Students, professors react to Kean’s online classes

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By: Redina Demushi | Published March 31, 2016

Students and faculty on campus are reacting to the recent Middle States Commission’s approval to offer Distance Learning programs at Kean University in all academic levels.

According to Kean’s press release, which was sent out on March 1, the university’s online program, Kean Online, will soon offer degrees at all academic levels – bachelor’s, master’s and post-master’s award/certificate/diploma programs.

Kean Online is looking to launch two graduate degree programs in the fall, in addition to the three undergraduate and one graduate degree programs that are already in place.

The recent news has Kean University students and professors sharing their thoughts on the advantages and disadvantages of online higher education, and whether or not this is something they can see themselves partaking in.

“I think that online courses can be extremely helpful for someone who works full time and has many other responsibilities that deter them from being able to come to campus and sit in class,” Kelly Black, a senior English major stated. “I personally like physically being in class and being able to interact with my professors and classmates face-to-face. I take more out of a personal experience than I would by staring at a computer screen”

According to “Grade Level: Tracking Online Education in the United States,” an annual report on the state of online learning in U.S. higher education, the 2014 survey shows that years 2003, 2005, and 2009, the growth in online students topped 20 percent. After 2009, there has been a steady year-to-year decline in online enrollment rates.

“Increasing numbers of academic leaders think that retaining students is a greater problem for online courses than for face-to-face courses (44.6 percent in 2014 versus 40.6 percent in 2013, 28.4 percent in 2009, and 27.2 percent in 2004),” the study also showed.

Dr. Richard Katz, an English professor at Kean University as well as former member of the faculty senate, senate leadership serving as secretary of the senate, and Senate Executive Committee, expressed his views on online education.

“My thoughts are what the research has been, that online learning is most effective with advanced students,” Katz stated. “The numbers are not encouraging.”

Due to low retention rates, Katz does not think that online courses are effective for students.

Others feel that online courses can be a good asset to Kean’s large commuter population.

“I think it will affect Kean in a very positive way,” Catarina Agudo, a junior Mathematics Special Education major shared. “Since now they will offer more online courses for your masters and post-masters, it’s great. A lot of students will be working full time and may have kids, and coming all the way to school might be a lot. Having that flexibility, or option there, is always good.”

The “Grade Level: Tracking Online Education in the United States” report showed that 68.3 percent of academic leaders continue to believe that “Students need more discipline to succeed in an online course than in a face-to-face course.”

“Online courses, if you read about their successes and failures, they seem to have a problem with retention, which means the students need to be disciplined enough to put the time into it. The other thing that needs to be done, from the faculty and course side, is building in support for students to help them stay in the course,” Dr. Charles Nelson, head of the English Department at Kean, stated.

William Kolbenschlag, a Journalism and Public Relations professor at Kean, who is currently designing a course for Kean Online, talked about the misconceptions some students may have about online classes.

“Some students think online classes are going to be easier, but that’s not necessarily the case. It might even be harder because the professors don’t get to know the students personally, where their strengths and weaknesses are, the way they can in an actual classroom,” Kolbenschlag shared.

According to an informal survey, many students stated that they, personally, would not take online classes.

“I hate them,” Amanda Almeida, a junior Cell and Molecular Biology major, mentioned. “I can find the sources for most subjects online, but what I pay to go to school for is for a professor to teach it to me. It might be the same quality, but it’s not the same method.”

Other students, such as Nicole Barata, a senior Graphic Design Interactive Advertising major, do not see the harm in online courses, depending on the subject.

“It depends on the field of study, or the course being offered. If it’s something that doesn’t require experience, then taking an Art History course online won’t be a big deal because it’s a lot of reading and writing, something we can do at our own desk. Whereas learning mechanics, or being taught a certain technique for painting, would mean needing to be somewhere suitable for it, other than sitting in front of a computer screen,” Barata stated.

Students and professors at Kean University all expressed different positions towards online higher education.

“Which is better?” Nelson said. “Well, it’s really hard to say. It’s going to depend on the student and it’s going to depend on the design of the course itself. If it’s designed well, I don’t see online being any disadvantage.”

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