Aug 292002
Authors: Jeremy Scurlock

For those who dread the 8 a.m. trek to campus, registering for an online course may be an alternative.

There are fully online courses for every college at CSU and approximately 60 courses total, and the number is still rising, said Karen Kaminski, assistant director of the Office of Instructional Services.

“[Online courses] take the pressure off going to class,” said sophomore Eric Hall. “So far it looks like a good idea for me. The instructor has been very helpful and the technology seems easy to use.”

Hall, an agricultural business major, said he took his A140 Technology and Agriculture course online because he could not get into the lab class.

Besides being convenient to traditional students like Hall, Sherry L. McConnell, an associate professor and assistant dean for Admissions and Student Affairs and an instructor for an online anatomy course, said the large number of non-traditional students prompted her to make the course available in a non-traditional manner.

“There are more and more people coming to CSU that can be considered non-traditional,” McConnell said. “Offering classes online make it easier on full time workers and parents who want to continue or come back to school.”

McConnell said she was unsure at first if relating the concepts of her course in histology (the anatomical study of the microscopic structure of animal and plant tissue) would be possible outside of a lab situation. McConnell said her lectures for the course are accessible at all times, but exam times are specified.

“Students can go back and review the lectures if they didn’t understand something,” McConnell said. “The material is always there.”

McConnell’s problem with presenting microscopic images to her students was solved with the help of computer technology. She said the mouse becomes the microscope, just point and click to increase the size of the image and view it closer. The program has over 5000 interactive images.

Besides expressing the content in a format understandable online, McConnell said she worried she would lose the bond she develops with her students in a lab setting.

“That’s why I got into teaching,” McConnell said. “I want the students to feel like they know me, it’s easy when you’re running a lab, but hard to do with computers.”

McConnell has been at CSU for 18 years and says she makes a conscious effort to add a personal side to her online course. She said she does what she would do in a classroom, tell stories about herself and try to get to know her students.

A real time, online chat room is available at an established time where students can discuss material with her and other students.

“If the student wants to, it is possible to bond with a person in an online environment without seeing them,” McConnell said. “I had a student enrolled in an online course and an on-campus lab. We talked regularly through the online course but I was not aware she was in my lab until the end of the year. On campus contact doesn’t guarantee a relationship.”

McConnell’s efforts to make her online courses enjoyable were recognized nationally in 2000 by the company who owns and operates WebCT, a program CSU regularly uses to put course materials online. She said the award came with no financial rewards or grants, but was given for academic rigor and presentation.

While some online instructors make the effort stay in good contact with their students some do not. Junior graphic art education major Sarah Urbanek said her online astronomy class was great for time management, but her instructor’s slow response to her efforts to contact him was frustrating.

“I liked working and learning the material at my own pace, but it’s hard when you have a question, even a simple one, and there is no one accessible to answer it.”

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