In an age where full-length movies can be streamed directly to a phone the size of a deck of cards, online classes might not seem as cutting-edge as they once did.
To keep up with the current times, MSU is continuing to advance its online course offerings for students. Today, MSU serves more than 5,000 undergraduate students taking online courses, with another 1,800 students pursuing graduate degrees or individual graduate courses online.
“One of the primary benefits would be giving access to students that wouldn’t otherwise have an opportunity to pursue a degree,” said Brendan Guenther, director of MSU’s virtual university design and technology.
MSU’s online course offerings have grown tremendously since the first online class was offered in 1996, Guenther said.
To compare, in the 2003 fall semester there were only 174 undergraduate students enrolled in 22 courses. In the 2011 spring semester, there were 4,128 undergraduate students — about 9 percent of the total university enrollment — enrolled in 66 courses, triple the amount of eight years ago.
“There has been consistent (growth) for five years,” he said. “We’re just a representative of the national trend. We’ve seen pretty steady growth.”
Last year, MSU began offering its first online doctorate program in educational technology, Guenther said.
Although taking online courses can provide more flexibility with scheduling for students, they also come with challenges considering students are on their own to complete the course work, Guenther said.
“(For) undergraduate students with the online courses, it’s a little difficult because you have to be self motivated,” he said. “You have to make your own time and make sure you’re spending enough time studying for an online course.”
For biochemistry and molecular biology junior Kristian Frimodig, online courses provide an easier alternative to in-class courses, he said.
Frimodig said with his current class schedule, he enjoys having an online integrative studies in social, behavioral and economic sciences — or ISS — course to ease his load.
“I liked it,” Frimodig said. “I don’t take (online courses) for my major (related) courses. I just take them as my (general education courses.)”
From the instructor’s point of view, teaching online courses mean more work on their part, but it offers a new and exciting challenge, said Robin Dickson, coordinator of the hybrid doctorate program in educational psychology and educational technology.
There are waiting lists for many online classes in the College of Education, Dickson said.
“Our online classes are overwhelmed with enrollment,” she said. “I think people are voting with their feet and are enrolling in online classes because it makes life easier to live if you don’t have to drive an hour to campus to attend a class for three hours.”
Online courses faced great resistance from faculty initially, but that’s no longer the case today because the university’s online presence has grown, she said.
“We’re right at the brink of expanding the horizons of what online classes can do,” Dickson said.
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