Online Classes Ease Schedules and Budget Cuts

April 21, 2010

Attending class in fuzzy slippers and pajamas might sound absurd, but it’s an option available to more than 3,000 students at GCC this spring.

Glendale currently offers more than 50 distance education courses, also known as online and hybrid courses, in which 51 percent or more of the instruction is taught online. These courses are offered at the college in various subjects such as business, music and health.

Although some distance education classes require a number of on-campus meetings, online and hybrid courses generally do not require students to be physically present on campus at designated times, allowing for them to “attend class” at their discretion.

For those who lead busy lives, online classes are a fitting solution to tight schedules.

Panditha Sarathchandra, a student at Pacific Oaks College in Pasadena, chose to take online courses at GCC due to a number of time-constraining commitments.

“[I] am a [part-time] nanny and a figure skater practicing for my first competition next year,” she said. “And finding ways to complete my classes on time is not easy which is why I prefer online courses.”

For student Nicole Inman, schedule flexibility isn’t the only advantage to this type of learning.

“I prefer the online courses since I don’t have the distractions of other students acting up in class,” she said. “I am able to concentrate better without those distractions.”

As with most situations, there is good and bad, and there are also disadvantages to this non-traditional type of class. With no instructor verbally presenting material in a classroom or giving reminders to complete assignments, students are left to push themselves to get their work done, and it can be a challenge.

“Unfortunately it can be hard to stay disciplined without the classroom experience,” said April Kass, who recently completed Health 104 online. She added that is difficult to stay “motivated … to get the work done on time.”

Kass also said that a negative aspect of online courses was the lack of student-teacher relationship that is present in a traditional classroom setting.

Title 5, California’s education code, requires that distance education standards match that in traditional classroom courses, including student-teacher communication.

To meet this requirement, health instructor Barb Erfurt regularly hosts a live chat session to facilitate a virtual classroom experience for her online students. The chat session allows them to seek advice on personal health problems.

Erfurt also utilizes a public discussion board for her students to post questions and share thoughts. Students are able to read posts by their peers and may respond to them just they would be able to respond in a physical classroom.

If traditional and online courses still don’t provide an ideal or convenient learning environment, there is the option of taking a hybrid course.

Hybrid courses are designed so that students spend part of the course in a classroom and part of it online.

Instructor Brett Miketta teaches a hybrid five-unit computer science course, where three units are designated for in class work and two units are designated for online work.

Miketta believes that Glendale’s hybrid education “is getting … marginally better than our face-to-face [education]. And it’s because we’re leveraging that technology.” What does not work well in a classroom can be accounted for in the online environment, and vice versa.

Miketta has also found that this non-traditional education method results in more communication with his students.

“I find that … I actually get more direct communication with the students in the online environment than I do in the classroom, the reason being that many students fear raising their hand and asking a question.”

With the budget and finances a big concern for many students throughout the state, distance education courses may offer a partial solution.

Student Michael Sanchez, who has taken online courses at Glendale and Santa Monica College, said that online coursework allowed for him to avoid the hours of commuting he would have encountered if he were enrolled in traditional classes.

Another student, Jacob Hernandez, took a course at GCC online for reasons similar to those of Sanchez.

“I took [health] online so I wouldn’t have to drive to campus, save money on gas, and not have to worry about finding a place to park,” he said.

According to Miketta, online courses may be more cost effective than traditional ones because they do not require classroom space or utilities, and can be taught by adjunct faculty.

However, according to Associate Dean of Instructional Technology Shereen Allison, “It’s not a major cost saving.

“It does help in terms of … when you’re looking for classroom space if you can take some of the courses that can be done online. If you do some of them online, you have an easier time scheduling classes, so there are a lot of benefits to it.”

However, quality remains Glendale’s primary concern in distance education classes.

“You’re not going to find any online classes that have a huge number of students in them, and that’s generally one of the bigger determinants of how expensive something is,” Allison said. “So if you’ve got one teacher per 20 students, versus one [teacher] per 100 [students], the smaller class is more expensive, technically.”

Allison noted the increased demand for these courses.
“I think that you definitely see that [demand is] growing,” she said. “From what I hear from students, they seem to want more and more.”

Of the students currently enrolled in credit courses at GCC, nearly 18 percent are also enrolled in online and hybrid courses.
As demand for these courses grows, so will the college’s offerings.

“Our job is to service our community,” Miketta said. And if our students want online education, we need to be able to provide that to them…. If we don’t increase the online offerings, then our students will be going to [other colleges] because students can take online courses anywhere in the state of California. And as long as it’s in our community college system, it transfers and it counts.”

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