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27 October 2011

Online course options limited for students

Universities are starting to use the Internet as another source of education.

Formally called “distance learning,” online courses have changed the way students earn or finish their degrees.

Though limited in comparison to other colleges, UM offers certain online programs that can aid in building resumes or pursuing an interest.

The Division of Continuing and International Education administers all online courses. This includes mainly non-credit options and credit certificate programs.

Many of these programs involve certificates for law specialities, such as paralegals, studies, or language classes like Mandarin and teaching English as a foreign language.

All students can take these courses as a supplement to their degrees. For example, nursing students can take an online patient advocacy course.

Though the majority is not for credit, the Division of Continuing and International Education also offers courses for credit. These are only open to non-degree seeking or Bachelor of General Studies students.

The list is not extensive, offering the minimum introductory or general requirements to graduate. Students must then supplement online work with classes on campus.

Gina Astorini, the director of  Undergraduate Academic Services  in the School of Education, calls virtual classes “a double-edged sword.”

“Even though there is an attraction to online classes, I feel that students would eventually realize that they missed out on the true meaning of a higher education,” Astorini said.

For students, time is the main attraction.

As an adviser, Astorini has noticed a trend in the past two years, with students trying to graduate in three years instead of the traditional four.

With the rise in the cost of attending college and the lure of graduate school, she said she can see the reason for pursuing an online education.

Astorini is not a stranger to online classes herself, as she is currently in the process of virtually completing a doctorate in higher education.

“I like the classroom environment. With online, one loses personal interaction, and it is difficult to analyze diversified opinions,” she said.

Across the nation, schools have joined the online bandwagon.

In Florida alone, the University of Florida offers six online Bachelor of Science degrees that range from business administration to microbiology.

UF states that the programs are meant to be a continuation of an Associate of Arts  degree earned from a Florida community college.

Florida State University has programs in computer science, criminology and police science, in addition to similar certificate programs.

Several Ivy League universities also have online degrees and certificates.

Columbia University’s Graduate School of Engineering and Applied Science provides opportunities to earn a Master of Science or Professional Degree through online courses.

Other Ivy League schools, such as Cornell and Harvard, have followed suit with a variety of certificate-level programs for undergraduate and graduate students.

Students have mixed feelings about online learning.

“I don’t like online classes,” senior Regine Darius said. “I like interacting with people.”

Sophomore Dennis Cannon feels similarly, and argued of a physical classroom.

“I have better grasp of the material by going to class,” he said. “I have a better sense of staying on track and can take more of an initiative.”

Junior Priya Patel sees the benefits of taking a virtual class or two but not as a substitute for going to class entirely.

“If they were more available, I would probably take a general requirement but not a class for my major,” she said. “I am used to learning from teachers, so I wouldn’t learn much from online classes anyway.”