online classes

Photo Credit: Lex Rojas | Daily Texan Staff

Instead of using their laptops to watch Netflix on Thursday morning when classes were delayed, some students logged on to online courses to complete class work. 

Inclement winter weather Wednesday night and Thursday morning led University officials to close campus until 1 p.m. and delay classes until 2 p.m. Thursday.           

Even when the UT campus closed, journalism junior Felicia Rodriquez still had to log on to her Social Media Journalism online class, in which students are assigned to update social media sites during assigned shifts. Rodriguez said she didn’t mind doing her class work even when campus classes were canceled.

“In some ways, I never view Social Media Journalism as a class because it’s just fun for me and I love using social media,” Rodriguez said. “Also, I was enjoying my breakfast at the same time, and I had Netflix on in the background, so it was a very easy ‘snow day.’”

Gavino Abrigo, senior administrative associate for University Extension, the UT online and evening class program, said online classes usually follow what the University does when it comes to cancellations, but, this time, some online classes continued since students could complete their work online.

Online classes appeal most to students who may need extra hours or are looking to get additional credit when normal classes don’t fit into their schedules, Abrigo said.

“Usually it’s convenient in their schedule, and more about the availability of them not being able to attend a regular Monday-Wednesday-Friday class or Tuesday-Thursday class,” Abrigo said. “The reason most UT students take our evening courses is they just don’t have the availability in their daytime schedules.”

One online course, Government 312L: U.S. Foreign Policy, canceled its online session because the lecture is live-streamed.

“Our course is a live, online course with a large production team [of] over 10 people,” Patrick McDonald, the government associate professor who teaches the course, said. “When the University closes, we cannot require them to come to work, so we chose to follow University guidelines.”

McDonald said teaching the class online means making up for cancellations is fairly easy, since professors can tape the missed lecture and then post it to Canvas for students to watch later.

Caroline Hunt, communication studies and human relations junior, said she would have been frustrated if her online classes were canceled. 

“As an adult, snow days are really not as big of a deal — if anything, they can just kind of be annoying,” Hunt said.

The Question: do you believe online classes will replace physical classes in your lifetime? Should they?

Austin Smith
History senior from Houston

I don’t think that they will, and I don’t think that they should. Because the experience you get with a professor, when he’s physically in front of you, makes you immersed in his discussion and in his passion in what he’s talking about, and you’re not going to get that in an online course where you’re staring at a screen.

Willa Kaough
International relations sophomore from Elgin

I know that there is a fear, especially among professors, that online classes will mean the downfall of physical classes, but I don’t think that’s true. I think there are always going to be people who will prefer physical classes. I definitely don’t think they should replace physical classes. I think the student-professor relationship is really important, and being able to communicate with your peers and your professor is really important.

Leon Leid
Latin American Studies graduate student from Shippensburg, Pennsylvania

I don’t know that they will. I just registered for a course yesterday on EdX. I don’t plan to take the course, but I wanted access to the syllabus. It’s on global poverty, and there’s a great book that they’re using. So I access it through our library, and so I have this book to read. So, you know, I think it’s going to be supplementary for a while, if for nothing else, to the value of a degree. But whether they should? No, I don’t think they should ever completely replace the classroom. There is something to be said for being able to associate with professors, and being able to be with classmates, which I guess can all happen online as well. But I think that human interaction is always a good part of education, but as a supplementary material, I’m pretty excited about the future of EdX. If I’d been asked five years ago, I never would have thought anyone would offer this for free. I think it’s pretty exciting that anyone who has an Internet connection, which again is ignoring a large part of world population, but it’s at least an accessibility that hasn’t been around.

Andrea Faz
Speech language pathology senior from Del Rio

I’m not sure they’ll replace all classes. I think they’ll replace some classes, and I think it’s okay for some classes that don’t really pertain to your major. Probably more introductory courses, just to get you into your field or into other classes that you need.

Erika Cervantes
Public relations junior from Sugar Land

Well, I definitely think that, over the last five years or so, online classes are a lot more popular than they used to be. I feel like I don’t have one friend that hasn’t taken an online class. I don’t think they’ll end up replacing physical classes, though, just because I feel like, even though it’s always been that way, it’s a lot more effective to ask questions and being able to communicate in person. I don’t think that would really switch to online. I don’t think that’ll change. I don’t think it should change to being all online, because that takes away the human element. And I feel like we all kind of need that.

We Asked... Online Classes from The Daily Texan on Vimeo.


Executive director of the Institute for Transformational learning Steven Mintz speaks to the UT Senate’s general assembly about edX. courses Thursday evening.
Photo Credit: Aaron Berecka | Daily Texan Staff

Beyond its partnership with a nonprofit offering innovative online classes, the UT System hopes to continue its growth in the world of digital and interactive education.

Steven Mintz, executive director of the Institute for Transformational Learning, spoke to the UT Senate’s general assembly Thursday evening, where he said it was important that UT lead the world in an innovative transition of higher education.

“If we do not do it, somebody else will and we probably won’t like what they do,” Mintz said.

Earlier in October, UT joined edX after a unanimous vote by the UT System Board of Regents. The nonprofit organization, which offers online education courses, was founded by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology last year. Since then, the University of California at Berkeley and the UT System have signed on to join edX.

The UT System pledged $10 million and four online courses to edX, but Mintz, who serves as the UT System’s chief edX liaison, said he wanted to see UT do more than provide those four courses online. Mintz said he wanted UT to continue providing more innovative, online classes for its students.

“Students who are in these large, pinch point, gateway, foundation courses are getting an OK experience, but they can get a better one in an interesting way,” Mintz said. “Let’s try to use some of our technologies to see if we can create something cool.”

Mintz said he wanted to emphasize that the idea of online courses was not being forced on faculty or students.

“In some places like California, there has been a lot of resistance to doing this,” Mintz said. “I think people are afraid that this isn’t about what is good for students, that it won’t be faculty driven and that it will come from up high in the administration. It won’t be that way here.”

Mintz said student involvement would be welcomed.

“I want to find ways so students can participate in the creation of new online courses,” Mintz said. “We’re going to try and bring these courses into the 21st century.”

Graduation rates are one of the problems facing higher education, Mintz said. When the UT System signed on with edX, Gene Powell, chairman of the UT System, said the partnership with edX would help increase graduation rates. Along with Mintz, UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa also said he wanted the UT System to lead a higher education revolution.

“New technologies are positively impacting how professors teach and how course content is delivered,” Cigarroa said in a statement earlier this month.

“The University of Texas System will help lead this revolution and fundamentally alter the direction of online education.”

Printed on Friday, November 2, 2012 as: UT adds focus on digital education

As students continue to log on, update and check in, some UT system administrators want to take that connectivity one step further.
Emails obtained by the Texas Tribune last week reveal that one of the major “reforms” being pushed by new UT regent Alex Cranberg and recently unemployed adviser/researcher/shapeshifter Rick O’Donnell is the expanded use of online classes.

In emails between regents, system staffers and O’Donnell, Cranberg writes, “There should be some kind of online learning excellence institute at UT” in reference to an online graduate engineering program in use at Stanford University. Additionally, the Board of Regents has created a “task force” to study how to implement “online learning.”

The idea isn’t entirely new to the debate over the future of Texas higher education. Last year, a 20-member panel on higher education created by Gov. Rick Perry recommended students be required to take at least 10 percent of their coursework outside the classroom such as through online classes. Bernie Francis, a member of the panel, said “If the University of Phoenix can be successful, the question needs to be asked: can the public sector do the same?”

Yes, we should really try to emulate the University of Phoenix.

Online classes offer some advantages in certain areas where they complement existing curriculums. Such courses give students flexibility in scheduling, which can be especially important for nontraditional or part-time students.

As cited by the regents in their emails, Stanford offers several online engineering programs via its Center for Professional Development for post-graduate professionals to take continuing education courses.

UT already uses online classes as part of the UT extension program, whereby individuals can take certain courses online for credit.
Both examples are of optional classes offered to students and nonstudents alike, who for one reason or another are not able to attend in a traditional classroom setting. They are not, as proponents have tried to imply, an adequate substitute for either lecture or discussion-based classes.

Thousands of students in this country are currently enrolled in online classes, many through for-profit universities such as Kaplan and the University of Phoenix. Most of those students will either not graduate, or if they do, face high rates of unemployment as employers perceive their degrees to be of inferior quality than those from traditional universities. Those graduates are also twice as likely to default on their student loans.

What it boils down to is that physically sitting in a lecture hall or classroom is not the same as reading a powerpoint or watching a webinar.

Proposals such as the aforementioned rule requiring 10 percent of courses be taken online would do nothing but force students out of a classroom and onto a computer, an unprecedented step in the wrong direction. Furthermore, there is no proof that online education would do anything to alleviate the financial burden on Texas colleges and universities. UT-San Antonio provost John Frederick told the Houston Chronicle last summer that implementing online learning curricula can actually be more expensive than classes in a traditional setting.

Online materials should be incorporated into a curriculum when such materials substantially improve the quality of the education offered by that curriculum. They should not be forced onto students or faculty out of consideration for financial costs.

There may be colleges and universities in Texas where implementing more online learning is an effective and viable alternative to a traditional classroom setting, especially those schools that serve a more diverse constituency than UT. This University is not one of those schools. Forcing students out of the classroom is an ill-conceived proposal that would degrade the quality of education offered and do further irreparable damage to the University’s reputation.

It would be best for our Regents to remember that their responsibilities to the UT system include maintaining a “University of the first-class,” and not converting the Forty Acres into the Austin branch of the University of Phoenix.