The number of students enrolled in online classes increased 11.5 percent from last spring despite the university’s overall enrollment decline.
While some in the university community think online courses lack many positive aspects of the classroom experience, the university promotes taking the classes to stay competitive with other universities.
Chancellor Rita Cheng said she considers online courses to be an important component of any higher learning institution.
“Our competitors are embracing technology, enhancing student learning and expanding the reach of the university beyond the classroom,” she said. “It is important for SIU to step up and embrace the Internet.”
Most campus departments are represented by a variety of online classes.
Gayla Stoner, director of the Office of Distance Education, said today’s students are technology users who are learning from a global perspective.
“Online classes provide access to students through the same instruction as on-campus classes,” she said. “Also, if an on-campus student needs a course that doesn’t fit into their existing schedule, they may be able to add an online course.”
William Harms, a senior from Springfield studying psychology, said he has never taken an online class and never plans on it.
“I like going to class, I like meeting new people and I like interacting with my professor,” he said. “There are so many things that the classroom environment provides that you would never be able to get out of a computer.”
Cheng said this blended learning allows students to incorporate technology and enhance rather than limit their learning experience.
Harms said it is obvious that human interaction will continue to dwindle with the way technology and society is going.
“People already have more friends on Facebook than they do in real life,” he said. “They already choose to text instead of call, and now they are choosing to go to school online.”
Cheng said online classes might be a different experience, but not a worse one.
Stoner promotes online classes because of their technological integration.
“Technology opens doors to the entire world by providing diversity and access to other societies,” Stoner said. “More resources are available to the place-bound student through technology providing learning experiences not available without technology.”
Anne Townsend, a senior from Pekin studying recreation, said she has taken online classes and thinks they are OK.
“I prefer a real classroom. If I have a question, I can ask it directly and get an answer right away instead of waiting for an online response,” she said. “I understand why there are online classes, but I prefer having social interaction and hearing others’ perspectives.”
Stoner said there is more to the learning experience than curriculum. Online courses offer tools to enhance the learning styles of all students, she said.
“For example, a collaborative project offered online is an ideal way to encourage a peer-to-peer learning experience,” she said.
Cheng said the classes expand programs’ quality and allow for many more people to become students.
Stoner said although all types of students take online courses, online courses offer great opportunities for non-traditional students who require a more flexible schedule.
Josh Grey, a sophomore from Evanston studying radio-television, said he likes the idea of online classes.
“While I have not been able to take one yet, I really like the idea of convenience. Who wouldn’t want to take their class in their pajamas?” he said.
Grey said as far as the future of education goes, it will probably move along with technology and society.
“People are already replacing notebooks with iPads,” Grey said. “We’re moving toward the future, and part of learning is adapting to technology.”