The debate over the merit of online learning has gained momentum in recent years. This is especially the case in Michigan, which has seen a growth to 192 school districts allowing online learning from just 12 in 2009.
Eastern Michigan University has equipped itself with an entire program charged with the sole task of assisting in online degree programs and the undergraduate and graduate level.
EMU student and commuter Gabrielle Williams said she likes online courses, but the unpredictability of computers seems to be a concern.
“If my technology cooperates then it’s great, but if my computer crashes or something like that, I’m out of luck,” she said.
With five new online schools opening in Michigan this year, the effectiveness and usefulness of an online education is called into question. One side of the argument claims that online courses lack the quality of being in the physical presence of an instructor. On the other hand, online classes provide much more flexibility in the scheduling of classes, which is a unique feature.
Professor Christine Tracy, an online course instructor at EMU, said that online education is challenging, especially for students who are not yet in college.
“Online education demands a level of maturity and discipline that young students – those in grammar or high school – may not possess,” Tracy said.
She said students in high school that are well-supervised, supported and coached might have more opportunities with online education.
“It is important to explore these new ventures with an open-mind and to understand the diverse educational needs of students,” Tracy said. “I have taught numerous hybrid classes here at EMU, which are a combination of traditional face-to-face learning and online learning. For many students, especially those that are sophisticated with technology and who have busy, demanding lives, this is an ideal experience because it combines both the online and the traditional classroom.”
She said the success rate of physically attending school versus online schooling depends on the student.
“I have been teaching college students at four different institutions for more than 15 years,” Tracy said. “I think the primary determinant of success is not the delivery system but the students’ commitment to his or her own academic success and institutional expectations.”
Tracy mentioned that there is a difference in performance in her online classes she teaches versus being in a physical classroom.
“For some students who worked very hard at their learning, online education provides more interaction with a professor than in a traditional classroom setting,” she said. “For students who are not as committed to their academic work, I believe traditional college classrooms provide needed accountability, support and engagement.”
An additional benefit of online courses is the opportunity it provides for long-distance learning.
“We often forget when we talk about online education that it is a global experience,” Tracy said. “Online education opens up Eastern’s classrooms to the world.”