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The Unique Challenges Facing Online Students

by Alexis Mattera

For the past two years, I have attended college entirely online. For some people, the idea of going to school online is like wading into a swamp – terrifying even to contemplate – but for me, online learning has been a dream.

This doesn't mean, however, that online classes are for everyone. Quite frankly, those of us who are not self-starters are not suited for online schooling. E-learning has deadlines, exams and papers just like traditional learning but teachers don't always remind students when assignments are due as they would in a traditional classroom, since they assume students who choose to take classes online are responsible enough to keep up with the coursework. In addition, e-learning is difficult for students who learn by listening to lectures; for online classes, lectures are provided in a visual format and some people find the fairly lengthy notes difficult to read through. Finally, although most teachers are willing and able to address any concerns online students have, students are largely expected to overcome obstacles themselves. Consequently, online students are encouraged to be much more independent than traditional students.

For me, this sense of independence is both liberating and empowering. I have been forced to adapt to an environment where I have minimal supervision and am required to make my own decisions. My achievements as a self-motivated individual have transcended to other areas of my life, such as my interpersonal relationships. I have grown as a person and as a thinker as a result of being an online student and I am proud to say I have completed my entire associate degree online. Although online learning may not be for everyone, the rewards of being a self-motivated individual have far exceeded the costs of online learning for me.

Lisa Lowdermilk is a soon-to-be published author, an avid video gamer and an artist. Her first novel is a murder mystery for young adults set in the future. She enjoys watching thrillers, trying different restaurants and attempting to breakdance. Lisa completed her Associate of Arts degree entirely online and is now majoring in professional writing at the University of Colorado Denver.


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The Learning Curve: Online Classes vs. Traditional Classes

by Jessica Seals

College classes, whether taken online or in person, may all seem to be the same. Both types require you to read, write papers, take tests and participate in some way but there is a big difference in the lifestyle that you can lead when you take online classes instead of taking traditional classes on campus.

I have personally taken both online and traditional classes, experienced the differences between the two and quickly learned that my learning style needed to be adjusted on a class-by-class basis. With traditional classes, you have a set time to go to class, turn in work and take tests. Your other daily activities have to be planned around your class schedule. Online classes allow you to be more flexible with your time – the ones I’ve taken allowed me to base my school activities on my daily schedule and do the work when it was convenient for me – while still studying and adhering to deadlines set by the instructor. But with this increased flexibility comes more responsibility, as you have to learn how to make a schedule you can stick to. This schedule should list all of your assignments along with their due dates so that you don’t miss turning anything in. (When I first started taking online classes, I missed two assignments because I hadn’t adjusted to this new type of learning. Ouch!)

Online classes are very convenient for those who have busy schedules that don’t allow them to sit in traditional classes. Taking classes online makes it easier to push your work to the side until the last minute, so be prepared to manage your time more closely if you want to stay on track.

Jessica Seals is currently a senior at the University of Memphis majoring in political science and minoring in English. At the University of Memphis, she is the secretary of the Pre-Law Society, the philanthropy chair of the Phi Kappa Phi Student Council and a member of Professional Assertive United Sisters of Excellence (PAUSE), Golden Key Honor Society, Alpha Lambda Delta Honor Society, Sigma Alpha Lambda Honor Society, and Black Scholars Unlimited. She also volunteers to tutor her fellow classmates and hopes to attend law school in the near future.


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From Yale, With Love (and Perhaps a Lawsuit)

Online Course Transcripts for Sale in China

June 8, 2011

From Yale, With Love (and Perhaps a Lawsuit)

by Alexis Mattera

This is not a good week for higher education in China. First, a cheating scam is toppled just days before the national college entrance exam and now, it’s been discovered that Shaanxi Normal University Press is selling transcripts of Yale University’s free online courses.

The content – five transcripts from Open Yale Courses, a program that’s been offering free online videos of popular Yale classes since 2007 – has been published by Shaanxi without Yale’s permission. In addition to lifting content from the video lectures, Shaanxi also took material directly from the transcripts’ translations prepared by YYeTs, a Chinese nonprofit. Diana Kleiner, a Yale art history professor and principal investigator for Open Yale Courses, told the Yale Alumni Magazine blog “possibly as much as 95 percent” of the material was copied; this plus the sale of the content violates the terms of the course giveaway, which states others cannot profit from the material.

Though one professor says he is flattered by the attention, Yale officials are less than pleased, especially since the school is planning its own book series based on the Open Yale Courses.


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The Fight Against Federal Student Aid Fraud

by Alexis Mattera

Firefighters. Police. Ghostbusters. Your mom. There are certain people you instinctively contact when you need assistance and the same holds true for the federal government. When the Department of Education noticed there was something strange in the neighborhood regarding federal student aid, they knew just who to call.

Less than a month after releasing a report detailing how organized fraud rings were exploiting distance education programs, the ED contacted colleges across the country urging them to develop additional ways of identifying threats to federal funding. Schools were encouraged to combat potential fraud rings by monitoring groups of students using the same IP or email addresses to apply and participate in online programs, paying closer attention to students living outside the schools' normal coverage areas and delaying the disbursement of federal funds or releasing said funds in multiple disbursements. In addition to the steps colleges are taking internally, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the department will be working with Congress and schools "to ensure we have all the tools we need to prevent criminal elements from defrauding federal student aid dollars."

Do you think colleges are doing enough to prevent federal student aid fraud?


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Smile...You’re on Camera: WGU Uses Webcams to Monitor Online Test Takers

by Alexis Mattera

For students seeking more flexibility in their college schedules, online classes are often an excellent alternative. Coursework can be done from anywhere with an Internet connection but when it comes to test taking, how do instructors know the person answering the questions is doing so honestly? Western Governors University has come up with a solution: Say cheese!

Up until a few years ago, WGU online students had to take their exams at one of the school’s 6,000 on-site assessment centers. This proved to be a burden for the majority of the student body – the average student is 36 years old, has a family and takes a full course load while working full-time – so WGU began allowing students to take exams off-site if monitored by webcams. The cameras show the student, his or her computer screen, their hands and profile and a 180-degree view of the room to ensure the student isn’t obtaining information from another source during the test. And just in case something goes awry, there is support available to assist with any technical issues.

While some students still opt to take their exams on-site, most have adopted the program with open arms: There are 30,000 WGU webcams in use and about 80 percent of the 10,000 exams per month are taken via webcam. Do you think WGU’s webcam program is beneficial to busy students as well as the school’s reputation? If given the option, would you smile for the camera or take your tests on-site?


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MIT to Offer Free Online Courses

by Suada Kolovic

Think you have what it takes to go to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology? Let’s be honest, few do but if you’re interested in testing the waters, MIT will soon offer free online certification courses to outside students who complete them!

How will the interactive e-learning venture, known as MITx, work? Here’s the breakdown: MITx will give anyone free access to an online-course platform. Users will include students currently enrolled at MIT as well as external learners like high school seniors and engineering majors at other colleges. They’ll watch videos, answer questions, interact with teachers and other students globally, experience stimulated labs, participate in quizzes and take tests. Still have your doubts? MIT Provost L. Rafael Reif assures interested students, "This is not MIT light. This is not an easier version of MIT," he said. "An MITx learner, anywhere they are, for them to earn a credential they have to demonstrate mastery of the subject just like an MIT student does."

One slight catch is that although MITx courses will carry no cost, the institute plans to charge a “modest” fee for the certificates. (The exact amount is still undecided.) The first course will begin around spring of 2012 but MIT has yet to announce the course. Does this opportunity spark your interest? Should other prestigious institutions – Harvard, Stanford, Brown, etc. – offer similar initiatives? Let us know what you think.


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Could This Be the Future of Higher Ed?

Tenured Prof Leaves Stanford to Offer Low-Cost Online Courses

January 24, 2012

Could This Be the Future of Higher Ed?

by Alexis Mattera

Schools like MIT, Berkeley, Tufts and Michigan have been in the news recently for their support of online certificate programs. These courses are often low-cost or free alternatives to traditional college courses and one professor is so confident in this method of education that he has left a prominent position at a prestigious university to provide just that to the masses.

As reported by Reuters, The Chronicle and other outlets, Sebastian Thrun has left his post as a tenured computer science professor at Stanford to found Udacity, a start-up offering low-cost online classes. Thrun is no stranger to this kind of education – he taught an artificial intelligence course to more than 160,000 students around the world that had students taking the in-person lecture at Stanford flocking to its online counterpart – and will now focus on crafting online courses that recreate the intimacy of one-on-one tutoring through Udacity. One of the start-up’s first offerings will be a course called “Building a Search Engine” that will teach students with no prior programming experience how to build a search engine like Google.

What do you think of Thrun’s new operation? Is this the direction higher education is headed in or will traditional classes still have a place in the future?


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Are Students Interested in Online Classes? Of Course(ra)!

One Million and Counting Sign Up for Free Virtual Courses

August 13, 2012

Are Students Interested in Online Classes? Of Course(ra)!

by Alexis Mattera

Since its launch earlier this year, Coursera has attracted its fair share of attention in the higher ed sector: Not only has the company formed partnerships with high-profile schools such as Stanford, Michigan, Princeton and UPenn, roughly one million students in 196 countries have registered for the startup’s free online courses.

Though the numbers reported by Coursera (and also its competitor Udacity, which has more than 739,000 registered users in 203 countries) are impressive, they don’t represent the amount of learning actually taking place. Coursera co-founder Andrew Ng explained in an email interview that the number of active students is significantly lower because many registrations are for courses that have not yet begun and many sign up but don’t end up following through with the coursework. So are students interested in free online classes? Yes, but time will tell whether or not the registered students actually stick with the program.

Have you considered enrolling in the online classes offered by Coursera, Udacity and others or do you prefer the traditional classroom experience?


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Are Online Classes Right for You?

by Mike Sheffey

Hey everyone! Thought I’d talk about online classes this week. People typically opt for online classes to free up some space in their schedules during the academic year. You can take them during the summer or simultaneously with your regular classes to knock out some credits. You can also seek out courses not typically offered at your college or university. The benefits of online courses, in my opinion, greatly outweigh the negatives...but I’ll let you readers sort it out.

Benefits

Negatives

  • Being independent, there is less of a chance of study groups and working with others.
  • Sometimes people do not take online classes with the same seriousness as regular classes when they should be treated as such.
  • There’s a lot of time spent on the computer – to those with Facebook addiction and problems focusing, it could be a challenge.
  • There is much more distance and more hoops people have to jump through to get help in these classes. That’s not an issue for more independent students but those who frequent help sessions or their professor’s office hours with questions might find it difficult.
  • Online courses are much more objective in nature. If you rely on the participation portion of grades and partial credit on tests, these courses might prove difficult.

I personally believe that if you have the chance to get ahead through online classes, you should take it. College can be tough and anything to ease your workload in the future is a plus.

Mike Sheffey is a junior at Wofford College double majoring in computer science and Spanish. He loves all things music and has recently taken up photography. Mike works for an on-campus sports broadcasting company as well as the music news blog PropertyOfZack.com. He hopes to use this blogging position to inform and assist others who are seeking the right college or those currently enrolled in college by providing advice on college life, both in general and specific to Wofford.


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College Class Size: Does It Matter?

by Mike Sheffey

Large classes or small? As colleges look to save money per student, this has become a key discussion topic. Recent studies are now showing that redesigning the typical lecture-type lesson has proved successful in large class settings, boasting higher exam results than those on the old model...but I think it really depends on the institution.

I can only speak from experience about Wofford College: The largest class I’ve ever had had about 50 people in it (and the average class size here is 15), though I will soon find out how large classes work when I take a summer course at UNCG to fulfill a gen ed requirement in statistics. I can guarantee that in terms of building professor connections and having instructors as resources outside the classroom, small classes have the advantage but I could definitely see how this setting could be intimidating and that there could be students that flourish more in large-scale lectures.

Attendance policies also seem to be stricter at smaller schools and in smaller classrooms. In a class of 300, nobody bats an eye if somebody’s missing; in a class of 12, however, every absence is noticed. Those who are engaged and active in class will probably benefit more from smaller courses, with more direct contact with the professors. But these assumptions seem to be changing. Like I said, the lecture-style of teaching is being altered at bigger schools and being replaced by interactive and virtual courses supervised by professors or teachers. The computers seem to keep the larger classes focused and have directly contributed to better grades in the sciences and visual arts.

When determining what class size is best for you, the best thing to do is to talk to people that attend your prospective schools. How do they like the large classes? Would they recommend them? Do they take any small classes? Are their learning styles similar to yours? Results don’t lie but you know yourself better than a statistic. For me, the small classes at WoCo are where it’s at. What about you?

Mike Sheffey is a junior at Wofford College double majoring in computer science and Spanish. He loves all things music and has recently taken up photography. Mike works for an on-campus sports broadcasting company as well as the music news blog PropertyOfZack.com. He hopes to use this blogging position to inform and assist others who are seeking the right college or those currently enrolled in college by providing advice on college life, both in general and specific to Wofford.


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