Classrooms gone virtual
By Katie Turner
The daunting task of waking up for an 8 a.m. class may be enough to drive any student to online classes but the computer classroom presents its own unique challenges.
For students considering taking an online course, Mount Royal has recently begun to offer a free introductory class into the world of digital education.
Initially launched in January, the course is meant for students to get a sense of what an online class will look like without any of the financial commitment, explained Tammy Cross, program director of community and health studies in Continuing Education.
“It’s free to the public and it’s basically a Blackboard course site and students just go on and go through it at their own pace and they can see what an actual Blackboard site would look like,” she said.
“So it’s basically to help them increase their level or skill and get them comfortable, because some people are terrified to even think about doing an online course. They have no idea what the expectations are going to be.”
There is a misconception that online classes are easier than face-to-face courses but according to Cross that is “absolutely not true.”
Mai-Ann Sprung, an instructor with Mount Royal, agrees that online courses are not easier and require a lot of motivation on the part of the individual student.
As a strictly online instructor in technical writing, Sprung said she has seen first hand how easily students can fall behind without the structured environment of the classroom.
“It takes a much higher level of discipline and focus, as you don’t have the typical classroom-based prompts for interaction, discussion and collaboration,” she explained.
While digital education presents some challenges, both Cross and Sprung said that becoming an online student has its benefits as well.
For students that are unable to move to Calgary, Cross explained an online course could be a good alternative and may leave room to eventually bridge to a credit program.
“It’s really beneficial for students that are all over Alberta or actually even Canada and internationally, that they can take courses and if they decide they want to move on [or] they want to move here they can do that and keep going with their education,” she said.
Working through the Internet allows for more flexibility for someone with an already busy schedule and it provides students with the skills to function in our “globalized work world,” said Sprung.
Andrew Sutherland, 25, has been working to obtain his degree since 2004 and has taken both online and face-to-face classes and said that for him, a computer classroom has been helpful.
“Since I have been working full-time since 2006 following my second field-study as part of the journalism program, the online environment allows me to continue focusing on my career while continuing my education,” he said.
During the 2008/2009 year, 789 students were enrolled in 41 courses at Mount Royal through eCampus Alberta and 2009/2010 has had 307 enrollments to date, according to MRU’s Academic Development Centre.
“[Online education is] growing and even with the amount of space in the institution, we’re growing, the degrees are coming in, space is starting to become an issue with classes,” Cross said.
“It’s a convenient way to help alleviate some of that pressure.”
The free online course tutorial can be registered for by calling 403-440-3833 or online using the course registration number 30993.