Online classes and distance learning

Natalie Gillenwater, sophomore in music education, is currently taking Psychology 230 online through Iowa State. She uses a textbook and often has to watch lecture videos online before she takes quizzes over the material she learns.

As enrollment numbers continue to climb, Iowa State has seen a rapid increase in the demand for online instruction both on and off campus, according to Ralph Napolitano, associate director for online learning for the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching.

“I think students are starting to see the variety of ways instruction can take advantage of the online environment of today to provide a rich and interactive learning experience,” Napolitano said.

Iowa State Online and Distance Learning currently offers more than 900 online courses annually and more than 50 degrees and certificates.

Online courses allow more flexibility for students and help alleviate scheduling conflicts so they can continue to complete their degree, said Ann Marie Vanderzanden, director of the CELT.

“They also allow students to interact with the material and content of the course in a different way than a traditional face-to-face course,” Vanderzanden said.

Online instruction can benefit the university in a variety of ways that extend beyond what most people first think about, Napolitano said. It can help improve quality of instruction, reach, accessibility, academic services and efficiency.

“This is more than just online courses,” Napolitano said. “We are talking about online tools and technology for student success and different approaches to teaching that are enabled by a variety of online and blended learning strategies. It permeates through all aspects of our ability to deliver a top-quality education on and off campus.”

Faculty and staff are able to incorporate online elements into their classes without having a completely online format.

Hybrid courses replace a portion of the course meeting time with online instruction.

Flipped courses have at least 50 percent of the academic content delivered through online instruction or facilitated through interactive online tools. The class time that is freed up by delivering that content online can then be used for highly engaging interactive activities, such as team-based learning and active learning exercises, Napolitano said.

Irena Marcinkowski, senior in music, is taking a psychology class that provides videos of the lectures online and in which homework is done through Blackboard.

“Our professor doesn’t do in-class attendance, so it’s convenient to be able to do the homework and watch the lecture videos at the time of day that works best for me,” Marcinkowski said.

Melissa Garrett, senior in English and journalism, has taken three online classes at ISU. One class was in journalism and two were in science-related fields.

“Because I’m not a science major, I didn’t want to be sitting in a science class if I didn’t have to,” Garrett said. “When you have a really busy schedule, it’s nice to be able to fit in a class when you have the time, rather than the class dictating the schedule for you.”

While Garrett said she missed the in-person teacher interaction, she said she still did well in the class.

“I would highly recommend taking an online class,” she said. “It’s really easy to put off everything to the last minute, but depending on the difficulty of the class, you can’t procrastinate.”

When students take an online course, they pay a delivery fee that depends on the program and type of course. This fee is used to support the production expenses for delivering online content, Napolitano said.

“It involves quite a bit of logistics and production support to produce high-quality online content, not to mention the instructional design associated with building an interactive learning experience,” Napolitano said.

Allan Schmidt, assistant director for learning technologies, works with faculty in providing instructional design support for online learning.

“We hold workshops and one-on-one meetings with faculty to help them improve their skills in converting their classes to online,” Schmidt said. “The idea of doing online or blended classes is growing, and faculty are more interested as enrollment grows.”

The Online Learning Innovation Hub is the answer for the increased interest in online classes, Schmidt said.

The CELT Online Learning Innovation Hub began operating last year as a resource for faculty and curriculum developers when implementing online learning approaches in their courses. The hub will open its location in Parks Library on Nov. 1.

The Online Learning Innovation Hub is accepting proposals for one-year course development grants aimed at producing flipped or hybrid courses by converting existing face-to-face class or creating completely new courses.

Up to $7,500 is available for single-course projects and up to $30,000 is available for multi-course projects. Proposals will be accepted from Oct. 20 through Nov. 28 or until all funds are distributed. More information about proposal requests can be found on the CELT website.

“Teaching in an online environment does take a different mindset,” Vanderzanden said. “I think we’ve got some great examples of faculty who have overcome that and made their courses very interesting and engaging and created a positive learning experience for students.”

Raluca Cozma, assistant professor in the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication, taught her first online class this past summer.

“It’s been quite a bit of an adjustment because teaching requires an audience, and when you’re preparing your slides, you don’t have that kind of feedback to feed off of,” Cozma said.

Cozma’s online class focuses on social media. Since it is a topic where the platforms change all the time and get obsolete quickly, it was a challenge to record lectures while still leaving flexibility to change them down the road as the examples change.

She also said it was difficult not being able to get instant feedback from the audience.

“You don’t know how people are processing the information,” Cozma said. “Because I do a lot of broadcast media, I know how people consume content, and I know the attention span can be very low. You have to try to ‘pack a punch’ to have a lot of information in a shorter period of time so you don’t belabor the points and lose focus.”

While Cozma said she was reluctant to teach an online class initially because she loves being in the room interacting with students, she said the online format ending up working well for the topic.

“When you talk about social media, it’s nice to actually practice and be online and do it,” Cozma said. “I think that can be lost in a typical lecture setting.”

Napolitano said that success in utilizing the online environment for education requires that faculty and students embrace the concept of targeting the most important methods and technologies to facilitate an active and engaging learning experience.

“The online world is allowing us to look at things differently,” he said. “We have to rethink the way we learn, study and interact with each other if we are to use the available technology to its fullest.”

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