Following a trend in higher education, VCU is looking to capitalize on the rising popularity of online courses.
VCU already has an online presence. Interim director of online academic programs Jonathan Becker, Ph.D., said in fall 2012 there were 160 sections offered. More than 6,300 students were enrolled in each section. There are currently 160 sections with 6,494 students enrolled. Of those sections, Becker said there are about two dozen programs that can be completed at least halfway online.
“What I really like about what VCU has done, from my perspective, is that the university has been thoughtful and planful,” Becker said. “ (They have) really been thinking about not just bringing in new students, but (seeing) what online learning does for other students … It’s no accident that the Office of Online Education is within the Office of Learning Innovation and Student Success.”
Most online classes at VCU cost the same as a face-to-face class. Becker added that a specially-negotiated off-campus rate would be the only factor that would alter the price. However, an additional fee of $55 per credit hour is required. The fee caps at $165, or three credits. Old Dominion University prices its online courses at $285 per-credit -hour for undergraduates and $412 per-credit-hour for graduate students.
Other schools like J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College offer testing centers, which require students to take online classes in person. Becker said testing centers have been discussed at VCU as a recommendation to advancing the school’s online learning capabilities.
He also said up to this point, the online curriculum at VCU has geared toward graduate level-classes. However, Tier 1 or 100-level courses, such as Introduction to Mass Communications (MASC 101) and Choices in Consumer Society (HUMS 202) are offered online.
Assistant professor of history Brian Daugherty teaches Survey of American History (HIST 104) in class and online. Convenience is driving student demand for online courses, he said.
“There’s a lot of interest in having that flexibility. Sometimes it’s from students that are working or students who just want to do their course work in the evenings,” Daugherty said.
Online courses also allow students to knock out some of their degree requirements quicker, he said. There’s also an added benefit for professors, who often have to split time between lower and upper-level courses, he said.
“Everybody’s got to fulfill those requirements as they work their way toward graduation, so sometimes there’s kind of a bottleneck at some of those courses in terms of students getting what they need before they move up into the upper-level courses,” Daugherty said.
Student opinions vary on the subject of online learning. Some, like junior accounting major Abubakar Bayoh, said they feel that online classes aren’t necessary because of different learning styles.
“I like online classes to an extent depending on the subject matter, but typically I would prefer in-class lecture courses just because I work better and feel more comfortable with the subject matter and professors when I am in an in-class lecture,” Bayoh said.
Others see web classes as a more convenient way to make their busy schedules work.
“With an online class, it really taught me time management because I had to be my own teacher and they are really helpful if you don’t have time to fit into a class,” said junior fashion merchandising major Victoria Sterling.
VCU plans to launch an online pilot program for summer 2014, said Gardner Campbell, Ph.D, vice provost for learning innovation and student success. The class is said to be titled “From Memex to Youtube: Cognition, Learning, and the Internet.” It will be a tier two, or 200-300, level course.
The tier two online class is still in the planning stages. However, Campbell states that he wants students to be able to take the class just as serious as they would an in-class course.
When used correctly, Campbell said online courses can make the social part of learning more collaborative and effective.
“It’s up to us as a university to imagine and create together ways to make the experience so rich and so involving that online learning will be every bit as exciting as what happens when class comes to life face-to-face,” he said.
CORRECTION: The print version of the story incorrectly spelled the last name of Brian Daugherty as “Daugherity.” The CT regrets the error.