Online courses bring both advantages and struggles

Hannah DeVries – Staff Writer

What does it mean for a college class to be offered online? Do students in an online class have the same amount of work and accountability as students in an “in-person” class? Are there ghosts of students technically enrolled at Dordt that don’t actually exist on campus?

Yes and no. Dordt offers several online classes, including Nutrition, E-Marketing in the fall, and Graduate Education courses. Seven high school students are currently enrolled in CORE 180 under retired professor Jim Schaap.

One familiar class that is now being offered in an unfamiliar format is STATS 131: Elementary Statistics. It is not technically an online class; it is a “hybrid” or “flipped classroom model,” said statistics professor, Nathan Tintle.

The course is made up of several different components: required videos and/or readings, optional drop-in help sessions with instructors and/or TA’s for help with homework, and in-class quizzes and tests.

“This format uses a mix of online and in-person resources to allow students flexibility in how they engage course material,” said Tintle.

Why was this style chosen instead of a traditional classroom setting for STATS 131?

Hybrid classes allow professors to take advantage of the resources and technology a campus offers, while giving students more options to engage with course material in a broader range of learning styles, said Tintle.

“The reality is that in the 21st Century, access to information is nearly instantaneous, but the standard pedagogical approach is still lecture, which can tend to focus on information transfer instead of student understanding,” he said.

This is one of the disadvantages to online classes.

“It is hard to understand the concepts based on reading or watching the video. It’s really interesting, but it’s kind of confusing,” said junior nursing major Ciarra Schmitt.

The higher level of flexibility that a course with a relaxed schedule offers also means a higher level of responsibility on the students’ part.

“Some people have the perception that if they don’t need to be at a specific place at a particular time, they can just erase it from their schedule,” said associate provost Leah Zuidema. “But they may need to block out more time, and realize that it is going to be college level work.”

Community is another area that is both a struggle and a success in such a class.

“Not being able to see students drove me crazy, just crazy,” said Schaap.

But not all was lost behind the computer screen.

“Online teaching does provide an opportunity for a teacher and a student to have far more personal communication,” Schaap said. “Every student has to react to what he/she reads, and I react to every reaction. That, of course, doesn’t happen in an ordinary CORE 180 class.”

As technology advances, so do class styles.

“We can look up facts instantaneously, so no longer is a lecture-based teaching approach appropriate, if the singular goal is knowledge transfer.”

Community and a person-to-person learning community will never go out of style.

“We are doing a serious disservice to students if all we want you to do is to hear what we say and regurgitate it back to us,” said Tintle.

“There are great ways to keep building community,” said Zuidema. “And our professors have so much experience. What we’re aiming for in all our classes is something you wouldn’t’ want to miss for anything—in person and online,” said Zuidema.

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