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Monday, July 28, 2014 | Last updated: 11:30am

Where online classes may go off course



It’s hard to imagine how students got by before the age of computers. Libraries were not meeting areas or Wi-Fi hubs, but places where students would find information in books, using indexes and glossaries. They must have had to copy quotes down on paper, then cite the book without a website to assist them. If they needed to know how to spell a word, they’d have to look it up in a dictionary — how inconvenient! Students now attend college in a time of convenience, when a word can simply be typed into Google, which will tell them that convenience is a noun, defined as the state of being able to proceed with something with little effort or difficulty.

Convenience was a priority of mine as I filled my virtual shopping cart with classes on UAccess last winter, and I was deciding which general education courses seemed the most interesting while involving the least amount of work. Psychology 105 seemed to fit the bill. I looked at the times offered to see if any would fit around my core classes, and realized I had a choice: Three times a week I could ride my bike to class, walk, sit in a lecture for fifty minutes, be respectful and take notes, or I could take the class from my dorm room, online. The choice seemed easy.

So twice a week when I felt like it, I’d sit and fold laundry or crochet a beanie while listening to an online lecture. On Fridays, there were easy quizzes which would have been open note, had I taken any. The class was great. The lectures were always interesting, I learned a lot and it convinced me to pick up a minor in psychology.

So why, at the end of the semester, did I feel like I had cheated myself? I got my “easy A,” what else did I need? The class had been convenient, but surely convenience is not the point of a college education.

As an out-of-state student, I pay the big bucks to come and study at a major university. According the Bursar’s Office website, for an out-of-state student, an average 3-unit undergraduate class costs more than $3,000.

Compare that to an online school like the University of Phoenix, where a similar class would cost $1,175.

Classroom lectures involve peer interaction, engaging visual and auditory lectures and discussions. Even in major lecture halls, there is a personal interaction between the professor and students, and an expectation of attentiveness and engagement.

I can’t put a percentage on it, but I can say for certain that my long-term information retention would have been much higher were I answering questions, viewing a PowerPoint and taking notes instead of crocheting during the lectures. In online classes, the most personal interaction takes place on discussion boards. Students will answer prompts as part of an assignment, and other students will type responses to the formers’ posts. These responses are generally not read by anyone, so the “conversation” ends.

However, a major part of being a student is engaging in the conversation about where we are and where we’re going. Students bring new ideas to the table, interact with peers and professors and develop a view of society based on their scholastic interactions. Together, students can identify problems in the world and come up with solutions. Most of this is lost when school goes online.

I’m not saying that online school is bad; it allows for people to take classes affordably and around busy schedules. However, students who are paying for an education at the UA and who are able to attend classes on a regular basis should ask themselves: What is the cost of convenience?


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