National online education trend not reflected at university

A recent study suggests the future of the classroom may rest within the confines of the computer screen.

Online education is growing substantially across the country, according to a study by the Sloan Consortium, an online education research organization. Almost 20 percent of all higher education students were taking at least one online class in the fall of 2006, according to the Sloan Consortium.

The preference for online learning has yet to spread to TCU’s campus. The university does not plan to expand its online presence anytime in the near future, said Nowell Donovan, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs said.

“The experience that we give is different,” Donovan said. “The essence of the TCU education is actually being able to interact directly with the professors,”

The university offers one online degree – a Master of Science in Nursing -through the Harris College of Nursing and Health Sciences. Students in the program only come to campus twice, once to enroll and once to graduate, and they come from all over the country, Donovan said.

According to the catalog, TCU offers 12 online classes for undergraduates during the fall and summer sessions.

Many professors utilize the Web as a way to enhance classes by using eCollege, a site which enables teachers to post grades, lectures and other learning materials for students to view.

Professors can decide if they want to take a step further and teach an online class, political science professor James Riddlesperger said.

Riddlesperger teaches an online class during the summer and is currently the only professor in his department to venture into the online teaching world.

“I think you get about 80 percent out of an online course compared to what you get in class,” Riddlesperger said.

There are clear advantages to online classes such as convenience and being able to do assignments in pajamas, but students do not have the same commitment to the professor or the class, Riddlesperger said. He said the learning environment in a classroom can’t be replicated online.

“Technology is not the substitute for the shared journey of the class,” Riddlesperger said. “An online course won’t have the same impact of traditional class.”

The university offers a class to teach students how to use technology in the classroom and for personal use.

“Using technology gives you the opportunity to reach more people,” said Cathleen Whillock, who teaches Technology Applications in Education.

Whillock teaches her students how to create and post YouTube videos, set up blog sites and use PowerPoint with a visual component.

“These types of things are not things that the professors teaching today have had formal training on,” Whillock said. “There are a lot of teachers who are not ready for this.”

Webcasts would allow students to view videos of professors lectures online.

Donovan said he could see webcasts becoming a part of the education process.

Junior economics major Matt Brown said a majority of his professors have used the Internet for document-sharing but haven’t taken advantage of other features the system has to offer.

Brown said he would take online courses if TCU offered more.

Junior political science major Alexandria Smith said she would rather go to class than doing class work on the computer.