By Katie Ellington, News Editor
Many think of a typical school day as a series of in class lectures that are over by dinnertime. But a number of Asbury students are taking both general education courses and major requirements from their dorm rooms.
“There are a limited number of courses offered online for traditional undergraduate students, most of which are foundational courses,” said Registrar Sheryl Voigts. According to documents on the registrar’s website, there are around 20 online classes being offered this spring. Over half are general education courses; the rest are upper level courses in business, media communication, education and teaching English as a second language (ESL).
While students take classes online to simplify schedules, work at their own pace or get some work done over the summer, Dean of Graduate and Professional Studies Dr. Bill Hall, who helped start the online program, says it wasn’t until two or three years ago that these courses opened up to the entire student body. Asbury began offering online courses during the summer of 2008, but Hall says that for the first couple of years, most online courses were limited to APS students who were returning to college to finish a degree and undergraduates with scheduling conflicts. According to registrar Sheryl Voigts, online courses have been easily available to all undergraduate students since the spring 2013 semester.
Sophomore Emma Saska took Introduction to New Testament over the summer.
“The advantage was that I got a foundational course out of the way, so I could focus on classes in my major and minor this school year,” said Saska. “It also meant I get to take lighter course loads every semester.”
Sophomore Catie Lien is currently taking her fine arts requirement online due to a scheduling conflict.
“I love this class because I can access all the homework at any time,” said Lien. “I can get ahead if I need to, but the homework is only due week by week.”
While many students enjoy the flexibility, professors say online coursework isn’t for everyone.
“Online classes will be most effective for a student who is self-motivated,” said Bible and Theology department chair Dr. Kevin Anderson. Anderson says some students struggle to stay motivated and keep up with assignments, especially since they cover a semester’s worth of material in eight weeks.
“There’s always that perception that online classes will be easier,” said Hall. “But it’s the same amount of work, just a compressed schedule.”
While the format is certainly different, the quality of the course depends on the professor and the students, just like in a regular classroom. Kayley Valentien, a 2015 Asbury graduate, says the she felt her online classes had less busy work but her professors were harder to contact.
“I have had a few accounting that are harder than an in seat class because you have to teach yourself,” said Valentien.
Although the curriculum is typically the same, online courses can mean more work for professors who have to develop all their content for the web and address student concerns and questions via individual emails instead of with a class. Professors also have to get more creative in order to bring a sense of community and discussion to their online courses. Many professors, including Old Testament professor Dr. Gerald Miller, use Discovery to create online forums. Students can use the forum to pose questions, state their opinions and reply to others’ posts.
“I think students really enjoy them,” said Miller, who has developed and taught two online courses. “It’s the same electronically as if we had a big table at Starbucks.”
Miller says that the forums, along with the live video sessions he holds once a week, give students a chance to interact with professors and each other.
“I enjoyed (online classes) a lot more than I thought I would,” he said. “I would be willing to do another one.”
Adjunct professor Andy Casto believes that these forums may be even more beneficial for quieter students.
“Students who remain silent in class may have insightful thoughts to contribute to discussion but refrain from doing so…thereby depriving their classmates and instructor of a meaningful perspective,” he said in an email. “Mandatory online discussion forums obviate this complication.”
Nevertheless, Miller and Casto are among the professors who say they still prefer interacting with students face-to-face.
“Missing from the virtual learning environment are all the cues an attentive teacher picks up on in class,” said Casto. “Body language, note-taking, laughter, side comments, drooping eyelids, doodling, nodding and even pre-class discussions I overhear help me gauge my students’ responsiveness and enable me to adjust “on the fly” in the middle of a lecture or discussion…Even the slightest alteration in posture or (facial expression) can indicate that a student requires greater encouragement or attention on a given day.”