Universities embrace online courses, but students are unsure


Christina Palma

Students use study spaces to do online assignments.

The number of college classes offering online homework is rising, but a survey of PNW students say most prefer to avoid them.

“Every time I take an online class, I usually have to drop it and retake it. I’m a lot more hands on and like putting pen to paper. It’s just hard for me to make time for online classes when I like meeting in person and meeting in person forces me to make time for the class,” said Amie Goulet, a senior at PNW.

In a survey conducted of 100 PNW students, 56% said they found online classes helpful, but 50% stated they would rather have classes without online homework.

But students may have little choice. Publisher McGraw Hill reports that schools are switching from traditional methods to online methods at a rate of about 53% per year. 

 “I definitely think online homework is growing. With technology becoming more prevalent in our society teachers are turning to online mediums more than ever before,” said Cassandra Eberle, a PNW student.

The positives of online homework platforms are that they automatically grade, track and respond to students’ progress, taking the menial work out of teaching for educators. Compared to traditional methods, this generates more practice for students and more time for instructors to prepare for classes.

“I took Spanish one and two and so on, last century, in the ‘90s,” said visiting Spanish instructor William Hester with a note of sarcasm. “They sent us home with a workbook you just did written exercises in. There was no feedback, there were no activities that involved audio or video. It was just read, write, read, write, read, write.”

In addition to the added audio and video components of online work, students’ work and progress is efficiently tracked by these programs.  Instructors no longer need to spend hours and hours hand-grading work; online homework platforms allow more time for instructors to cater to classes and students.

“I can use the time I save by not grading workbooks to make better quizzes and tests, to tutor students individually and to provide other types of activities that get planned for classes…students don’t need me to go down a list of 20 verbs and see if they spelled them right, a computer can do that. What you need from me is let’s get together to talk about how you’re doing in the class and what you need to keep moving forward,” said Hester.

Retention, repetition and comfort with material are critical components of the learning process that the online homework helps facilitate.  

“Two things I would be willing to say are first, I think that more students get more practice and gain more comfort from the online work. Second, I think for students who want more practice, the online stuff, provides more practice and more feedback. You get your answers immediately and you can do it over and over again,” Hester said.

But even given all the benefits of online homework, not all students and professors enjoy using the online platforms.

“The only positive thing I have ever heard about an online class is that it’s easier,” said Ryan McCallister, a senior at PNW. “IUN has speech class online and I feel like the students are supposed to be learning how to speak in front of others and I don’t know how they are getting anything out of it when they are talking to a computer screen with probably no one listening to you. How are they getting any benefit of public speaking out of that?”