly, and make the most of their summer vacation. However, flexibility is also one of the major causes for students’ lack of motivation, causing them to choose to do their work last minute, as in the week before the exam.

“I find myself putting the work off more than the other classes where I’m forced to attend,’’ said Sillas, an economics student who has taken seven online classes. “However, when I actually get down to start looking at it I find it very effective and I keep going.”

Online courses provide different tools used to help students such as videos and discussion boards where they can ask other students and teaching assistants for help. Unlike in a physical classroom, teachers cannot elaborate on the information given, therefore they need to make the subject especially clear online.

“A lot of the online classes have teaching assistance and they answer your questions and many of them don’t know exactly what the teacher wants or they don’t know how to explain certain things. So if the TAs and the professors communicate effectively amongst each other than the students would learn better and would know what to expect,” added Sillas.

Lucian Turcescu, a teacher in the department of theology at Concordia, says he uses about the same amount of information online as when he taught his class, Origins of Christianity, in a regular classroom.

Some negative aspects of online classes are that students do not experience the dynamics of being in class, where debates and discussions take place. Technical difficulties may occur, but according to Turcescu they are not frequent. However, it is challenging for teachers to teach online courses since there are no personal encounters with students.

“I try to supplement that by creating audio files pointing to the main ideas,’’ said Tucescu. “The communication is also different obviously when people ask questions face to face. I think that the options are different in an online class and right now for example there is an increasing push by Concordia to make the online experience more interactive.’’

Online classes are more lenient since there is no teacher watching over the quizzes, and it can become easier to cheat. But Turcescu advises students to think twice if they believe online courses are open to cheating.

“I had fourteen cases of plagiarism in the final exam, which I all reported last session. This is the first time it’s such a large number,” he added. “I had one incident like that in the summer, but never before people plagiarizing in the final exam from Wikipedia.”

Fred Szabo, a teacher in the mathematics department, is a promoter of online classes. He finds that students are computer savvy, and therefore pioneers like himself should use the tools they are accustomed to.

According to Szabo and Turcescu, the grades achieved by students in class are the same or even better when compared to online classes.

Szabo believes online courses need happy, mature students, who are motivated to take advantage of what the university has to offer. Programs such as Face Time, Skype, and Adobe Connect are being considered by teachers to find ways to create a personal connection online.

“What you can do, much better than having hoards of people trying to sit in a hockey rink to write these exams, is to use random checks, use Face Time, Skype, or something like this and randomly pick students to have to report online,” Szabo said of his opinion that students should be able to do their final exams online with teachers randomly checking in on them.

With the lack of motivation, students being unprepared and doing their work last minute, an expert on motivation and psychology teacher, Harry Galina, said that students should follow the course agenda and establish contact with the professor. Students should take advantage of the resources they have in order to succeed in their online class, as well as keeping on top on things and staying motivated.


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