Number of online classes increasing

Classes taken online in the 2008-2009 school year rose 14 percent from the year before.

Danielle Nordine

The University of Minnesota saw an increase in the number of classes taken online in the 2008-2009 school year, up 14 percent from the year before. In addition to an increased number of students, the University has added 174 classes and sections to the online program since the 2007-08 academic year. The biggest factor in the increase is the economy, said Bob Rubinyi, director of distributed education in the Office of the Vice Provost for Distributed Education and Instructional Technology. âÄúThe economy has gotten more students back to college and, given the fact that people often have to work at the same time, the idea of taking online courses and online programs is very attractive,âÄù he said. The increase, however, is not limited to only distance learning students. Rubinyi said students on campus are taking more online classes as well. âÄúThereâÄôs the factor of convenience,âÄù he said, âÄúand the fact that online classes that are designed well might even work better for certain students because its flexible and allows them to get deeper into the material.âÄù Michelle Driessen said she was nervous to teach her online Introduction to Chemistry course, which was first offered last semester, but has been pleased with the experience. âÄúI find that the lectures are actually more focused, and that students have responded positively overall to the experience,âÄù she said. Lectures for the course are recorded by topic and posted on iTunes U, and Driessen also requires students to submit homework every week to keep them on track. The biggest issues Driessen said she noticed were technological barriers for a few students and time management problems since students donâÄôt have to go to class or set aside specific times to listen to lectures or read material. The University joins other schools nationally in seeing an increase in online learning. Enrollment in online courses increased 17 percent between the 2006-07 school year and the 2007-08 school year nationally, according to a report released by the Sloan Consortium on Tuesday. About one in four students is now taking online classes, according to the report. Cost savings have been cited by many as a reason to move toward online education. âÄúIâÄôm replacing multiple people who would be teaching this course because itâÄôs online,âÄù Driessen said. The University is working with the financial departments to find out what the exact cost-benefit relationship is between online and on campus classes, Rubinyi said. However, online classes do reduce the need for classroom space and subsequent costs. A major concern with online classes is the lack of interaction between students and professors. Political science junior Ben Passer said this was an issue for him. âÄúSo much of the information was online that it was really hard to get a grasp on the basics,âÄù said Passer, who took an Italian 1001 hybrid class last semester. âÄúIâÄôm taking 1002 in-class now and I find myself trying to catch up with everyone else.âÄù Driessen also said the lack of interaction was a drawback. âÄúI enjoy being in front of students,âÄù she said. âÄúI didnâÄôt like the distance it put between me and the students.âÄù However, professor Arthur Harkins said online classes can actually facilitate more interactions, especially in classes that would normally be taught as large lectures. âÄúOnline, itâÄôs infinitely easier to keep track of individual students. They can get a response from me faster,âÄù said Harkins, who specializes in technology and education at the University. While it was convenient not to have class every day, Passer said it wasnâÄôt worth the difficulty. âÄúThe online course made me feel like I wasnâÄôt good at the language, and wasnâÄôt enjoying it as much as I thought I would,âÄù he said. Online classes are just the beginning of the technology of education, Harkins said. âÄúThereâÄôs a whole other generation of technology yet to be brought into our education world,âÄù he said. âÄúItâÄôs going to take time, but not as much time as some people think.âÄù