Online Classes Broaden Students’ Horizons

by Lauren Owens

Horizon Reporter

Abby Owens, a student at Whatcom, has taken a physiology, chemistry, and a history class online. Even though her teacher expected 25 hours a week in front of the computer, it was not enforced, and she spent around 6 to 10 hours on the computer a week.

“ I would recommend it to another student, but I would not do it again because I don’t apply myself correctly for an online class,” Owens said.

E-learning is not for everyone. Since students have control of when and how much they work, they need to be self-motivated, and manage their time properly. “I found myself brushing off the work, and cramming at the last minute,” Owens said. However, she did not notice a drop nor an increase in her overall grade or performance.

With consistent declining state funds and an increasing number of students, Whatcom Community College can increase annual revenue by adding more online classes instead of constructing more space for classrooms. In 2005, there were 911 students at Whatcom enrolled in an e-learning class. By this fall, the number of students enrolled in online classes had nearly doubled, to 1,792.

Over the past two years, Whatcom has added 75 new online classes and hopes to add 10 to 15 new e-learning courses a year, said Michael Shepard, Whatcom’s e-Learning Coordinator. This coming winter quarter, Whatcom will offer 35 online classes, as well as 15 more  in collaboration with the statewide Washington online, and an additional 20 hybrid courses that combine online learning with some traditional class meetings

 Besides saving the college money and classrooms, online and hybrid classes give students the opportunity to receive a full degree completely through E-learning. This option is helpful to students who cannot spend five days a week on campus.

 “The students enrolled in an online class vary from someone who wants to save transportation money to someone with two kids and a full time job,” said Shepard.

The goal for online classes is to broaden the educational horizon and increase the number of students while remaining  affordable.

“I really liked my online classes because you can set your own schedules,” said Vince Mulcahy, a student who took art, chemistry, and sociology online through Whatcom. “ I am a fast learner and I enjoy going at my own pace. Face-to-face learning is too slow for me.”  

Mulcahy said he usually spent two hours on the computer, three or four days a week for each online class, and that his retention of information  was higher than when he takes a face-to-face class.

Alyse Mathews took online classes in chemistry, sociology, and art appreciation at Whatcom. She estimated spending an average of three or four hours, four days a week on the computer.

“I wouldn’t read the textbook,”Mathews said. “I would just take the quizzes with the book open when it was time. And with the practice tests, I didn’t need to put all the time in to reading and studying.” She did not notice any difference in her grade performance or retention of information from a traditional class environment to online learning.

With an 80 percent passing rate, e-learning students are keeping up with the passing rate of the regular classrooms.

“We put a lot of effort in helping students succeed in taking an online or hybrid class,” said Shepard, “such as 24-hours, seven days a week tech support, online tutoring, access to library resources, and personal mentoring.”

Students such as Mulcahy and Mathews found the teacher-to-student response time quicker than a normal classroom environment and the teacher more available to help.

Whatcom English teacher, Jeff Klausman has been instructing several e-learning classes for four years. “In my 102 class, I set it up, give them goals and tools, and tell them to build it,” Klausman said. “The students teach themselves. I am available 24 hours a day except on Sundays for questions and feedback.” He has noticed that the quality of student work is higher than his face-to-face classes.

Even though teacher feedback is quick and effective, the teacher-student relationship is less personal.

“I miss it,” Klausman said. “I like the interaction in class. I don’t want to spend all my time in front of the computer. I have only seen one person face-to-face more than once.”

Angel, Whatcom’s information web page about online learning, has a question and answer quiz for students to see if e-learning is right for them. The amount of success of an online class is not just about learning types, but personality styles as well.

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