Professor: Smart teaching crucial for online courses

As online classes become more prominent at universities, the quality of the programs has been up for debate.

This concern, however, has become a pretty tired conversation, according to Rebekah Nix, a senior lecturer in the School of Interdisciplinary Studies.

In a study done at Georgia Southwestern State University, researchers found that students don’t perform all that differently in an online class than they do in the more traditional face-to-face courses, and Nix agrees.

“It depends on the course and the instructor. Completely,” she said. “I don’t see a difference anymore.”

Nix has been teaching online classes for 15 years. IS has one of the highest amount of online classes out of all the schools at UTD, with 13 classes each semester.

The School of Behavioral and Brain Science is on the other side of the coin with no online classes offered this academic year. This is because those courses are largely lab based and don’t translate well into an online environment.

“You have to take professors out of their regular jobs,” said Bert Moore, dean of Behavioral and Brain Science.

BBS has a lack of professors to build successful online classes, Moore said, which is one of the contributing factors to its lack of an online presence.

He also said, though, that the school is working toward developing hybrid classes that will have a balance between online and face-to-face class time. These hybrid classes could become standard in the future of education.

“That’s definitely the future,” Nix said. “Most face-to-face classes are using a lot of online tools already.”

Arts & Technology sophomore Conor Roycroft takes a mix of online and in-person classes.

“Online classes are a tool that I use to take classes during summer,” Roycroft said. “That way I don’t have to drive to and from campus every day.”

The flexibility of online classes allows students to work where and when they want, and could offer a solution for students who want to continue taking classes while having to work.

The courses aren’t perfect though. Professors have been fighting academic dishonesty for as long as they have been teaching, and the Internet opens many new doors that facilitate it.

“It all comes down to what the person wants to get from the class,” Roycroft said. “If someone is taking an online class to avoid sitting in a classroom, they probably don’t care if they cheat or not.”

Taking classes online that are required but aren’t related to a student’s major, like core classes, work best for the format, according to Roycroft.

However, having the whole of the Internet for classes students don’t necessarily want to take in the first place can make cheating more tempting.

“(Academic dishonesty) is an issue,” Nix said. “But it’s an issue everywhere.”

A study by the University of Michigan explores the different perceptions of cheating, and found that typically, students have one definition of cheating, while professors have another.

Professors can still fight dishonesty; they just have to be craftier about the way they do things in their virtual classroom.

“You can be smart about the way you design quizzes and exams,” Nix said. “It’s really forcing the issue of good teaching. (Creating an online class that works) sometimes costs a pretty penny in terms of your effort and time, and it takes a few iterations, but it’s worth it.”

Keeping the attention of students, she said, is done the same way as discouraging cheating.

“You’ve got to be a pretty good teacher to compete with the Internet.”

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