Professors have conflicting experiences, thoughts about online courses

May 4, 2015

April Wefler
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You shut off your alarm, eat your breakfast and get dressed to head to school. Or, you stay in your pajamas while you open your laptop and log in for your online lecture.

In the digital age, more professors are finding ways to host lectures online.

Spencer Harris uses online videos when he has to fly to the United Kingdom on business or for personal reasons.

Harris, an assistant professor in the Sport Management program, said it’s difficult for him to be flexible with his pre-recorded video lectures.

In the classroom, he said he can tell when a student is confused, but he doesn’t have the same opportunity online.

“I like the idea of it; it’s a useful resource theoretically. Students can come back to that time and time again, press play, rewind, go over another point,” Harris said.

“I guess the problem I have with it is that it is very one-track. It’s the professor talking about what the professor knows.”

Harris added that having the online videos as a supplement of a class-based lecture could be helpful, but he isn’t convinced that relying on videos entirely is positive.

He hasn’t received any feedback from students, “which tells me they’re not going well.”

Harris allows students to Skype or call him with questions about the lectures.

“There’s no noise at all, there’s nothing,” he said.

Matt Metzger, assistant professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, uses Blackboard Collaborate for his online classes. This is the first semester he has taught online.

In his mid-semester feedback, Metzger found that students like the convenience of online classes but “they felt it was helpful to have more live interaction structured into the class.”

Metzger said that it’s difficult to help students with their goals in an online environment.

“[It is] hard to achieve that when people are disembodied bodies,” he said.

Some professors have received different feedback about online classes.

“It’s a really cool environment and the students seem to like it because it gives them an opportunity to interact directly with me wherever they are,” said Tom Duening, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship.

Duening uses Blackboard Collaborate’s Webinar to teach his online classes. Unlike Harris and Metzger, Duening hasn’t had negative feedback.

“The thing about an online course that is different is that students have to be self-motivated,” Duening said.

He said about half of his graduate students and 15 percent of his undergraduates attend his live Webinar sessions. Students can raise their hands and ask questions in Duening’s live sessions.

He said his students are all over the place and that he has one student in Germany this semester. In the past, he’s had students in Guam, China and Russia. Duening conducts most of his lectures from his home office, which he said is convenient.

He said there is no difference in exam scores between those in his online classes and those that meet in the classroom.

Harris disagrees.

“I feel like my students are on it, engaged in the class when we meet in campus once a week,” he said.

Harris embeds a learning activity into his videos to see whether the students are paying attention. Several of the students don’t do the activity.

He said the competence of the user can impact the online environment.

“I’m absolutely convinced that my ability in being able to use the technology could be improved. I don’t see an awful lot going on on campus to support that,” Harris said.

Duening said it’s inevitable for education to be more online.

“It’s moving toward hybrid, flip classrooms. I think there’s a lot more innovation to come,” he said.

Harris isn’t as sure about online courses.

“Whether improved technology and skills and competencies will give us an environment that’s anything like a campus situation, I’m not convinced,” he said.

“There’s a different relationship that you have with the students [in the classroom.]”