GW’s online courses allow students to maintain academic momentum without a large time commitment over the summer. As an international student, online courses are a luxury for me because I can earn credit from across the globe. But many students are reluctant to take online courses because of the negative perceptions about the lack of personal interaction and face time with professors. Those students are missing out. After taking an online course this summer, I experienced current features that are effective in mitigating those weaknesses and found ways in which online courses actually enhance the student experience.
Online summer courses can help students further develop their writing skills and gain an in-depth understanding of challenging readings with a smaller work load, while still allowing for vacation plans. Perceptions about online courses being non-personal can be inaccurate and there are several ways to avoid that feeling. Both students and teachers should make an effort to personalize online classes by utilizing more technology for real-time interactions between students and professors.
Students can alleviate the lack of face-to-face interactions with professors by meeting them in-person during their office hours before the end of the spring semester. If students know the summer class they are taking ahead of time, then they should meet the professor while on campus. Although some course descriptions and syllabi are accessible through department websites and Blackboard, it is more helpful to reach out to the professor who teaches the online course to get more detailed course objectives and expectations for assignments as well as a feel for the professor’s teaching style. This allows the student to get a better sense of the course material and also lets the professor know why the student wants to take the class, which can compensate for not being able to go to the professor in-person during the class. This way, not only can students make better judgements about whether or not to take a course, but professors can get the chance to meet prospective students.
Even though the efficiency and short duration of a summer course quickens the class pace and condenses the material, it isn’t a hard adjustment taking just one course at a time. In fact, it helps students to fully concentrate on one topic instead of balancing multiple classes during the school year. For example, I took an online philosophy course for my major this summer and it allowed me to utilize my abundant free time to focus on one philosophy course with a specific theme. I was able to digest hard texts and acquire a better understanding of them without being overwhelmed by other courses in one semester.
Additionally, the professor posted prerecorded video lectures in the online course I took this summer. The videos provided essentially the same feeling of attending lectures in person, and this format is also applied to many other online courses at GW. Some of the other online courses at GW offer different media options like podcasts. All online courses should offer an interactive, more graphic teaching option for the students that are visual and auditory learners. The small class size and accessibility to email my professor with any questions shattered the misconceptions I heard about online courses and made the course well worth the time and money. The inability to go to a professor’s office hours is still a major drawback of online courses, but this can be solved if all professors accept Skype appointments or other weekly live sessions to provide students with more direct interactions. Summer online courses at Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania already offer course components like synchronous meetings and face-to-face virtual discussion sessions that facilitate an interactive experience.
In addition to being able to study anywhere in the world, online courses also provide for more individualized feedback. Online courses can significantly help develop students’ writing skills through class activities like posting responses to a discussion forum on Blackboard. Since there are no in-person class discussions, students must communicate with each other through Blackboard with written accounts of ideas and interpretations of class material, forcing students to write constantly and clearly. Professors can also give more elaborate feedback and comments to individual papers, since there are only about 20 students to each class, so students know how to improve their writing based on tailored suggestions.
Although many students intern or work during the summer, they should still consider taking online courses to get ahead for the fall semester. There are many ways to make the most out of an online class, and students shouldn’t let the fear of the perceived negatives associated with online courses stop them from taking a summer class that can be hosted on any computer screen.
Marx Wang, a sophomore majoring in philosophy and political science, is a Hatchet opinions writer.
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