The Daily Gamecock

Column: Online classes are nothing new. It's time for universities to invest in making them better for students

Online classes spiked at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and have persisted until now. These classes added a whole new dimension to the way that students learn by using a different form of teaching. 

The number of students taking hybrid courses — courses that combine online and in-person classes — accelerated in 2020 by 92% because of the pandemic, according to McKinsey & Company.

In 2021, 60% of college students took some form of online classes, according to Forbes

Because of the sudden increase in online classes, universities have revamped how these classes are taught. Universities should continue to have these classes and improve on teaching through online tools in order to better suit the needs of its students. 

This new platform can create new opportunities for expanding and transforming education, but universities and professors must be willing to learn and adapt to the new online way of learning to maximize its benefits. 

There was a lot of uncertainty at the start of the pandemic about how classes would be conducted and how professors would shift from their current teaching methods to a full-fledged online platform. 

James Hardin, a professor in the Arnold School of Public Health, had the opportunity to teach an in-person biostatistics class in Doha, Qatar, through a joint program with USC and a university in Qatar. But he switched to teaching the class online after the pandemic hit.  

“I basically just transitioned my PowerPoint slides from what I would present while I was in front of someone to what I presented online, and I didn't change my behavior very much," Hardin said. "It was not very successful.” 

Professors' lack of experience with teaching remotely has led some students to struggle in online courses. Hardin said he found it difficult to communicate what he really wanted to say in his lectures. 

Later, Hardin changed his teaching methods to better complement the online system. 

“I made a very conscious effort. About six months ago, I contacted the university and said, 'I'm going to completely rewrite this course, to be an online course. It's going to be immersive,'" Hardin said. "And so it turned out to be a really enjoyable challenge. I enjoyed teaching again. It was fun to sort of create content.” 

Hardin started adding more video content into his slides and integrated software that he uses for his biostatistics class into his lectures. He also posted his recorded lectures on YouTube, so that students could revise the class material. 

This adaptability has helped Hardin succeed in educating his students and made the education process much more streamlined, he said.

”You can't just take an existing course that's written down in some fashion and put that writing on the internet and expect to get the same result," Hardin said. "There has to be something else. And so that's the challenge."  

Although there were online programs before the pandemic, they were not as widespread as they are now. Now, multiple types of students, such as students employed full-time and commuter students, can better organize their time through the use of online classes, Hardin said.

USC has continually increased its online programs in master's and undergraduate coursework, Hardin said. It helps people in the workforce achieve a type of balance that they wouldn’t get from an in-person master's program. USC now offers fully online epidemiology and health administration master's programs. 

This helps create more accessibility for students who may be commuters, or who are in the workforce.

For a commuter, it is tedious to show up to lectures that only last 50 minutes, especially with the time it takes to get ready and drive up to the university. Having the option to take the class online helps save time and energy for commuters. 

Online courses also create flexibility for full-time students to incorporate their education based on their schedule and gives them the freedom to complete assignments on their own time. 

Online, you can decide when you want to do it, and you can plan your day easier,” first-year undecided student Katrine Risvig said. 

With USC and other universities around the country offering a mix of both online and in-person classes, people can now choose any option in how they want to be taught . 

It really depends on the class, too. For example, if it's a class that I don't really care about, (if) I don't really care about the subject matter or getting a specific professor, I'll definitely do convenience," said Tatum Greene, a master's student of international business. "But if it is a really sought after class, I'll definitely go for (in-person classes) more.”  

Whether it's asynchronous, hybrid or face-to-face classes, students can choose classes based on how it best benefits them. 

Tactile classes — such as sociology, philosophy and political science courses — tend to be better suited for in-person classes rather than online, because they use more discussion-based learning that would flourish in a classroom setting.

“I think it really depends on the subject matter. For example, if it's more hard skills, rote memorization, I think that's better for online classes," Greene said. "But for more discussion-based learning and more Socratic seminar classes, it's definitely a hindrance to be online instead of in-person. 

Some classes seem to be better fit to be taught online instead of in-person.

Courses that are information intensive, such as biology and chemistry, would benefit more if they were offered online. This allows students to follow the lectures at their own pace and make better notes. 

Although there are disadvantages to having some courses being online, the benefits of these courses definitely outweigh the drawbacks. 

Universities are becoming more versatile in their teaching methods as professors adapt to the new online form of teaching and more of a variety of course options are offered.

Students and professors get to experiment with different learning and teaching methods and figure out what is best for their needs now that there is a more conscious effort to offer courses online.

As the years go by, universities are still developing ways to improve education through more online tools. The system has come a long way since 2020, but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to fully benefit students from online learning.