The web: The future college classroom?

An increasing number of higher education organizations are turning the at-home desktop or laptop into the primary classroom computer as online courses become more popular.

It used to be that receiving a university degree involved spending years sitting in large auditoriums on a sprawling campus. However, the advent of online college courses has shifted this dynamic. Now though, it is no longer just web-based institutions like the University of Phoenix offering classes online, as an increasing number of higher education organizations are turning the at-home desktop or laptop into the primary classroom computer.

According to The Courier-Journal, this trend toward online university classes has been especially well received in Kentucky. A recent report from the Council on Postsecondary Education found that about 33 percent of students take at least one class online, with approximately 10 percent of pupils using the internet to complete all of their prerequisite coursework.

Online classes have proven to be popular with students enrolled in two-year and four-year programs. The Courier-Journal reported that 26 percent of all credit hours taken at community colleges and technical schools in Kentucky were via the internet, up from 10 percent in 2005. In addition, the amount of coursework at four-year universities offered online has tripled over the past seven years, now accounting for 17 percent of all credit hours awarded.

This trend is not isolated in Kentucky, as its ramifications are being felt all across North America. The news source cited statistics from a 2011 survey of more than 2,500 higher education institutions, which found that 6 million students took a college course online last year, up 10 percent from 2010.

As a result, universities have had to divert resources to make sure they are staying on top of the trend. Not only are higher-ed institutions investing more into web-based offerings and related technologies, but professors and other faculty members have to be trained on how to best use the internet and on how to make more resources available online, the newspaper reported.

Is the internet the future online classroom?
For some university students, online coursework has been ideal in their pursuit of a higher education, The Courier-Journal reported. For example, the internet allows some pupils to finish their degree in less time. Taking college courses online has also provided many working adults with the opportunity to fit classes into a busy schedule.

“There was no way I was going to be able to attend college if it wasn’t for online,” Jennifer O’Connell, a 36-year-old Louisville business administration student and mother of three, said to the newspaper. “You have to stay organized, but it’s every bit the same quality. When I transfer to a four-year college, I’m going to look for one with good online offerings.”

However, not everyone shares O’Connell’s zeal for online coursework. Many university faculty members have expressed doubts about the ability for online classes to replace in-person facilities, saying that the learning experience is not the same when the classroom computer is always located in the home.

Tom Katsouleas, Dean of Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering, wrote in a November 21 guest post on VentureBeat that online classes have the potential to disrupt some traditional university formatting. However, ultimately the trend is likely to improve some offerings while not eliminating the benefits of in-person coursework.

“Students will continue to see the value of a live interaction versus one through a screen, but not all of them will have the means or ability to pursue that path,” Katsouleas wrote. “We have to take advantage of what each can provide to bring the full value to the student.”

Do online classes represent the future of university learning? Will students always see the value of an in-person college experience? Leave your comments below to let us know what you think about how universities will look going forward!

Kate Beckham

Kate has been lighting up the blogosphere for over 5 years, with a keen interest in social media and new malware threats. When not sitting at a café behind her Mac, you’ll usually find her scouring the racks for vintage finds or playing guitar.