Is e-learning all it’s cracked up to be?

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By Maria Mirakaj Brownsell

Campus News

So you want to take a class but you just can’t get yourself on campus. Or maybe you can’t manage to get a long enough stretch of time all together at once. Whatever the case may be, online classes have become the norm.

When I was in college seven years ago, we didn’t have the option to take a class online at my school. We had to get out of bed and walk ten miles in the snow uphill both ways! Or something like that. Sometime in the past few years, this new way of getting course credit has grown exponentially, but is it all it is cracked up to be?

SUNY Rockland is no different than the rest of the colleges when it comes to online education. One recent fall they offered over one hundred online courses taught by many different instructors in subject areas varying in topics from art history to biology to literature. As the classes keep filling up, the number of courses available continues to increase. A large amount of the students that go to SUNY Rockland are older with jobs and families or if they are fresh out of high school, they need to work to pay for their tuition. By making this virtual option available, opportunities that would have never before been possible now are at the tips of people’s fingers.

On the SUNY Rockland website, online classes are called E-learning and go through a program called ANGEL. You can even make phone calls through the ANGEL program, if you don’t want to use your cell phone to get help from your instructor. In this program classes are held with chat forums, messaging with the teachers and other students, and timed tests. Everything is done virtually. Not a foot needs to be stepped into a classroom. Even registration and payments can be done remotely.

SUNY Rockland also offers hybrid classes where one day a week there is a physical class with a real live instructor, while the rest of the class is completed virtually. With so many different options, not having time to take class seems like an implausible excuse.

Although the convenience factor is there, not all students are happy with their experiences. One student who took a course at SUNY Rockland a few years ago complained that it was hard to be able to sign on every day and post in the forum as often as the teacher required. “The tests were tough because you have no one teaching the material and have to learn everything on your own,” said Anthony Wargo.

Jill Perrello took some online classes more recently. One class was a math course, while the other was a science course. Jill spoke of big differences between the two types. “I’ve always liked math, but learning it online was impossible. I had to pay for the course, pay for the textbook, and then they wanted me to pay for another computer program to run the math portion of the course. So I dropped it. That was crazy,” she said.

“As for the science course, it was hard, but I stuck with it. There’s so much more work to do when the class is online. You have to constantly read tons of material, take quiz after quiz, and when it comes to the tests, they are timed, so you can’t stop and go back. If you stop, it’s over,” she continued. Even though the class was online and could be done on your own time, the time required is a lot, possibly even more than one would spend in the classroom, according to Jill. “It wasn’t worth it. I could’ve got a much better grade if it was an in-person class.”

“I think online classes are great for English or classes that are mostly based on discussions and writing assignments. I think if you are trying to learn something like math or a science or a language, it would be really hard to complete the class without direct instruction,” explained another student, Kathryn Tsiavos. “I also don’t think it’s quite as personal of an experience.”

These negative feelings seem to be a similar reaction amongst students, yet the classes are continuing to be offered and enrolled. If these classes are not so great, why are they so popular? Kathryn believes it has to do with the ease of access and lack of time in people’s lives to dedicate directly to school. “These classes, although maybe not as effective to actually learn, provide people who work or stay at home moms the ability to take college classes that fit and are flexible to their schedules,” added Kathryn.

All in all, online classes seem to be helpful for certain lifestyles, but seem to disappoint many. If someone is looking for an easy class where they won’t have to devote much time, they may wrongly turn to e-learning. If someone is looking for a way to take a class in between other activities but has plenty of time to put into, then they shall succeed!

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