The Daily Gamecock

University plans to offer more core classes online

Options would allow scheduling conveniences for students USC is working to extend the reach of online classes to all USC students by offering general education requirement classes online.

The main goal of Vice Provost Lacy Ford is to make the majority of core requirements available online in order to help relieve scheduling stress for newer students.

For the 2012 spring semester, approximately 165 classes were offered online, a smaller number than USC hopes to make accessible in the next couple of years.

“We’re trying to get, particularly, most of the freshman- and sophomore-level courses or university core requirements to have an online version available to help students with scheduling and other issues they might have with getting to those courses in a timely fashion,” said Ford, who is the head of online learning initiatives. “Right now, we have a few core courses online, but it’s way less than 50 percent. There are also some upper-level courses that are available online, and we are trying to increase that number steadily.”

The prominent benefit of online classes is the convenience for students, professors and the university, according to Ford. Students and professors have the option of choosing when to work on the class, while the university doesn’t have to fret about finding classroom space in buildings on the verge of overcapacity.

“One of the biggest benefits is the 24/7 availability of the course to students,” Ford said. “We recognize that the students sometimes have difficulty putting together a schedule. We believe that it is a tremendous asset for students to be able to choose when they actually sit down to work.”

Though the convenience of online classes can be an advantage, success may depend greatly on the maturity and work ethic of the student. A high level of teacher dedication is also very important to keep the education level equal to in-class learning, according to online nursing professor Mary Foster Cox.

“I think you have to work hard to keep [education standards] high,” said Cox, who has taught multiple online classes for several years. “I’ve seen examples where they set up an online course and seem to think that when it’s done, the kids can kind of go in and do their own thing. If you don’t interact with them at least on a daily basis, then they get lost in the shuffle, they forget assignments and they don’t feel like they’re getting their money’s worth.”

Some students have been under the assumption that several of their required classes are only offered online, but all major requirements are available in traditional and online classes. However, some classes may only be available to be taught in person during specific semesters.

Despite the added freedom of online classes, some students aren’t satisfied with the learning experience.

“For the most part, online classes seem a lot like high school with busy work that must be done by a certain time for a grade, or baby-sitting,” said Daniel Wright, a third-year integrated information technology student. “Seems odd to pay $10,000 a semester to be baby-sat.”

For now, all class prices will remain the same whether they are taught in person or on the Web. Students will pay the same tuition price of the institution in the USC system in which they are taking the class. For example, students registered in online classes through the main campus will pay main campus tuition and will only share those classes with students enrolled at the Columbia campus.

“I feel that I am being ripped off,” Wright said. “For online courses you should be either given a discount on tuition, or better means of instruction should be produced.”

While Wright may not believe online education is worth the time and money, USC surveys conducted by the Distributed Learning Student Support service show more than an 80 percent positive response among students who have taken one or more online classes.

The recently proposed South Carolina Palmetto College will take online classes to a whole new level, allowing students enrolled in one of the four two-year USC satellite campuses to complete their degrees online. President Harris Pastides asked a university House panel early this February for $5 million to launch the online college.

For now, though, the Office of the Provost is focusing on broadening the online curriculum and providing more options for Columbia students.

“I need these credits, and it’s better than sitting in a classroom for a few more hours a day,” said Emily Sapier, a first-year tourism management student. “I didn’t have room in my schedule for the classroom classes, and last semester I picked up an accelerated online class.”