Students who have struggled to balance their work schedule with their class schedule may soon have a solution to their problems. The University of Miami has begun expanding its online class program to include more students.
At the start of the decade, UM got more involved in online education. The university partnered with Laureate— an international company specializing in online education— to start offering masters degrees online. This coincided with the establishment of a distance learning unit. Among its objectives, the distance learning unit worked to establish online classes for students in the Bachelor of General Studies Program, an undergraduate program at UM designed for “non-traditional students.”
Rebecca Fox, the dean of UM’s Division for Continuing Education and International Education, said non-traditional students are people who are not between 18-22 years old. Often, they are working professionals, so getting to campus during the day is complicated.
To give more flexibility to these students, Fox’s department worked with faculty to establish online classes for BGS students.
As a result, UM now offers nearly 100 online undergraduate courses across multiple departments, from math and English to music classes at Frost. These courses have been met with enthusiasm from faculty and students alike.
“It gives students a lot of flexibility,” said Manuel Sicre, a full-time lecturer at the Miami Business School who was among the first faculty members to start teaching online courses at UM. “All they need is a computer and Internet connection, and they can participate.”
Sicre teaches graduate-level accounting courses online to students pursuing an MBA. His 16-person class includes an attorney and a student who lives in Venezuela.
One “non-traditional” undergraduate student expressed positivity towards the idea of online classes and agreed that they can add a level of flexibility.
“I definitely think online classes can be helpful,” said Zach Danny, a transfer student from Dayton State College who was in the military before coming to UM. “Your schedule can be so demanding it’s your only option.”
Due to the success of online classes, UM is beginning to open the option to “traditional” undergraduate students. Online undergraduate courses are now available to students during the summer session.
Offering these courses online enables students to take courses from UM faculty at their home state or anywhere in the world, providing them with more flexibility. Before, students would have to take classes from a local college and go through the process of transferring credits back to UM.
“Do we really want people taking classes at their local college? Why wouldn’t we want them taking them online with our own faculty?” Fox said, who lobbied to open up the online classes to all undergraduate students.
Because of the success of opening up the summer courses, the administration granted Fox and her team the ability to offer online classes to undergraduate students during regular semesters for “bottleneck courses.”
“Bottleneck courses are courses that prevent students from graduating,” Fox said. These are courses that may be required for a cognate or major. When these classes fill up, if a student is unable to register, it can set their graduation back.
Fox stressed that online courses were not meant to be a replacement for in-person classes, saying they are not a replacement for UM’s traditional education system.
“Person to person interaction is an important part of the learning experience,” said undergraduate student Daniella Cornide, who is majoring in advertising. “School should be more than sitting [on] your laptop.”
Fox said faculty who participate are often doing it as overload work, and they teach with the same pedagogy that is applied to in-person classes. “This is designed to give students something extra, it’s about giving students access to what they need.”
Sicre echoed similar views.
“I do it because I love it,” Sicre said, “I do not allow my online classes to effect my in-class teaching.”