Right Now On The Net: Online Classes

July 23, 2008 9:14:15 PM PDT
Universities and colleges all over the area are seeing increases in their web class enrollments.

While the convenience and flexibility make them attractive, there are some important things to know before you sign online.

Christine Conley Heaney commutes one hour each way from her home in Wilmington to her job in University City.

To pass the time, the 34-year-old does her schoolwork for her online master's class at Drexel University.

"I definitely wouldn't be able to do it any other way," she said.

Christine is just one of thousands of students enrolled in online courses.

Dr. Kenneth Hartman of Drexel University says now is the time when people decide to get that extra certification or degree to give them an edge in the working world.

"The industry has seen a giant increase as the economy tends to go down. The rise in gas prices, in many cases, was just the icing on the cake for many adult learners," Dr. Hartman said.

Action News found some surprising spikes in registration. There was a 40-percent increase at Villanova and Widener University's summer session has seen over a 70-percent increase.

Even the community colleges are seeing as much as a 50-percent increase! Like traditional classes, online courses can take a variety of forms.

Some might offer a "blended" option, like the one at Villanova. The civil engineering class has students on campus, as well as, over a dozen at home via the Internet or the entire instruction is online.

Teaching, assignments, and student interaction are done through podcasts, videos, blogs and email.

"When checking into an institution and they say they have an online program make sure that it's the type of online program that you need," Dr. Hartman said.

Find out who teaches the online courses: are they the same faculty that teach in the regular classrooms, is the institution accredited by an agency approved by the US Department of Education, and is the degree you earn the same as if you went to class in person?

"To what extent are the instructors and the students engaged in the courses and engaged means more than just posting a comment or two," Dr. Hartman said.

Make sure the school has extensive technical support and that the system is user friendly. The professor should have online office hours. The tuition is usually the same going online or the traditional route, so ask about financial aid.

If you do choose an online school, experts say to use a new or fairly new computer for speed and compatibility with the latest programs. And remember, online courses are not for everyone. This is a much less structured way of getting a degree and a certain amount of self-motivation is required. And remember to make sure you are receiving the degree from an accredited university because there are a lot of degree mills out there.