Students say online classes have flaws

A record number of GW students took online courses this summer, but some of those enrolled in the classes said there were some drawbacks to learning with distractions like checking their Instant Messenger buddy lists.

The program enrolled 350 students in 25 courses during the summer in its third year at GW, officials said.

Most of the self-paced courses are taught using a combination of Prometheus, CD-ROM, textbooks and videocassettes, said Caroline Donovan, executive coordinator for Special Academics.

The program is open to both GW and non-GW students with class sizes varying from 12 to 25 students per class.

University officials said students praised the expansion of online courses, noting that students learn just as much from online courses as lecture courses.

Assistant Vice President for Special Academic Programs Donna Scarboro said posting slides online is an alternative to diagramming information on a blackboard, and students may be required to view videos normally shown in class on their own.

Scarboro said all professors have taught the same courses in a classroom before this summer, and that teachers do a variety of things to “translate the information normally taught in class into an electronic mode.”

Though officials said the courses allow students more freedom to pace themselves than regular classes do, most students complained about the lack of structure in the program.

Junior Aliza Yudkoff, who took an economics class online this summer, called the program “complicated,” especially when taking exams.

Officials said professors used different methods to counteract the threat of cheating while taking exams. They said proctors are often used, and that some professors substitute research assignments for exams.

Yudkoff said she made an appointment with her professor to take the exam in a computer lab, and that a teaching assistant administered the exam. She said this method “slowed her down” more than taking a class on paper would.

Yudkoff also said she found it difficult to motivate herself to study without having to attend classes, but that her grades did not suffer.
She said she would not recommend the program to others, and will “never” take another online course.

Senior Michal Fromer said she withdrew from an online Women’s Studies class while traveling in Europe this summer. Fromer said although she registered on GWeb, her professor was never notified of her enrollment.

Fromer said she was penalized because she never received notification that the course was starting, so she did not complete her coursework on time.

She also said she does not like the “impersonal nature of the program” because “it doesn’t allow the professors to take the students’ personal characters into consideration when evaluating their performance.”

But Scarboro said this year’s high enrollment reflects the University’s desire to move toward offering more courses online.

Scarboro also said the school has not yet discussed offering online course during the school year, but did not rule out the option.

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