Study: Online courses don't effectively serve all students


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University of Iowa officials say online courses offer students as good an academic experience as in-class courses do, so long as students devote the same amount of time and effort in such classes.

With the emergence of different techniques, online courses have become relatively common; however, one recent study shows that these courses could be inefficient for students in certain demographics.

According to a study released on Feb. 22 by Columbia University’s Community College Research, it appears that some students, including men, African-Americans, younger students, and students with lower grade-point averages, are more likely to have negative results when taking classes online.

“I think that the study is trying to point to the fact that online courses do not serve all different kinds of people equally,” said UI English Professor Barbara Eckstein.

Ken Kuntz, a professor emeritus of religious studies at the UI who has taught both in the classroom and online, said he believes most students who take his classes are either juniors or seniors and sport all kinds of majors. Students from other countries also take his classes, he said.

“With international students, there could be problems in their English,” he said. “If they are using the wrong word or several grammar mistakes, I generally say something about it so they would know I am reading carefully, and they would eventually need to be able to write.”

Tim McGee, the director of distance learning at Kirkwood Community College, said he agreed on the possible gap but said he was somewhat surprised that “men” were included in the list as well.

“The way statistics work sometimes can be correct,” he said. “But men who do not succeed online may not have good writing and reading skills, because their field does not require it.”

The study included more than 40,000 community- and technical-college students who took roughly 500,000 courses in Washington.

The researchers’ primary focus was to compare face-to-face courses with online courses, which resulted that online formats negatively affected both students’ persistence in the courses and grades.

Chet Rzonca, an associate provost and dean of the UI Division of Continuing Education, said the responsibility for a negative relationship is on the student, not the program.

“If people do their assignments on a regular basis, there is no way of avoiding work,” he said. “It is critical to do your own work.”

McGee also noted that self-driven students who like to read and write generally do better because there is a lot of reading, writing, and self-pacing needed in online courses.

Continuing Education at the UI consists of 300 courses. The courses are delivered online and both on- and off-campus in different ways that would satisfy the students’ goals.

“The thing that Iowa prides is that the courses and faculties are approved by academic departments,” Rzonca said. “That is an important distinction of Iowa from other schools.”

Matt Nieto, a junior majoring in economics and minoring in sport studies at the UI, took Statistics for Strategy online last semester and is taking Microeconomics Theory online this semester.

“Actual classes are easier to ask questions, while for online courses, you need to email them when you are trying to get explanation,” he said.

UI junior Joe Yang, who took Managing Your Money online, said classes on campus are easier to understand.

“I think regular courses are better because the professor can help you understand in their own words. They know how to present the material,” he said.

McGee said that providing distance learning is helping out people who cannot easily access education.

“Even though there are some technical challenges, we believe we are doing a good thing,” McGee said.

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