The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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Web classes jump in offerings, popularity

It is 7:25 p.m. on a Tuesday night and Patrick Beck is preparing to do homework for Humanities 101 before his online chat session is scheduled to begin at eight.

The chat feature that professor Nancy Taylor uses reminds Beck of AOL Instant Messenger (AIM). The chat room forum has all of Beck’s classmates on the right side of his laptop screen and the current conversation on the left side of the screen. The chat, tonight’s discussion on art during the Dada period, will last for an hour and a half before the class is dismissed and the students leave their virtual classroom to return to their lives.

Beck, like many other college students, is choosing to take classes online and universities are meeting the demand.

Cal State Northridge, like many other universities, is expanding its online course selection to meet the student demand to the point where online students may soon be replacing the traditional in-class college student.

CSUN offered more than 300 Web courses during the 2007-08 academic year, and the campus plans to increase these courses to 400 for this coming year.

For the Fall semester, 145 online classes will be offered. CSUN has steadily increased online courses since 1998 when it offered 10.

“There has been exponential growth,” said Randal Cummings, CSUN director of online instruction.

Fully online classes evolved from hybrid classes, where instructors would meet with students once a week and then host the next class session on the Web. Initially, it was necessary to recruit instructors, but now the field is more market-driven, Cummings said.

Professors see how easy online classes are through workshops and observing other professors, and more professors want to teach online as the classes quickly fill up.

“The whole university has moved to the paradigm of knowledge on demand,” said Cummings. With Learning Management System (LMS) such as WebCT, more of the class content is on the Web.

Because of its ease of use, functionality and affordability, CSUN faculty use WebCT. Though WebCT is a vessel of content, professors may choose to use Web pages, Elluminate and other resources as well to teach their online classes.

“Students are our clients and products, so we must satisfy their needs,” Cummings said.

A student can find syllabus, lecture notes, PowerPoint presentations, study guides, additional readings, discussion posts and links to videos online.

“Handouts are a thing of the past,” Cummings said.

Elizabeth Weber, CSUN professor of communication disorders and sciences, who only comes to campus to pick up her mail, said, “Everything except the textbook is online. All the interactions with students are by telephone and online through e-mail, discussion posts and chats sessions.”

Students in Weber’s classes have full text lectures and weekly discussion posts, which does not require a specific meeting time for her classes.

Text chats are also available in which students can chat with Weber in live time. Weber is also using Skyte, a program that can be downloaded and allows for live video chat with four people, which provides them the opportunity for face-to-face learning.

Weber said she has taught classes for about 10 years and that it is very doable for students, though they have to be organized, motivated and have good comprehension skills to do well. The instructor has to be expertly organized and flexible because when everything is online, explanations must be clear, Weber said.

Assignments are scheduled by the week, but within that week students can do their work anytime.

“Students … do their assignments” and hear very quickly from Weber, who responds to her students’ discussion posts on a weekly basis. “Students have told me that they have more interaction with me than in face-to-face classes,” Weber said.

Cummings says that though WebCT costs about $40,000, it is also used in traditional face-to-face classes and the servers, support and staff are tied to other parts of the academic technology budgets.

Online classes offer several trade-offs for campuses and students, as they do not require classrooms and students are not required to sit through traffic.

Beck, similar to other online students, enjoyed the ease of taking a class online as well as not meeting in the classroom.

“I would have killed myself if I had to take humanities or Asian American studies in an actual classroom,” said Beck, who prefers being in his apartment with the smelly cat odor than in a CSUN classroom.

Beck, who takes two online classes, said his humanities class was more interactive with the professor while his Asian American studies professors assigned a lot of reading that he could not keep up with. The only interactions that Beck had with his professor was through discussion posts, and his professor would respond one week later.

“It came down to me cramming before the test. Without having a teacher teach the class, I wasn’t really motivated,” Beck said.

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