Students in Online Classrooms—Are They Satisfied?

by Ryan Heuer

What do ordering a pizza, listening to music, and going to class have in common? They can all be done with only the click of a few buttons online. Perhaps earning a degree will never be like ordering pizza, but with the hectic schedules and commuting problems that many students endure, online classes present themselves as one way to help remedy these types of problems. The real concern is the quality of these online classes. Do students feel that they are getting the full bang for their buck, or are online classes a poor substitute for their in-person counterparts?

Minnesota State University, Mankato (MSU) offers dozens of online courses. Students can now participate in two types of online classes, web enhanced and online. Web enhanced classes use internet and web resources to reduce the amount of seat time spent at the institute. Online courses, however, do not require students to physically meet at the university. Instead, they meet via chat rooms or online meeting programs that make use of webcams or microphones to interact with each other.

A survey of 12 MSU students who had taken both online courses and traditional classes investigated if students felt that online classes provided an experience on par with in-person classes. The students answered questions about an online class they had taken. The students evaluated the difficulty of the class, the amount that they learned from the class, and the manner in which the class met online. Two students also gave their opinions on their class during personal interviews. During my research of online classes, I also drew from my own class experience. I attended both online and face-to-face versions of classes offered through both, a web enhanced class, and a full online course. Anthropology 103 was offered as a web enhanced class. The class offered many study guides, reading materials, and online resources to parallel with the lesson plan. This trimmed the class meeting time down to an hour each week, which was used to discuss class materials. I also took English 271, a technical writing course, online. This class also met for one hour each week, but the meetings took place in a chatroom, where we discussed the topics covered each week.

The data from the survey provided some interesting results. Some students despised the experience of taking courses online, some enjoyed it, and others fell in between the two extremes. Although students' overall satisfaction of the classes ranged all over the scale, many similar responses popped up within the surveys.

The convenience of the online format satisfied many students' needs. Of the 12 students surveyed, eight said that they originally chose the class because of time restrictions within their schedules or commuting problems. Ryan Giersdorf, a participant in a web enhanced Anthropology class, emphasized the pleasant allowance to do the work when he had time. He commented, "Overall it was a good combination between meeting in-person and using online capabilities. The online portion was nice because it allowed me to finish the extra work when I had time." Arthur Van Duynhoven, a Computer Science and Mathematics major, also had a similar response about his English 271 course. "Online was a good choice," said Van Duynhoven. "Although it was a lot different than a class that you take face to face, I could stay at home and not miss out on class." When I asked Van Duynhoven if he would take an online class again, knowing what he does now, he said, "Probably. Although I didn't get as high a grade as I wanted, it definitely was better than having to spend four extra hours at campus when I already had a full schedule. I probably would have had to wait another semester in order to take the class if wasn't online." Having now taken both an online class and a web enhanced class, I also agree with this opinion. The convenience of online class made an otherwise inaccessible course an available option.

Another interesting response that a majority of students proclaimed was the amount of contribution made by the instructor. Half of the students rated their instructor as making a less than average contribution to the learning experience in the online courses. Three of the students rated their instructor's contribution as average and three rated the instructor's contribution as being below average. Many students felt that in an online class, instructors did not contribute as much as they did in other classes they took. During my experience with both the web enhanced and online classes, the online class did seem a bit strange and slightly detached.

Clearly, online courses gain the advantage of convenience and accessibility, but lack the personal touch of face to face classes. Right now, online classes struggle through their childhood since online courses have only recently been popping up in university curricula. As students and as technical communicators, we hold the delicate responsibility of guiding this child into adulthood. We should remember that much of the basis of technical communication lies in teaching others, and as more forms of teaching become available online, so must we become more in tune with online teaching.

Works Cited:

Giersdorf, Ryan. Personal interview. 15 Oct. 2006.
Van Duynhoven, Arthur. Personal interview. 27 Sept. 2006.
"Online Class Participation Survey." 27 Sept. 2006.

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