Christine Richards is a 5th grade teacher residing in Linden, Michigan. She graduated from the University of Michigan in 2002 with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Political Science and Public Administration. She later returned to attain her Teaching Certificate in Elementary Education, specializing in Social Studies and English Language Arts. She has received high endorsements from the State of Michigan in both subjects. When Christine is not busy teaching, she loves creating memories with her son and traveling as much as possible. Christine is also a passionate life-long learner. She enjoys attending lectures and performances at the local universities, and taking art classes during the summer months.
Whether you are entering college for the first time, or you are returning from years past, there are two things you will quickly ask yourself: how many classes should I take, and should I take online courses or traditional college (in class) courses? The answer to the first question is one that only you can make based on your time availability, class difficulty and other life restraints. The second question may seem like an easy one to answer; however, it is one that you need to think about carefully.
You cannot watch television today without seeing a commercial from an accredited online university boasting its ability to accommodate the academic needs of a wide variety of people easily and from the comfort of their home. You’ll see the busy soccer mom, the middle-aged full-time working man dressed in a suit, or younger adults balancing several activities at the same time. The message being sent here is that – because of the internet and the accessibility of having amazing instructors from all over the world – you can get a stellar education, all while sitting at home in your PJs, completing assignments on your own time. Their message is true. However, before you venture out and enroll in all online courses, I would like to inform you of some of the lesser-known complexities of online learning.
It is true that there are some exceptionally good online instructors. I have had online classes from some of the best instructors I have ever had in college. Online instructors are required to have communication regularly with their students. Communication may not always be one-on-one through email, but also through group postings, as well as your responses on classroom interactive pages (i.e., “Blackboard”). The communication you will have with the professor is oftentimes better online than in a regular “brick and mortar” college classroom.
Although the sound of this means of communication may seem reassuring, the negative aspect is that communication is mandatory. Correspondence with your professor and the other students enrolled with you in the online class is part of your course prerequisites. Why? If you think about it this way, a professor’s greatest responsibility is to make sure his students are learning. Regular correspondence is not just a social pleasantry; it is the professor’s way to track what content the student has covered, and how well they are retaining the information. As such, the responses that you must give to the class and to the professor can be quite time consuming. Expectations for responses usually include how many must be given per week, which specific content must be included, and the deadline responses are due. Each professor has different days of the week in which they want their assignments returned, and responses and posts completed and posted on their group page. If they give you a deadline of Friday at 11:59 a.m., and you login at 12:10 p.m., it is too late: that online group session has closed, and your grade has now lowered. Needless to say that, with multiple online courses, remembering the schedule each professor wants posts and assignments completed can be cumbersome.
A perfect example: I was traveling to see family for Thanksgiving. I knew that during the trip I would not only have to log on and complete all my course readings for the week, but I also needed to watch the accompanying videos, type my responses on the public page (with specific instructions), and respond to at least two other classmates’ posts with three or four direct examples of how I either agreed or disagreed with their answers and opinions. And this was just one of the six courses in which I was enrolled. The stress of wondering whether or not my aunt will have Wi-Fi and a functional computer, where I will find the time to complete the assignment, and how to work this assignment in around activities that my family had already planned caused me great anxiety to say the least. In the end, my family was very accommodating to the time I needed for my classes. While I was able to enjoy my Thanksgiving with my family, the picture of online learning I just described is a little different than the picture the advertisers convey on their commercials.
Online learning has several advantages, and sometimes it is an absolute must. If you have a full time job, or you are the only person to take care of children at home, these classes might be the only way to earn a degree at this point in your life. Also, there is some flexibility if you are diligent about getting your reading, assignments and posts completed as soon as you possibly can. In the end, though, it is my recommendation that you try one or two online classes, along with traditional courses, to help you determine which method of learning best suits your needs.