In-class vs. Online Classrooms: Which should you take?

by AMBER EBANKS

At the University of Maryland, students can decide whether or not to take some of their classes in the classroom or online. While many students decide to follow traditional styles of learning, the online learning community is growing.

According to Babson Survey Research Group’s 2014 Survey of Online Learning, public and private nonprofit institutions recorded enrollment growth in online classes.

UMD offers three forms of online courses: asynchronous, synchronous and hybrid. Asynchronous classes do not require students to log in to instruction at a specific time, but students do have to submit their assignments by a certain time set by professors. Synchronous classes require students to log in at an assigned time.

Hybrid or blended courses are popular among students during fall and spring semesters. Students are required to attend both class meetings or exams on campus and participate in an online element.

Cassy Dame-Griff, the graduate coordinator for U.S. Latina/o Studies (USLT), has experience teaching classes in a traditional setting, online and as hybrid courses. Dame-Graff’s preference for delivering the material depends on the class itself. She likes to have classes face-to-face because many of her classes deal with race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality and identity.

“If I’m teaching an introductory course where there’s a lot of discussion happening, I personally enjoy the in-class format mostly because it means that I can interact with my students,” Dame-Griff said. “More importantly, my students can interact with each other.”

Dame-Graff believes that hybrid courses are beneficial because they combine online elements with in-class elements. Hybrid courses are similar to online classes because students are able to complete assignments at any time, but at either the beginning or end of the week, meet in a classroom setting with their teachers and classmates to discuss the week’s material.

“Hybrid courses are really intended to allow for students and instructors to make use for online spaces and the classroom,” Dame-Griff said. “It can range from having one online day to… mostly online and you have [only] one day when you’re in the classroom. Our classroom is so broad because people can post things they see on Facebook. When it’s an online course, people can easily translate that into the classroom.”

Renina Jarmon, a University of Maryland teaching assistant and doctoral student, agrees that online courses could be incredibly convenient for students who have “complicated busy lives.” Jarmon has taught Women’s Studies (WMST) 250: Women, Art and Culture and African American Studies (AASP) 498Z “Black Women in Popular Culture” online.

According to Jarmon, one disadvantage of taking online classes is that they require professors to always be prepared for class.

“Online courses require another level of thinking with regard to coordinating student interaction, class participation and building trust between the student and the instructor,” Jarmon said.

Despite this, she believes that delivering courses online certainly improved her teaching. “I have learned that students enjoy having the opportunity in offline courses to pose and answer their peer’s questions online,” Jarmon said. In addition, Jarmon thinks it gives shy students an opportunity to participate in online debates and discussions.

Jarmon believes that one of the greatest strengths in online classes is that they allow students to interact with both students and the subject matter in a “digital environment.”  “This is an important skill to have because so many of our work environments will involve digital spaces in the future,” Jarmon said.

Though online classes are growing in popularity among other college campuses, students can choose not to take classes online. Sarah Smith, the operations graduate assistant at the Art and Learning Center and a Master’s Candidate for Student Affairs at UMD is one of those students.

“I haven’t had the opportunity to take online classes because they didn’t have online classes when I was in undergrad at Vanderbilt,” Smith said. “When I was interested in taking an online class during this past winter break I wasn’t sure how they worked and if I would need to be online during a set class time.”

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