(EZRA MARGONO / THE STATESMAN)
Do MOOCs serve the same functions as live, in-person classes? (EZRA MARGONO / THE STATESMAN)

You often hear of people obtaining high school, undergraduate or even graduate degrees through online courses offered by a school or university. They obtain the same qualifications as someone who physically attended classes, paid full tuition and thoroughly took part in high school or university life. They go through the same course work, the same exams and the same stresses as their “not as advanced” peers. Recently, Stony Brook University announced that its online graduate program has moved up in the “U.S. News and World Report” rankings; it was at No. 25 in 2013 and recently jumped three spots to No. 22. This got me thinking: are these online programs really beneficial? Can they offer the same advantages as taking live classes?

My sister, Janani Shah, an alum of The University of Ottawa ’12 says that online classes are not for everyone. “If you are organized, then yeah, it is great and easy. But, on the other hand if you aren’t, you are likely to fall behind. You have to be on top of things.” She pointed out that people who have the work ethic to succeed in these classes, and are able to keep up with assignments are the ones who end up doing well. Otherwise, it is just a waste of time. I feel as though there is no substitute for actually being there when someone is teaching. There is nothing better than the real thing.

“About the things I retained from those online classes; I couldn’t tell you because it wasn’t much.” It is evident that the online classes that Shah took might be a reflection of all online courses. Maybe they are adequate for fulfilling certain holes in a student’s resume, or perhaps courses that can be taken as supplements to a real-life course load, but to be able to obtain something as coveted as a graduate degree (regardless of the subject) without leaving your own home seems farfetched to me. How can one sit at a computer all day and expect to have the same experience as someone who takes real classes? I do not think they can.

Maybe there needs to be an extended study done on online classes/degree programs versus live ones. Perhaps if we take two students, of similar academic backgrounds and relatively the same degree of intelligence, and enroll student A in an online program and student B in the same program (hopefully with the same curriculum) but an in-person version. During the process, we would see how each student fares and after the class or classes, we can see who has gotten more out of the experience. Another option is to enroll the same student in an online course and a physical course that have different syllabi, but at the same time are equal in difficulty. Granted, there are several wildcards in this type of experiment, but it could tell us a lot.

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So, do online classes work? To be honest, I do not really know. But what I do know is that it probably would not work for me. I say try it out for yourself if you even get the chance. You might be able to save some time, money and even stress.

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1 comment

  1. You have one valid point about online classes – they aren’t for everyone! Let’s correct some misconceptions. An online class is not necessarily a MOOC. Sure – MOOCS are online, but these enormous classes have little, if any, interactions between classmates or the instructor.

    I received my undergrad degree from Stony Brook in the traditional manner. I received my graduate degree through an online program. By and far, the online class (with an average of 15 students) allowed me to learn and retain more. Online classes force you to interact… read, write, and read and write more. Face-to-face classes – at Stony Brook, some had as many as 400 students, forced me to do… nothing.

    It comes down to this: The quality of the professor. Some traditional courses have professors who are not current in their field and are teaching from 20 years ago. You can sit in the seat, but are you paying attention? Are you texting or surfing the net? In the online class, you must create that presence with interactions. I got to know my classmates in the online class through our dialogue. The professor acts more as a facilitator, encouraging discussion through questions. I have found that online professors are more current in material, and the best are active in the course 5-6 times a week. I haven’t met a traditional professor who is that willing to be available. Of course, I’ve had an online class or two where the professor was MIA, but this was not common. This professor will not last long in an online learning environment.

    The comment above from the student who states the need to organized and have a work ethic it probably the best indication of success in online class. The student who expects to be handed everything (traditional) will not succeed in an online class… the learning is self-directed. You are constantly assessed on the readings assigned, and expected to make significant contributions. How often do you speak up in a traditional class, whether it is to make a comment or ask a question? You’ll be doing this regularly in an online class!

    I would recommend that you try one out. Find a class which interests you and give it a go! You might just be pleasantly surprised!

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