Thursday, July 10, 2008

On-line Classes and the Cost of Gas

With the rising cost of gas, many businesses are seeing changes in consumer activities. Some are choosing more fuel efficient automobiles, while others are reducing their travel or overall spending. Educational institutions also appear to be noticing some changes in their consumers’ behavior. According to an Associated Press article, many colleges and universities are seeing an increase in those preferring to take classes on-line.

Prior to gas prices reaching $4.00/gallon and above, there was already an increasing number of students who preferred to enroll for on-line courses. However, with the latest surge in gas prices, administrators are seeing an even greater increase in enrollment in such courses. While the reasons for students choosing on-line over in person classes are usually not sought by these schools and universities, a clear link has been cited between the cost of fuel and this increase.

Students can enroll primarily in two categories of on-line classes. The first is what most think of when considering on-line coursework – the student logs into the class at their convenience, and communicate to professors through chat and e-mail. The other option mixes in person and on-line classes in that the student is required to log in at class time, and is able to communicate with others in the class via microphones and cameras.

This move towards on-line education is requiring professors to adapt to the new technology. In the article, it is stated that many professors are uncertain about the efficacy of these on-line classes. As would be expected, many of these professors would prefer to have their students live in their classroom, but current economic conditions do not always allow for this.

Computer technology has greatly increased the possibilities in our lives. They have created conveniences and cost-saving alternatives. However, with all new methods and technology, there are drawbacks. In the case of on-line education, one issue, at least when some exclusively on-line schools started popping up, is the fact that there is a risk of diploma mills. These “schools” would basically issue a degree for merely paying the tuition; no class work or learning was required. Many of these diploma mills were caught and shut down, but one would think that there is still a risk involved with similar schemes reoccurring. However, if students take these classes at reputable schools such as Villanova (mentioned in the article as providing such opportunities), these risks would be reduced.

Related to these fears of diploma mills is the fact that many businesses became wary of hiring students who attended these on-line schools. Even if students attend on-line classes at reputable schools, businesses, like professors, will need some time to adapt to the fact that more people are now choosing to attend school solely through the Internet. As this educational method becomes more widespread, it is hoped that the acceptance of students with degrees acquired through on-line coursework will be more easily accepted.

Finally, with taking classes solely on-line and communicating only through e-mail and chat, there is a loss of the close connection between the teacher and student. Some classes would seem to require such contact and not lend themselves as easily to on-line education. Some see college as a time to work with the peers you will eventually be entering the “real world” with, and sitting alone in front of the computer does not necessarily lend itself well to this networking and group work.

All this said, on-line learning definitely works at least in some situations and for certain categories of students. This educational method provides valuable knowledge to students while allowing them to reduce their costs of attending. The trick becomes how to offset the negatives listed above so that students will truly be able to take advantage of these positives.

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