Online vs. Traditional Classes: What’s the Right Answer?
There are positive and negative aspects of both online and traditional classes, and with Old Dominion being ranked number seven of all Virginian Universities by University Web Ranking 2015, and Old Dominion’s Distance Learning Program being ranked number thirty-one nationally for online colleges by U.S. News and World Report, the question of what classes are the most beneficial is even more pertinent.
There are many studies and surveys published every year that debate the benefits of online versus traditional classes. Some studies suggest that online classes are far more beneficial, while some studies suggest that there is no better way to a degree other than going the traditional class route. Still other studies believe that there is no clear cut answer to whether online classes or traditional classes are more beneficial to take, such as “Interactive Learning Online at Public Universities: Evidence from Randomized Trials,” a study published in 2012.
Old Dominion has an enrollment of nearly 25,000 students, many of which are active duty military, commuters, international and part-time students. Consequently, not including graduate students, there is an average enrollment of about 4,100 students earning their baccalaureate degrees through the Old Dominion Distance Learning program.
Unfortunately, there is no exclusive answer as to whether online or traditional classes are more valuable. The kind of class a student takes is relative to their academic pursuit, and those situations can change based on a variety of factors. Many students take a combination of online and traditional classes, but it is important that they take whatever style class they can thrive in as opposed to survive in.
“My overall experience [with online classes] has been really good. I work full-time, so being able to take my classes online has been necessary,” Stephanie Rivera, an ODU senior, said.
Rivera is a communication major at ODU and has taken almost solely online classes. She took dual enrollment classes at her high school, and received her associate’s degree from Rappahannock Community College. She communicated that her teachers were reasonably accessible and accommodating to their online students.
But some students have had different experiences.
“Some online classes were fine, but the majority of the online classes were terrible,” Ashleigh Koleski, a junior, said. “I definitely prefer the traditional classroom more, which made me decide to commute to ODU rather than do everything online. I feel more obligated to go to classes and complete the assignments because I actually have to face the teacher! So in general, I have more motivation in traditional classrooms.”
Koleski is a primary education major and has taken a mixture of online and traditional classes. She enjoys the freedom and independence that comes with online courses, but she also feels that the lack of structure is, more often than not, a hindrance.
“Some [online classes] were really nice because it was information that I didn’t think needed to be taught in a classroom because it would have been more so a waste of time than beneficial,” Olivia Rogers, a junior, said. “But some were really difficult to take online. I took a psychology class online and it was just a lot of information to retain, and I never knew what the teacher expected from the assignments.”
Rogers is a music major, and transferred to ODU after obtaining her associate’s degree in arts and sciences. She has only taken about five online classes.
“A lot of times I feel like sitting in class is a waste of my time, when I can do the work in one or two days at home,” Rogers said. “So if I would have known how easy online classes could be, I would have taken so many more of my general education courses online.” For Rogers, the drawbacks of online classes have been a worthwhile trade for the independence and flexibility in completing assignments.
Rivera, Koleski, and Rogers all agreed that the biggest challenge online students face is communication with professors and class scheduling structures.
“The biggest challenge with online classes is miscommunication. Not knowing what’s expected. Sometimes they just give you a basic syllabus, which is fine at first, but then halfway through you see a research paper is due, and you don’t know if I have to submit a topic, do I have to write it in MLA format? And then many teachers don’t answer emails in a timely manner, or at all,” Rogers said.
Rivera said that in one of her classes her professor would have an open video forum where the students could discuss upcoming assignments and exams with the professor, but it would be a one-time forum that was usually scheduled in the middle of the afternoon when Rivera was at work. “I take online classes because I work full time during the day. So scheduling inflexible online meetings defeats the purpose of me taking the class online in the first place,” said Rivera.
“If I could change anything about online classes, I would change the schedule! There should be a mandatory group chat at a decided time where everyone can ask the professor anything about the course,” said Koleski.
At Old Dominion, Distance Learning tuition and traditional tuition rates are the same so commuting and on-campus students take online classes at the same price as traditional classes. Ultimately choosing between the two depends on what a student needs in their education at the time they sign up for classes.
For students who depend on structure, in-person teacher-to-student interaction, and who may not have the best time management skills, traditional classes may provide a better student learning experience. Students who need flexible schedules, more independence, learn better in a solitary environment, or reside off-campus might have more success by taking singularly or a majority of online classes.
No professors for online classes responded to attempts to contact them, but maybe the emails are just lingering at the bottom of a pile of unanswered student emails.