February 5, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 42°F


College responds to demand for online courses

In response to a recent rise in registration for online courses during winter and summer sessions, Ithaca College will be offering more online courses for the second year in a row this winter session.

Senior Rachel Berger completes an assignment for her Topics in Media Law class online Tuesday in IC Square. She is taking the class online. MICHELLE BOULÉ/THE ITHACAN

Since 2008, course offerings in both winter and summer sessions increased, though face-to-face labs and lectures still outnumbered the online options. But in Winter 2010, the number of online courses surpassed the number of face-to-face courses offered, 16 to 13. The gap grew for Winter 2011 with 19 online courses to 12 lecture courses.

Before the college offered online courses during these sessions, students who needed to catch up on credits had to stay on campus while their peers went home for break. But since online learning grew in popularity, Rob Gearhart, associate dean of graduate and professional studies and director of online learning initiatives, said the college has adjusted its offerings.

“The increases in online are blowing us away,” he said. “When you and most of your colleagues don’t stay in Ithaca, but if you’re interested in picking up some credits, it’s a nice option for you to have.”

Jennifer Wofford, study programs manager, said the college is looking to further increase the number of courses available to students during the winter and summer sessions by facilitating a program for faculty to create more online courses and build on those already offered.

“We’re looking to provide faculty with opportunities to expand those courses, maybe turn some of our face-to-face courses into online courses or integrate additional media and multimodalities into the online courses they currently have offered,” she said.

As a way to encourage faculty to teach online, Wofford sent an e-mail to faculty members Monday with an application for the Faculty Grants for Online Learning Development grant, which will provide eight $2,000
teaching stipends for faculty to participate in workshops to design a new online course for summer 2011, update an existing online course or translate a face-to-face course into an online course.

Gearhart said the grant coincides with the college’s short-term goal to better support students with online courses that still maintain a quality level of education.

“Good online instruction is similar to good classroom instruction,” he said. “It’s partly science and partly art. Good pedagogy translates across different environments.”

From narrated PowerPoint slides, podcasts, links to articles and readings in a textbook, professors can use a number of means to deliver content through an online course. While there is no one particular way to teach an online course, Gearhart said a good design is to make the content engaging and similar to an “Ithaca College learning experience.”

“As long as the course is designed well, then you’re having all of those kinds of experiences you’d expect to have in the classroom,” he said.

Stewart Auyash, associate professor of Health Promotion and Physical Education, who will be teaching Critical Health Issues online this winter, said one benefit to teaching online courses is he can dedicate more time to helping students.

“Usually when students take an online class during the winter or summer sessions, they’re only taking one or two classes, so they’re not bombarded with hundreds and hundreds of pages a week,” he said.

One of the college’s initiatives, as stated in the IC20/20 document, is to “consider the utilization of online learning and collaboration technologies to bring virtual resources to the Ithaca campus and courses.”

Within the context of this objective, Gearhart said the college is looking at how hybrid learning — the use of both face-to-face and online courses — can blend into the educational experience on campus.

Another initiative highlighted in IC20/20 is to “consider the creation of one or more new overseas centers … to undertake international study without loss of momentum in their academic programs at IC.”

Gearhart said this goal is to help students who want to study abroad be able to do so while still earning credits toward their degree.

“Imagine if you could take six credits of internship and six credits of courses online that are
happening back here,” he said. “You could spend a semester in New York and still be a full-time Ithaca College student.”

The college charges 90 percent of per-credit tuition during the academic year for online courses in the winter and summer. While there is currently no specific plan to offer aid for winter and summer sessions, Gearhart said the college may look into providing financial assistance for these sessions in the future.

“It would be helpful if we could discount it further,” he said. “We don’t have approval yet, but that’s one avenue we’re going to explore over the next year.”

Senior Rachel Berger, who is currently taking “Topics in Media Law” online, said she can see the benefit of taking online courses in the winter or summer to catch up or get ahead on credits. However, Berger said she wouldn’t take an online class again while on campus.

“I’ve felt very isolated in this learning process,” she said. “It’s very secluded. You are doing the work. It’s you and your computer. Nothing beats sitting in a classroom with other people and having a dialogue.”

Auyash said online courses not only provide a way to get needed credits in the winter or summer  but also give students the opportunity to pursue outside interests they might not be able to schedule during the fall or spring.

“You can do it not just to catch up or get ahead but to learn something new that you normally wouldn’t have access to.”