Online classes are more popular than ever

While the next generation of students spends the majority of their time online already, websites like Facebook and YouTube will fight for their piece of cyberspace in the face of online enrollment in both undergraduate and graduate courses.

UCF recently added a completely online doctoral degree to the pool of resources at the College of Nursing. Students can begin pursuing the post-Master’s Doctor of Nursing Practice as nurse executive.

Students may find convenience in being able to study and complete assignments more freely without being confined to scheduled class times.

Robert Wright, a local actor who has played at both the Fringe and Shakespeare festivals, is working toward a degree in theater. He has had mixed experiences with online classes.

“I enjoyed my history class,” Wright said. “My professor was straightforward with everything. He told us which chapters to study, and you could study right out of the book.”

The student’s familiarity with the concepts of the course ultimately determines whether he or she should take the class online or on-site, Wright said.

“For science, I’d prefer to have a teacher there,” he said. “I took the class online, and there was so much material. If you go to class, there’s always a teacher there to help you.”

An article from a November issue of UCF Today cited that more than half of the university’s 56,000 students will take an online or mixed-mode class this year.

A survey by the Sloan Consortium shows that institutions reported an increased demand for existing online courses, up to 73 percent, while only 54 percent of existing face-to-face classes are in demand.

“I don’t really like online as much,” said Ryan Graham, a recent graduate who now holds a bachelor’s in finance. “When you have a question you have to email the teacher and it can take two or three days for an answer, but in class all you do is raise your hand. Mixed mode, where you can either go to class or watch a video recording of it at home, is better than face-to-face instruction. You can always watch it entirely online.”

Students are primarily focused on what they can take away from class; the professors doling out the lessons are more concerned with things such as the academic integrity of their methods.

Fewer than 1/3 of chief academic officers think their faculty members accept “value and legitimacy” of online education, as a 2009 survey on “faculty suspicion” shows.

Some believe it’s easier to cheat or plagiarize for a grade online, and 48 percent of professors who have taught classes online feel it’s an inferior method of teaching, according to the Chronicle for Higher Education.

Academic honesty may prove to be lacking as new ways of detecting cheating students are implemented. For example, professors can use the technology at their disposal to determine how many tabs are open within a student’s browser while they take an online exam.

While this may prove inconvenient to some, there is a lot more flexibility available to students pursuing degrees at the graduate level than is offered toward undergraduate studies.

As both an employee at Valencia and a student at UCF, Anthony Jansen understands what it’s like from the business side of the field. He appreciates the freedom that comes with taking online classes.

“I have to take all my classes online. I’d say I prefer them that way so I can take them on my own time,” Jansen said.

Will students stray even further from the classroom’s traditional approach to learning? A limited-access pilot for “Mobile Learn @ UCF” ran this summer which enabled students to access their classes from their mobile phone, iPad, Android, iPhone and iPod touch. The results aren’t yet in for public view.

Overall, UCF currently offers five undergraduate programs, six certificates and 24 graduate level programs online. Although some programs include required lab work or internships, most of the upper level classes are available online.

Applications for UCF’s newest online Nurse Executive Program are due Oct. 1, which includes a competitive G.R.E. score, 42 credit hours of practiced lab and students must already hold a Master’s degree.

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