Online education continues to grow despite challenges

Enrollment in Massive Open Online Courses is at an all-time high worldwide, but Chancellor Rita Cheng said the university is not competing with the virtual classrooms.

MOOCs, which are free Internet-based courses where anyone can join classes taught by professors at any time, do not offer college credits to their participants.

However, The American Council on Education recently agreed to review some of the courses and may recommend that other colleges grant credit for them.

If MOOCs receive accreditation, many students may choose to leave universities for the online classrooms.

“We are not competing with MOOCs, as they are open to the public with no criteria for enrollment,” Cheng said. “Our online courses and programs are offered to students admitted within SIU.”

Some major universities such as Harvard, MIT and Stanford have launched MOOCs that have seen more than 100,000 students enroll from all over the country.

Cheng said SIU is not offering MOOCs but instead improving its online classes for students. Cheng said the university will have 150 online courses available during the spring semester.

“Our online offerings are growing significantly as we expand to meet the needs of our students,” Cheng said.

Cheng said the university is aware of the MOOCs and research by the American Council on Education. She said SIU recently received an award from ACE’s national education agenda that will be used to help with the delivery of online programs and courses.

“Departmental offerings within SIU for academic credit are offered to traditional on-campus students as well as to non-traditional and place-bound student populations that require alternative learning methods,” she said. “Our research funds from ACE will be used to create online tutorials and online academic advisement tools, which are a key factor of student success within quality online programs.”

Cheng said SIU has tried to embed online offerings into its academic core. She said the goal has been to expand the reach of already existing, high-quality programs.

“Our priorities are faculty oversight, quality and student-learning and completion,” Cheng said. “Through the Office of Distance Education and off-campus programs, which now includes all of our military, off-campus and online programs, I think we are making solid progress.”

Jacob Buckman, a senior from Eldorado studying university studies, said his friend just signed up for MOOCs. Buckman said he’s not sure if his friend made the right decision.

“I don’t think (MOOCs) show as much credit as a major school,” he said. “I think people do it because it’s convenient, but I don’t think it’s a good way to go, especially if you have a different place to study.”

Buckman said students enrolled in MOOCs miss out on the experience of being in class with other students and teachers.

“When a student asks a question, more times than not, you have the same question,” he said. “That’s definitely an advantage students in actual classes receive.”

Taylor Reel, a senior from Carterville studying elementary education, said she prefers traditional classes but can see why some students would prefer to study on the Internet.

“For some students, it’s a better option,” she said. “Some have circumstances where they can’t make it to campus, and online education is the only way for them. It does free up your schedule.”

Buckman said schools should offer online classes as an alternative but not as the only option. He said students should mix online and classroom learning in their schedules.

“Online classes are a good option for some students,” he said. “You can get the time and convenience of online classes but still get the in-person experience.”

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