Online classes growing rapidly at UNCW –

Students in UNCW foreign language classes spent their course periods this semester talking with students at N.C. State University and Appalachian State University. Another set of UNCW students chatted with a class in Japan. And a UNCW professor doing research on a ship in the middle of the Atlantic taught her students sitting on campus.

The classes are all part of the university’s online education offerings – something the UNCW Board of Trustees learned more about during the first day of their April meetings.

Sitting in one of UNCW’s online-equipped classrooms, trustees heard from faculty, staff and students – some in the same room, some across campus, some at home – about the way online education works at the school.

The university has seen the classes’ popularity skyrocket in the last three years, said Dan Noonan, UNCW’s video networking analyst. The school now offers 87 classes online – up from 24 in 2010 – and has six classrooms with online capacity – up from two in 2010 – with two more in the works.

“We’ve seen more changes in the last 16 months than I’ve seen in the last 16 years” in the industry, Noonan said. “Our numbers reflect that.”

The university offers two types of online classes. Synchronous courses require students to log on at a certain time, while asynchronous classes let students log on whenever they can. In other words, synchronous classes offer flexibility of place, while asynchronous classes offer flexibility of place and time.

Florence Martin, professor in UNCW’s Watson College of Education, who offers her classes in both online and face-to-face formats, said online learning isn’t for everyone. Students have to be disciplined to keep up with the coursework on their own, she said.

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To help those students and their professors, the university has an office of e-learning, said Johnson Akinleye, associate vice chancellor for external programs. Students must take an orientation course before they can sign up for an online class, and the university is also working toward providing teaching assistants for online classes.

As online classes gain popularity across the country, trustees like Gary Shipman said “traditional academics” might worry about what would happen to colleges like UNCW.

“Are students going to lose the benefit of the residential model, the social interaction, the social skills that you learn?” Shipman asked.

Chancellor Gary Miller said it might cause people to start thinking about education differently.

“When you think of UNCW, you really have to focus on our faculty and how they add value to a person’s career,” he said.

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