Burch Essay

Rachel Burch

ENGL 4874

James Collier

10/14/09

Essay One

Online and Blended Classes as an Option for Learning

This paper will explore the question to what extent are online and blended classes a good option for learning, when compared to the traditional classroom setting? The two objectives for the paper include asking what type of subject matter is best taught online, and how much of online work should be incorporated into a course?

In more recent times, higher education has had a facelift. With the Internet becoming more of a commodity than a luxury, its facets are being incorporated into the learning process. Not only are classes in the undergraduate and graduate level seeing an increase, but even down at the primary level. However, the focus for this paper will only include classes at the university level. The organization will include definitions of the different types of classes seen in a university education; two studies that were conducted on students’ satisfaction with online and blended courses; and personal experiences from both a friend and myself, including overall opinions of how the online and blended classes were conducted.

After some minimal research and thinking on my own, I was able to lock down three different types of online classes. The first is characterized as completely non-interactive. Students read the texts they are assigned and learn the appropriate material at which point they take quizzes and tests online. The only interaction is through e-mailing the teacher. These types of online classes include no discussion of the course among students. The second type of online course is an interactive online course. This is defined as similar to the first type; however, online discussions are included. The teacher might also include essays into the class requirements. The online discussion may be in two formats, simply a chat room where students discuss a certain question posed, or a chat room with sound ability. A program called Centra allows this. Centra is an interactive chat room where students log on and press a talk button once they are called on to answer. Speakers and a microphone are essential in order to participate in Centra. The third type of online learning course is what I call half-and-half. There are two different options. The first is typically a science-related course, where students take the lecture class online, but come to a classroom for the lab portion. The second version is called blended learning. The course meets regularly in a traditional classroom; however, many aspects of the course incorporate the use of online materials. Tests, quizzes, papers, and discussions between students are conducted on the Internet. These courses may be on a variety of subjects, but those in the liberal arts and humanities seem to flourish better in this environment as opposed to courses in the science and technology fields.

A recent study conducted by the Department of Education probed into the advantages of online learning versus face-to-face learning. The study, titled “Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies” took place over eight years, from 1996 to July 2008. It focused on comparing aspects of online learning to traditional education. Findings were too small for the results to be applied to primary and secondary education, thus all conclusions apply only to higher education, undergraduate and graduate levels, across an array of focuses. An important question the study asks is whether online courses should be seen as a replacement to traditional classes, or rather as an enhancement (3)? With this comes the notion that replacement means equality, having an online course in comparison to a traditional course, while enhancement refers to the idea of a combined effort of both approaches. “The overall finding of the meta-analysis is that classes with online learning (whether taught completely online or blended) on average produce stronger student learning outcomes than do classes with solely face-to-face instruction” (Dept of Ed, 18).

Overall, blended courses did best in the study, allowing students additional learning time and a more flexible schedule. “Notably, the report attributes much of the success in learning online (blended or entirely) not to technology but to time” (Jaschik 1). Jaschik’s conclusions include a statement from Diane Oblinger, president of Educause stating that “online education provides additional opportunities…flexibility, for experiential learning, for illustrating things in multiple ways such as visualization” (2). Most importantly, Jaschik’s opinion and the study itself do not intend for online learning to be a better alternative to face-to-face classes, but instead as “growing components of higher education and, [if] employed properly, can play a significant role in promoting student learning” (2).

A second report performed by two professors from separate universities studied student opinions on web-enhanced courses. Professors Poonam Kumar from Saginaw Valley State University and Anil Kumar from Central Michigan University conducted a study where Blackboard was placed into their respective classes as supplementary to course content. The demographics included a total of 89 students from two separate classes, Special Education and Management Information Systems. The majority of the students were undergraduates, full-time, and had never taken an online course before.

Kumar and Kumar found that students were satisfied with certain aspects that Blackboard incorporated into the course, while other aspects bothered them. They thoroughly enjoyed the fact that the syllabus was made available immediately. They commented that having the lecture notes available before that day’s assigned class was most helpful. They were also satisfied with the availability of links to additional resources. Students felt the online discussions allowed for flexibility and time to gather their thoughts and knowledge of the subject matter before responding. However, the only complaint students had about the course were the online discussions. Many felt they were “impersonal because they lacked non-verbal cues, and body language (Kumar 2). One student commented that having online discussion took away that aspect of spontaneity and allowing students to react quickly to what others may have said. These advantages and disadvantages to online forums are important because, according to Vygotsky, “discussions and social interactions are an important part of the learning process. Therefore effectively facilitating social interactions and communications among students may influence both learning outcomes and student satisfaction” (2).

The next area of this paper will be drawn for my own personal experience. Because I have direct knowledge with both online classes and blended classes this semester, I feel it necessary to include in the essay. I am currently in an online course for each of those defined in the beginning. Social Organization Problems has no interaction between the students; any and all contact is through the professor through e-mail. The course requires assignments that get posted to Scholar, and tests every five weeks that also go through Scholar. African American History is more of an interactive online course. While we have quizzes on the course text every two weeks, and book reviews that get posted to Blackboard, we also have online discussion three times during the semester. These discussions are performed through Centra. This was my first time using a system like Centra. At first the idea of talking into a computer screen seemed strange, along with something I was not enthusiastic about. However, after participating in the first discussion, I believe this, as an alternative to the traditional chat room is better. You are allowed some time to think of a proper answer to the question posed, while being allowed to speak more fluidly than if it all were to be written down. The professor requires everyone speak at least once, ensuring even those that rarely speak, to be included in the discussion. My third course, Managing Knowledge and Information, has the blended learning approach. The class meets twice a week where class discussions take place. However, the Internet, more importantly a Wiki, has a strong presence in the class. We post class discussion questions, answers to those questions, commentary, and essays to the Wiki. Our syllabus is an interactive online version that is much easier to check daily than to print out.

Advantages to these courses include being able to read and learn the material on my time. I am able to take the quizzes and tests with materials at my disposal, thus allowing for a more relaxed environment. In regards to the English course, posting things to the Wiki allows for constant editing and updating. We are allowed to look back for referral and change anything we see necessary. Disadvantages include losing that personal connection with both the teacher and the class. Also, when troubles arise due to network errors, it becomes something of hope that the teacher is patient and willing to work around the problems. Scholar had many technical difficulties at the beginning of the semester, but teachers and students were tolerant.

Each of these courses falls under the college of liberal arts and human sciences. I have no reference to a science course being taken online. I feel as though these courses are comparable to face-to-face classroom settings because of their content. They allow for “gray” learning, learning that involves room for error. And in the end, communication between the teacher and the student can be extremely reliable as not to cause worry.

I also interviewed a friend of mine currently enrolled in an online course at New River Community College. The respondent’s name is Tom Griffin.
Rachel Burch: What class are you taking online right now?
Tom Griffin: Chemistry
Rachel: What are the advantages to taking this course online?
Tom: I can make my own schedule and learn it whenever I want.
Rachel: And what are the disadvantages?
Tom: There is a higher level of poor teacher to student communication and because of this when problems arise during quizzes and tests, questions I have don’t get answered in time. Also, it takes longer to learn when you’re teaching yourself as opposed to when being taught.
Rachel: Overall, would you say taking chemistry online is better than if you were to take it in a traditional classroom setting?
Tom: If I had the option I would rather take it in a classroom, but maybe only because it’s chemistry. If it were another subject matter it may be better to take it online.

This concludes my interview with Tom Griffin. His opinions of his online class are similar to mine. I agree that his class is probably much harder due to the fact that he must teach himself chemistry from a computer screen. He has no teacher guiding him along and answering questions the moment they arise. Unfortunately he has extreme trouble getting in contact with the professor. Something in the humanities department would be an easier option as an online course.

It is clear that incorporating the world of cyberspace into classrooms at the university level is a good idea. It allows students the flexibility to do things at the pace they feel is necessary, while also giving students a relaxed approach to participating in group discussions. However, based on the two studies and personal experiences, classes that are all the way online may not be the best option. Ultimately students want that personal connection to the teacher and fellow students that can only be felt in an actual classroom. While many subjects are taught online, or partially online, it also seems obvious that those pertaining to liberal arts and humanities do best online as opposed to math and science related courses. The Internet is around us everyday; it only seems practical to include it in the learning processes of college.

Works Cited

Griffin, Tom. Personal Interview. 12 October 2009.

Jaschik, Scott. “The Evidence on Online Education”. June 29 2009. Inside Higher Ed. 13
October 2009. < http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/06/29/online>.

Kumar, Poonam, and Anil Kumar. “Student Opinions on Web-Enhanced Courses”.
International Conference on Computer in Education. 2002.

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development.
“Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and
Review of Online Learning Studies”. Washington D.C., 2009.

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