Students find flexibility in online courses

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For students struggling to balance work and fun during summer vacation, traveling to Marquette’s campus for lectures can be an inconvenience. But online classes allow students the flexibility and freedom to complete classes in accordance with their own busy schedules.

In a little more than a decade, Marquette’s online program has substantially expanded. Twenty-four courses are being offered to undergraduates online this summer.

Jon Pray, associate vice president for educational technology, said Marquette’s first Web-based classes were introduced in 1997, primarily in what was then the School of Education.

Many faculty members saw online education as inferior and not suitable to the university’s liberal arts tradition, he said. Since then, both technology and professor attitudes have changed, he said.

Pray and his colleagues in Johnston Hall’s Instructional Media Center develop “rich media” — videos, slideshows, audio clips and graphics — to enhance Marquette’s online courses.

Rich media is also implemented in the university’s hybrid courses, which offer a mixture of face-to-face lectures and online learning.

This format is gaining popularity, Pray said. Norman Sullivan, an associate professor of anthropology, is teaching three hybrid courses in the fall.

Pray said younger faculty helped push the technological envelope, while older faculty have gradually accepted Web-based learning as an exciting new teaching technique.

“It’s the next generation of educational delivery,” he said.

Janna Wrench, D2L support assistant in the Center for Teaching and Learning, sees a similar trend.

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm from the heads of departments,” she said. “Initially, only a small pocket of faculty was interested.”

Wrench, who graduated from Marquette in 2002 with degrees in secondary education and history, works with faculty members to re-conceptualize and condense teaching plans for the online format. Classes have to be structured differently and more directly for the six- to eight-week period, she said.

“You still get the true Marquette experience, it’s just moved online,” she said.

Compared to other universities, Wrench said Marquette’s online courses provide the guidance of experienced, office-accessible faculty, guaranteed transfer of credits and a high caliber of fellow students.

“As an undergraduate, I would have loved to take (online courses),” Wrench said.

Marquette began offering online summer courses in 2008, said David Buckholdt, director of the Center for Teaching and Learning.

The five classes, with 18 students per class, were quickly filled once registration opened, he said.

This year, Buckholdt said 322 of the 455 spots have been claimed, and several courses are already full.

As director, Buckholdt works with interested faculty members and college deans, while promoting the idea of online learning.

Faculty members are paid $3,500 for developing an online version of their course, he said.

Buckholdt said he sees online education as a natural aspect of society’s technological advancement. Marquette has room to expand its offerings, he said.

Hillary Tarr studied in the College of Health Sciences from 2007-’09, and now attends the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She took Introduction to Biological Anthropology with Sullivan online in the summer of 2008 and said the class was fairly easy.

She has also taken online courses at Elgin Community College and UW-Milwaukee. Marquette’s courses are better organized and of better quality, she said.

Michael Derrick, a junior in the College of Education, took Introduction to Learning and Assessment online with Heidi Schweitzer, an associate professor of education, in the spring of 2009.

As a commuter, the course saved Derrick time and money. Besides saving on gas, no textbook was required, he said.

The class was comparable to his other education courses, but required greater organizational skills, Derrick said.

“It was on you to do the reading and post on the discussion board,” he said. “(The structure) puts more of the responsibility on the students.”