The Department of Academic Affairs is working to create additional online and hybrid courses to make classes more accessible to students, according to Scott Greenberg, associate vice president of academic affairs and dean of continuing education.
“We would like to offer more degrees that can be obtained completely online,” said Greenberg.
The University has an online bachelor’s degree program in liberal studies. In the future, online bachelor’s degrees in management and sociology will be created, Greenberg said.
One goal is to create programs that provide “an opportunity for students who can’t get to the campus for some reason or have so many responsibilities at home that it would allow them the flexibility of learning online,” he added.
Benjamin Alberti, chair of the sociology department, said he supports the initiative, but there is a “stumbling block.”
The two research analysis classes for sociology majors involve a software program. “Often, it is really helpful for the professor to be hovering over the shoulder of the student learning. So, how do you recreate that level of contact in an online environment? One possible solution is Blackboard Collaborate – there, you’d at least have virtual contact with the professor’s computer screen and your groupmates. We need to do some experimenting to see if it works out,” said Alberti.
He said he values the face-to-face classroom environment, but sees the flexibility of an online education.
Alberti added, “Imagine a fully online degree? In the same classroom, you could have people from all over the world, learning together and from each other.”
Greenberg said the online winter intersession offers 21 courses this year.
The session is helpful during the winter when inclement weather prohibits students from getting to school, he said.
“It provides an alternative for students who are motivated and self-directed learners to take a course from their own homes and not have to go out and travel to the campus during the winter months,” he said.
Junior Reid Burkis-Oelerich said the flexibility of a hybrid course works well for a commuter like himself. “It’s more convenient to do it from my home instead of dealing with poor weather conditions.”
Freshman Thomas Rice said, “I think it’s pretty cool. Being able to complete the four-year degree from home works well for those of us who have busy work schedules.”
Registration for the 2017 winter intersession is now open.
Greenberg said two accelerated sessions are offered during the fall and spring semesters. The sessions are eight weeks, and most are held entirely online or offered as hybrid courses.
“It helps those students who are looking to accelerate their degree and like that intense experience,” he said.
Robert Donohue, professor of psychology and faculty union president, said online class offerings are necessary for students whose circumstances do not allow them to be in the physical classroom.
“The administration appreciates that online classes really require a lot more work per student oftentimes than do face-to-face classes,” he said.
Donohue said he does support having an online bachelor’s degree program, and he believes a high-quality program is possible.
He said the conflict is that high-quality education has its costs.
He added, “When I’m thinking about these online programs … people are saying students require it. Well, the reason students require it is because students can’t devote themselves to being students. They have to work and earn money to survive financially.”
Donohue said, “Higher ed is jumping through all kinds of hoops trying to create all kinds of workarounds to allow students to pursue higher education under these terrible circumstances.”
Students need to be aware that the cost of a degree from Massachusetts public higher education institutions is higher than out-of-state universities, he said.
Linda Vaden-Goad, provost and vice president for academic affairs, said there are several benefits to offering online and hybrid courses.
“Technology offers us astounding flexibility,” she said.
She said hybrid classes provide a good mix of independent work and some face-to-face time. Online classes allow students who have busy work schedules to fit their classes in.
“People can work on their classes from wherever they are, at whatever time they want. They are good for trying to accommodate today’s modern life. Online classes are terrific for people who do shift work or have a family, or perhaps are taking care of somebody who is ill,” she said.
Vaden-Goad said hybrid courses allow for students to be together in a traditional learning environment which facilitates relationships among them.
According to Framingham.edu, online courses are offered in 18 subject areas, which include graduate degree programs.
In the continuing education department, 48 completely online courses and 11 hybrid courses were offered in the undergraduate program during the fall semester. Also, 95 sections of online courses and eight sections of hybrid courses were offered during the summer of 2016, said Greenberg.
Mark Powers, university registrar and executive director of student record and registration services, said for Fall 2016, there are three completely online and 18 hybrid courses in the day division.
English professor Lynn Parker teaches an online section of The American Short Story during the winter and summer.
She said this 200-level course is popular because it allows students to fulfill a general education requirement.
“We have an analysis forum. It is not a standard discussion board. The students have to engage with each other and respond to each other,” she said.
The students can expand upon each other’s ideas, she added.
Parker said the format of the course is “either a series of units that each have a test, or it will be the standard essay, midterm and final,”
Students in English professor Kristin Comment’s 300-level poetry class, Whitman, Dickinson, and Frost, said there were pros and cons to taking a hybrid course.
Junior Cameron Grieves said, “My experience is that in class, we have a lot of good discussion [face-to-face] and it’s very presentation-orientated, versus a more traditional essay approach.”
He said the online aspect “isn’t as engaging.”
Junior Jackie Carlson said, “I wish we met more than once per week. It’s hard to have relationships with my peers.”
Junior Erin Dempsey said, “The online discussion is just as engaging, if not more so. People have time to thoroughly contribute to create a great dialogue.”