Students, professors log on to online curriculum

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The number of online classes increased steadily over the past few years because of high demand, according to the Office of Online Instruction at CSUN.

“The Office of Online Instruction opened seven years ago as an entrepreneurial endeavor after the 1994 Northridge earthquake,” said Professor Randall Cummings, director of the Online Instruction program. “The goal was to have a virtual university to shadow the (traditional) university.”

There is a tremendous shift with people that want to put their materials online, Cummings said, adding that there are several hundred web-enhanced courses at CSUN.

A web-enhanced course makes some elements from the class available online. For instance, most classes this semester offer their syllabi online, rather than only handing it out in paper form to students. Professors also use Adobe Acrobat to create portable document format files, and some also provide PowerPoint presentations and streaming video on the Internet.

“This is creating a paradigm shift of the traditional university,” Cummings said. “There are so many valuable sources online. Students can have a greater experience online.”

Kathy Lacabe, senior journalism major, is taking a Geography 150 online course this semester because her work schedule conflicts with courses offered at CSUN during the day, and she takes a majority of her classes at night.

Lacabe said she would probably take all of her classes online if she could because she would be able to complete her class assignments when she has the time for them.

“I like the web components because they help you not to forget what you need to do,” Lacabe said. “WebCT reminds people of assignments that’ll be due.”

WebCT is the main web application for online courses. Students log into the class online during specified times to take tests, quizzes, or to partake in discussions in a chat room.

“The tools and programs that exist online (allow) students to move (at) their own pace,” Cummings said.

Lacabe said she is pleased with the courses so far, but believes that more students should be allowed to register in a single class.

She also said students and professors need to request more online classes since the classes offered fill up quickly.

“If (a class) is online, (the administration) should allow more students to enroll,” Lacabe said. “It would be awesome if more classes were added online.”

Cummings said the face-to-face interaction associated with real-world classroom is important, despite the success of online academic programs.

“(Personal interaction) helps to facilitate student learning,” Cummings said. “However, I believe there won’t be any course that isn’t somehow aided by academics online, or Web-enhanced components.”

There are 67 online courses on the Fall 2005 schedule, Cummings said. Last year, there were 60 online courses available.

Cummings said there is a reason for the increase in online offerings.

“Number one, there is a demand,” he said. “Reports are generated on campus that online courses are desired. There is a worldwide market for fully online courses. Technology is increasing and becoming more accessible. Number two, you don’t have to be a tech genius to put stuff online. It’s easier and accessible.”

Cummings said there are a lot of cost reductions associated with online classes.

“There’s no physical classroom, which costs money to maintain,” he said. “There is a student cost reduction because there is no driving involved and the course is paperless.”

Cummings said professors learn about the types of online services for courses through word-of-mouth.

“I speak at all the new faculty orientations about online instruction. (Then) the professors come and start asking people how to use (the) tools (for online instruction),” Cummings said.

Online courses could also cater to professors who have to travel many miles to get to class, Cummings said.

Physics professor David Bach is teaching an online physics course called the Physics of Music from his home in Ventura.

“This is easier for me because I don’t have to drive in and out,” he said. “The disadvantage is I never interact with students. We interact in a whole new way. Most students seem to open up more this way.”

While Music Professor Gigi Rabe performs in Bulgaria this semester, she will be teaching an online course, Music 105, Understanding Music, for the first time.

“Since my regular course load was cut in half this year due to the budget crisis, when I was given the opportunity to teach (Music 105) online instead of in the classroom, I was thrilled, as well as curious, about how it would work out,” Rabe said in an e-mail.

Rabe is new to online instruction fall semester, and said she finds the fact that she can still interact with her students through e-mail exciting.

“I think many were surprised and happy to receive e-mails from their teacher in Bulgaria,” she said. “It proved that if I as the instructor needed to be out of town for any reason, I could still conduct my class as long as I had Internet access.”

Bach said he feels that the benefit of online instruction is that there is more communication between professors and students. He said more professors should try to have online classes because communication could be more solid.

“I think there’s something you learn about communicating back and forth (online) that you don’t get in a regular classroom,” Bach said. “There’s an honesty and dishonesty, depending on the person.”

Bach requires that students taking the online course write a report every week so that he could see how they are doing in the class. He said about 3,000 incoming and outgoing e-mails are generated by the end of the semester.

Bach also said he felt that human interaction was an important part of life, so a virtual campus would not be ideal.

“The important part of life is face-to-face contact. If we lost that, we’re machines.”

Cynthia Ramos can be reached at cynthia.ramos.838@csun.edu.