Online classes offer different take on learning

As computer technology continues to do more to impress the world day by day, many of the faculty, staff and students at Gannon University strive to incorporate this technology on campus.

One thing that they have done recently is introduce an updated web portal and community website, but this isn’t the only way Gannon is keeping up with the times.

As advertisements for learning online have become increasingly popular, so have the number of students taking online classes through Gannon. According to students and teachers at the university, these classes call for a whole different kind of learning.

A freshman pre-med major at Gannon, Tricia Theiss, said she is taking her Critical Analysis class online because she wanted to try something new. “I have conquered moving out of my parents’ house and managing all of my responsibilities,” she said. “I wanted to add on one more experience I have yet to fulfill.”

Terry Giles, a theology professor at Gannon who teaches sections of Sacred Scriptures online, said he thinks that every Gannon student should take at least one online class, just to get the experience.

Giles said he taught the first online class that Gannon offered in the late ‘90s or early 2000s. He said that, at first, online classes were created for non-traditional students and nursing majors, who both often have schedules that conflict with normal class hours.

He said that these classes have evolved, though, and that more students are taking advantage of learning online. “I’ve seen that it’s changed. I think it would be best to reserve them for juniors and seniors,” Giles said. “I don’t know if freshmen have got that kind of self-drive or motivation. It’s hard.”

Danielle Betz, a junior physician assistant major, took her Introduction to Philosophy course online in the summer of 2010, and she is currently taking Philosophy of Ethical Responsibility online. She said she likes online classes because they allow her to work at her own pace.

“I always worried about the first exam or quiz because you don’t know how the test will go,” she said, “but I took the quiz and did well.”

Theiss said it helps if you take a class that you know you’ll be able to do well in. “I chose a subject that I do not need a professor in front of me explaining everything word for word to me,” she said.

She said she was a little apprehensive at first, and worried about things like her computer malfunctioning. But once the class was underway, she said things started going really well and it’s turning out to be an enjoyable experience.

“The professors want to see you do well, and will do anything will help any way they can,” Theiss said. “Their intentions are not to have you fail.”

Likewise, Giles said he tries to reply to students within four hours once they have contacted him. He said this is due to the different kind of communication one finds in online classes. It’s different from the kind of communication students and teachers have in a classroom.

“In class, you have the face-to-face kind of communication, and you don’t get a chance to verbally interact with everybody every day,” he said. “Online, every time the student accesses the course you’re interacting with that student directly. “

Kyrene Haynes, a junior physician assistant major, took Philosophy of God and Introduction to Music online. She said they both went smoothly, but they didn’t lack a challenge.

“There was a fair amount of work for an online class,” she said. “Don’t get behind from the start – it is harder to catch back.”

Giles agreed that online classes are demanding. “It requires that the student be much more of a self-starter,” he said. “It’s easy for a student to procrastinate and then to get kind of jammed at the end of the semester.”

At the same time, though, he urged that online classes are very valuable.

“I think students ought to be exposed to a variety of learning situations,” Giles said. “And I think that it’s not only the transfer of information that is part of a college education, but learning how to learn. And so we have to, in my opinion, construct a variety of situations.”

Theiss said that if students have ever considered taking an online class at Gannon, she suggests they do so.

“In the end I am really happy that I decided to do this,” she said. “I will absolutely be taking another online class. It is, above all, convenient.”

KELLY MORELAND

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Tricia Theiss contributed to this article.