By Kelly Schmitz, Angela White, Emily Krause & Will Kamps
Online college courses have become scarce after a year of mostly virtual schooling due to COVID-19.
When registering for fall classes, some University of Wisconsin – Green Bay students noticed that fewer online courses were offered for the fall 2021 semester than in the years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many students were confused about the reasoning behind this, and consequently, it raises the question of whether students prefer to take online courses or in-person classes. Another question soon arises – what do professors prefer as well?
Some professors noted that the reason there could be fewer online classes offered was because of how many technical difficulties arose during the completely virtual 2020 school year. “We had approximately one week in 2020 (spring break) to convert all content to virtual formats. That was really challenging!” UWGB Communication Professor, Danielle Bina said. “Overall, I’d say the lack of a rich communication environment is the toughest part. The best adjustments there include using as many synchronous tech tools as possible, such as MS Teams or Zoom,” Bina noted. Offering an online counterpart to a traditional in-person class setting adds a multitude of additional tasks for professors, possibly resulting in more personnel being needed to have each option offered.
Kelly Schmitz, Angela White, Emily Krause, and Will Kamps, UWGB students, conducted a survey using Qualtrics to examine students’ opinions of the class format. The survey results indicated that some students struggled during the 2020 school year. From technical difficulties to not all assign being added to the Canvas calendar, juggling online classes proved to add another layer of difficulty to the already challenging workload. Although many classes were offered in an asynchronous style, each course’s content was date-locked, making courses not-so-asynchronous.
Students also mentioned that while online courses proved their difficulties, there were many prominent benefits. Accessibility was one of the most commented on, being that students could access any course, anywhere, at any time. This was incredibly convenient for those who work or have busy schedules. If students wanted to take a quiz, they could do just that, rather than studying the course material and waiting for class to begin.
An additional benefit to online courses is a students can do everything from the comfort of their own home and offer a more “in their element” feel to course work. This aspect was also beneficial to those students who felt uncomfortable meeting in person for classes. Finally, because most online coursework involves heavy discussion, students have the opportunity to improve their English and overall grammar skills instead of highlighting each in a once or twice-a-semester paper.
J.T. Mertens, a senior at UWGB, is currently attending in-person classes. Mertens said, “It’s hard to determine which I liked better. Both are good in their own ways.” Mertens added, “I enjoyed the open-ended nature and flexibility of online courses.”
Mertens said, “It was pretty much the same in terms of accessing the material. My professors published lectures and slides that allowed me to take notes, follow along, and revisit information I may have missed. A major difference is the lack of personal connection to my classmates, all the people I hung out with I already knew from growing up or my freshman year in person.”
The overall consensus was that online courses worked for their purpose during COVID-19, but a good mix of in-person lectures with online homework turn-in seems to be the best option for professors and students alike.