Campus community weighs in on whether online classes affect learning

UNA students may find it unnecessary to spend much time on campus in the future as learning environments change. Officials said hybrid classes are the future of UNA and that there will be an increase in the number of hybrid courses offered.

With non-committal weather, visions of cars hovering like vultures for the best spot behind the GUC and professors that may or may not have class, sometimes killing that nagging alarm clock and skipping class for sleep may seem like the best option.

An alternative to the traditional clasroom setting is the online classroom offered through the distance learning program. Thomas Beane, a nontraditional student, prefers online classes because they give him freedom to work on his own time.

“I enjoy online because I can work on my hours,” he said. “It makes it easy for me to take care of my family obligations. The problem is, if you don’t stay on top of it, you can be behind before you ever realize.”

Beane said online classes are not always better than traditional courses. He said, however, that online classes take discipline and regular attendance is still important.

“With online classes, you need to create a schedule,” he said. “Do readings as if they were a lecture. If you don’t have and keep a schedule, that’s when you fall behind.”

English professor Dr. Cynthia Burkhead agrees.

“I do not believe one is better than the other,” she said. “They are different. It takes a lot of discipline to take an online course. If you’re taking an online class, you’re going to have a different role as a student.”

While the role of the student changes, so does the role of the professor, according to Coordinator of Distance Learning Brenda Wilson. She said online learning might be more beneficial than traditional styles if the professor uses it correctly.

“It depends on the professor,” Wilson said. “Online classes are as different as each in-class experience. If the professor engages the class and is passionate about online learning and not just dragged into it, then they could give you a better experience than in class.”

Regardless of the classroom setting, Wilson also said attendance is a vital part of academic success.

“If you don’t understand the material, your grade will suffer,” she said. “There’s only one way to understand the material: come to class.”

Burkhead said more motivation is needed while taking online courses.

“If (students) don’t take advantage of all the resources I have for them, their success will be the same as a student who doesn’t come to a traditional class,” Burkhead said. “In many ways, online learning requires more discipline.”

In Keller Hall, Dr. Daniel Hallock, the chair of management and marketing, said hybrid classes are the most efficient combination of traditional and online classroom settings.

“According to most professional research, (hybrid classes) are seen to be the most effective,” Hallock said.

Hybrid classes are classes where the students only come once or twice a week to meet with the instructor. The majority of the workload is done online, which means a longer snooze time.

While the idea is relatively new to UNA, Hallock said there will be a dramatic increase in hybrid classes in the coming years.

“There’s a big change happening,” he said. “We’ve always been told that face-to-face is the only way to educate and the best way to educate. That might not be the case.”

Many high schools across the country are implementing more online material, Hallock said. He said, beginning next year, all Alabama high school students will be required to take one online course. This means more freshmen who are used to online learning

“I do think online and hybrid is coming, and you either get on the train or get off it,” Hallock said. “Change is coming. You can’t stop it. We might as well be good at what we do.”

As far as rigid attendance, Hallock said “the days of shutting the door to class if the student is one minute late are done.”

“The question is, ‘Do (students) learn better face-to-face or online or a blend of both?'” Hallock said. “Whatever works best for the student is the way we need to go. We’ve got to keep learning about teaching and learning.”