Online College Courses

I’m curious about people’s experiences with taking college classes online.

I’m not talking about courses from “Jim Bob’s For Profit College, now offering FIVE degreed majors!” but course offered online from real, actual brick & mortar, traditional institutions of higher learning.

I’m currently taking two courses online via my local community college, which is a very different beast from, for example, courses offered online by the University of Maryland (which offers several degrees which can be completed entirely via online courses) and my experience has been mixed. Before committing to do this for another semester, I’m wondering if people who have done this at other schools have had similar scenarios to what I’m facing or if my situation is more about the school than about the particular challenges of online distance learning.

So, Dopers, how has it been for you taking college courses online?

I took a couple of history-related classes online from the same Uni. that I eventually got degrees from, basically because it was a cheaper alternative to staying an extra semester.

My experience wasn’t a terrible one, but I do think that the time taken up by reading/writing for the online course was greater than the total class/work time taken by an analogous “in-person” course. The readings for the former were of the “start at 8, break for lunch, go until 5, then write a paper” sort.

Mixed for me. I had great success ripping through some FEMA classes from a college in Virginia. The material was simple and I could work at my own rate. I was less pleased with a couple of Education classes I took from UCLA online. The material was stupid (duh!) and it didn’t lend itself to the required blog interactions the instructor wanted.

Not much help, I know.

It is. I try to warn my students about that - they think it’ll be self-paced (it’s not) and much easier than face-to-face classes. The best practices for online classes means creating a class that substitutes ‘face time’ in the classroom with discussion board postings, group activities, small and large paper writing, etc.

In a face-to-face classroom setting, I see my students 2.5 hours a week and they are recommended to spend another 5 or so hours outside of class doing work for the class. Online students tend to think they’ll have to do less, because they don’t see the 2.5 hours of class time as working on the class.

I teach online courses, if that is any help, and I taught in a traditional classroom for many years. I find the problem most online students have as opposed to classroom students is following directions and meeting deadlines. If they don’t understand the directions, classroom students can ask about them immediately, but a very large percentage of my online students seem to read one or two lines of the instructions for an assignment, ignore the rest of the directions, and then assume they know what to do and do it wrong. If they have a question, they have to email, call, or iChat me, and most of them don’t bother to do that. The failure rate in my online classes is much, much higher than it was when I taught in a brick-and-mortar classroom.


Students in my on-line courses tend to complain mightily about the reading and the workload (which are actually less than I ask in a face-to-face class), simply because I want them to put in the time they spend sitting in class to be spent writing posts. They seem to view the class time as mildly boring time that they’re free to spend texting on their cellphone, snacking, flirting, sleeping, updating their Facebook status, but when they find out I actually expect 2 1/2 hours of work from them, they pitch a fit.

In their defense, it is more demanding than a face to face class, but only because they’re accustomed to getting away with murder there.

I think if you have the discipline to not slack off because there is no class time, then Online Classes are great.

I took my first last semester (General Chemistry I Lecture only, Lab was still in person). This particular instructor had it set up to work at your own pace, but also had guidelines as to when you should be finishing each section up. He assigned homework and there was an online exam for each section as well. There was also a comprehensive online final and a token in-person final.

I was concerned first about the aspect of not being able to get a question answered “in class” if I needed it, but I really didn’t like spending two evenings a week in class. But this professor was very responsive to emails and would give detailed extra explanations as needed. I budgeted for 2 hours a day to spend on the lecture and it worked out great. I finished on-time and with a solid A.
Since my first experience went so well I decided to go online for Gen Chem II, but this time I’m doing Lecture and Lab online. It was a late start class (2/7-5/17) and this one is also work at your own pace, with guidelines of when you should be finishing things up. I factored in the same 2 hours a day and the first week, probably put in 3 hours a day (damn you chemical kinetics). Either I’m getting better at this online thing or this chemistry thing, but I’m going to finish the lecture course before the end of March and the lab by mid- April. There is no final with this professor, online or in-person. Barring some catastrophic brain malfunction, I will be getting an A in both the lecture and the lab.

Both of these experiences have been positive enough that I plan on taking as many online courses as I can to finish up my AA, even if that means taking them through different community colleges in the area (they are all linked).

My experience thus far has been mixed. I’m taking two courses online. One is very good, with weekly assignments, tutorials by the professor, prompted discussions (not mandatory, but helpful) in the forum, links to additional reading and the professor is very responsive to e-mails and is very clear about his availability with multiple methods of contacting him at the very top of the syllabus.

The other class… it’s hard to call it a class. The professor has prepared nothing for us. There are no assignments, no papers, no suggested reading, no discussion (required or otherwise), nada. The only thing beyond the textbook is the supplemental created by the textbook publisher that’s available to anyone who buys the book. The syllabus is a typo-ridden thing that is clearly recycled from class to class and semester to semester, you can see where the prof made errors in editing the dates.

The syllabus describes the class as “primarily a reading course” but actually, that’s all it is. We’re teaching ourselves the material by reading the textbook, and quite clearly, that’s not going so well for many of my classmates. Grades on the first exam were so poor that 64% or higher was an “A” and anything better than 16% passed.

If I’d known I was going to be forced to teach myself foundational material in a popular subject, I would’ve grabbed myself a selection of used textbooks on Amazon, learned it at my own pace and taken the CLEP exam.

I’m just trying to decide if I should make an academic complaint about it, or if this is par for the course.

That is not par for the course in my experience, but I certainly have run across some colleagues who set up their online classes in such a poor fashion. I recommend providing this information to the department chair - what you’ve described is in no way best practices for online learning.

How do you do a chemistry lab online?

I found that I like online classes for the most part because I like to learn. So I spend the time actually doing the work and I feel the depth of my knowledge is no less than traditional classes. One class I had last semester did take more than 6 hours of work a week, which I found annoying, but I still did it and got an A and I earned the A.

We’ve had so much snow where I am that if I were taking traditional classes, I would have had a lot of cancellations. With online classes, the work is still due, so in a way it’s good because you don’t ever fall behind the syllabus, but you also don’t get those unexpected “Oh sweet! The prof is out today!” breaks.

I find my biggest challenge is that each instructor manages the class different. One handed out all assignments for the entire semester on day one with the syllabus and course outline. Another puts the schedule in the calendar feature of our course software. Another wants you to check announcements frequently. It’s very easy to overlook something by accident. Is it under lessons? Calendar? Syllabus? Some classes have multiple places to check every week. If you’re in a traditional class, you are less likely to get confused as to where you’re supposed to look and you can lean over to someone sitting near you and say “hey, what is due this week?”

As someone pointed out in another thread, depending on your classmates in an online course can suck. Most classes I take have an active discussion board and require you to post weekly and reply to others. If my classmates don’t post, I don’t have anything to reply to and often the posts that get written look like they were typed by monkeys with ADD. Typos, wall of text, massive grammar issues, mis-spellings to the point you can’t figure out what they’re saying, etc. Sometimes the posts are not anywhere near college level and someone just spits out a two sentence regurgitation of the text reading…how do you reply to that when there is no insight, no opinion, no interpretation?

I did take traditional courses years ago, so I can compare the two. They both have advantages and if you can stay motivated and teach yourself if your instructor sucks, you can get a lot out of online classes. Sometimes I do wish I was in a traditional classroom where I could verbalize myself instead of writing (one teacher wants us to cite in our board posts and do a traditionally works cited page referring to our text book and it’s super annoying. Saying “on page 7 of the text” isn’t sufficient). And sometimes I want the “don’t forget to do this work for next time” reminders instead of playing Easter egg hunt through my software, but generally I prefer doing what I can when I can and not have to drive anywhere.

I wondered that myself when I first saw it offered. I had to purchase a lab kit which consisted of the following items:

* 1) Traceable spatula balance (calibrated)
* 1) cardboard test tube rack
* 1) pack of (25) student grade filter paper
* 1) plastic 100mL graduated cylinder
* 6) plastic spoon/spatula type things (open on each end)
* 10) plastic 1mL graduated droppers
* 1) wide strip of unidentified paper. It's thicker than normal paper, almost like vellum
* 2) 16oz clear plastic cups
* 1) thermometer (max 120 deg F/ 50 deg C)
* 1) 30mL plastic bottle to hold phenolphthalein indicator solution
* 1) 65mm plastic funnel
* 5) plastic microscope slides
* 1) glass test tube
* 10) plastic test tubes
* 1) 250mL graduated beaker
* 2) 1mL pipettes and rubber squeeze bulb
* 1) paper "spot plate" in a plastic sleeve
* 1) container each of:
      o   Blue litmus paper
      o   Red litmus paper
      o   Phenolphthalein test paper
      o   Universal pH indicator paper
* 1) container each of:
      o   Citric acid
      o   Sodium Carbonate
      o   Magnesium Sulfate
      o   Salt
      o   Copper Sulfate

There was also a lab kit upgrade for this class ($2) that had some packets of sugar (like you’d see at a restaurant), a container of yeast, and some glucose tablets.

Because I’m me, I went to a chem supply house and purchased some inexpensive glass test tubes with stoppers, a test tube cleaning brush & clamp, a glass stirring rod, and a plastic test tube holder. I also bought a small amount of phenolphthalein powder because I would rather mix my own solution than use the test paper. I also bought some latex disposable gloves, white vinegar, and a bottle of distilled water.

As for the labs themselves, there are about 9 labs and each has a set of instructions. For example the one I’m doing next is on pH and pOH and has the following instructions:

Part I. Collect household chemicals

  1. Locate at least 20 substances to test the pH for in your house. Try searching for the following:
    Beverages - Try a variety of beverages like milk, water, soft drinks, juices, or anything that you drink.[/ul]
    [ul]Cooking ingredients - Look for vinegar, lemon juice, baking soda, baking powder, cream of tartar, sal ammoniac, and spices. You may try testing solids and liquids.[/ul]
    [ul]Cleaning solutions - Ammonia, bleach, window cleaner, scrubbing powder, dishwasher detergent, or dishwashing liquid.[/ul]
    [ul]Cosmetics - Bars of soap, liquid soap, shampoo, conditioner, face cream, lotion, toner.[/ul]
    [ul]First aid - Rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide.[/ul]

Part II. Prepare the Phenolphthalein Solution

[li]1. Add a tiny scoop of phenolphthalein powder to a test tube.[/li][li]2. Add about 2 inches of rubbing alcohol.[/li][li]3. Place the rubber stopper tightly in the tube and shake until the powder dissolves.[/li][/ol]

Part III. Test the Household Substances

[li]1. Set the plastic spot sheet on a level surface. (This sheet is the page protector with a printed piece of paper inside.)[/li][li]2. Place a piece of wide range pH paper on one spot.[/li][li]3. Place a piece of blue and red litmus paper side by side on the next spot.[/li][li]4. Place 2-3 drops of the first substance to be tested on the wide range pH paper. If the substance is a solid, place a small amount of solid on the test strip and place 2-3 drops of water on top of the solid. Make sure you add enough water to wet the paper under the solid.[/li][li]5. Place 2-3 drops of the first substance to be tested on the litmus paper. Be sure to get a drop on each piece.If the substance is a solid, place a small amount of solid on the test strips and place 2-3 drops of water on top of the solid. Make sure you add enough water to wet the paper under the solid.[/li][li]6. Place 2-3 drops of the solution to be tested on a third spot.If the substance is a solid, place a small amount of solid on the spot and place 2-3 drops of water on top of the solid.[/li][li]7. Add 1 drop of the phenolphthalein solution to the substance on the third spot.[/li][/ol]

Part IV. Read the Results

[li]8. Read the results for the three tests:[/li][li]Wide-range paper. Read the orange wid-range paper using the chart provided with the paper. You may pick up the paper to make it easier to read but be careful not to contaminate other samples. Write down the approximate pH and indicate if it is an acid, a base, or neutral. If the pH is less than 7 it is an acid. If the pH is greater than 7, it is a base. If it is 7 it is neutral.[/li][li]Litmus Paper. Read the litmus paper. Are the spots on the papers that are wet pink or blue? If they are blue, it is a base, if they are pink, it is an acid. If neither spot changed color, it is neutral. Two papers are always used together so that you can identify a neutral substance.[/li][li]Phenolphthalein. Read the phenolphthalein. If the liquid is clear, it is an acid. If it is pink, it is a base.[/li][li]9. Check your results to see if they agree. Do all of the indicators agree that the substance is an acid, base, or neutral?[/li][li]10. Calculate the pH, hydrogen ion concentration, OH and the hydroxide ion concentration for each.[/li][li]10. Repeat for 19 other substances and submit a lab report as required by your instructor.[/li][/ol]
I have only done one, which was on acids and bases, last week and it was really fun conducting experiments in my kitchen.

So you had to buy a whole bunch of supplies and then turn your kitchen into a mini-chem lab? I imagined that they would have had you doing a bunch of virtual experiments on the computer, so I suppose that this is better. But when I took chemistry in high school and in college, it was in an actual chemistry lab with teachers, instructors or professors right there.

The previous two chemistry labs I took I did in-person labs at the college in their labs with their equipment, so I didn’t have to purchase supplies. However, I did have to purchase the “Lab book” which listed all the experiments, plus homework. Each of the lab books cost about $40-50. The packet of supplies I was required to purchase for the online lab was $71. The additional stuff I purchased on my own was not mandatory or even suggested (except for the vinegar, which most people might have already had).

So there was a nominal up charge yes, but I much prefer working alone and in the in-person lab courses, that’s not allowed.

I think I would have been disappointed in virtual experiments on the computer, so I was pleased it worked out this way. It was a bit of a risk, but I figured the worst that could happen was I’d have to redo the lab part of this course in person next semester.

I got a masters degree via an online program from a large state university. My experience seems to be a little different than what others have described. In each class, the professor conducted a regular lecture in the classroom with the resident students and it was video taped. I could download the video of the lecture the next day. I did the same homework, papers and tests as those students who were actually in the class room.

Pros: I could usually watch the lecture video when it was convenient for me. If I didn’t understand something in the lecture, I could rewind and listen again. I could stop the video to take a break when ever I felt like it.

Cons: I had no real interaction with other students. This didn’t necessarily keep me from learning the material, but the interaction with other students is the most enjoyable part of the college experience based on my undergraduate experience. I did take one lab class on campus over two weekends. I enjoyed this class more than any of the others because I got to know some of the other students.

By December, I will have gotten my BA in Sociology, about 50% of it completely online. I was most surprised by how structured the online classes were. My online classes have a lot of student interaction through the use of discussion boards, but I miss the classroom environment quite a lot.

One of my biggest issues with online classes is simply that they have as heavy or heavier a workload as any class you may take in person. I have five weeks left in my semester, and I am about 70 pages worth of writing assignments down. I wish I could tell, before I registered for classes, which ones were going to be especially writing-intense and which were going to be more discussion board centric. If you can look at the syllabus of a class before registration, do that. It can help you choose which classes to take together. Smarter move than the one I made…

You have to be VERY discliplined to succeed with online classes.

I took an online math class last summer and it was intense. The timeline was crunched because it was a summer course so I literally put in about three hours per day, every day. It was 10 quizzes, 1 midterm and one final in six weeks and yes, we made it through the entire book. The prof was very responsive and you got 2 tries on every quiz, which was nice. Do not do an online course if it’s something important to your degree.

I’m taking a required Psych class online right now, plus I’ve got 10 credit hours on campus and it’s difficult but not unmanagable. Like I said, you have to have a great degree of self-disclipline. At the in-person orientation the prof said that just over 90% of his regular students pass but more than 50% of his online students fail. He’s been doing online classes for at least a decade though (I’m in Silicon Valley) so he has developed a really nice site, sends out reminders on FB and Twitter, is very responsive and has clear timelines for assignments (which include forum posts and responding to others’). If you fail his online class, it’s your own damn fault.

So, self-disclipline. Otherwise you’re screwed.

I’m not sure how I feel. It’s not the same experience as going to class, and I think it’s easy to have other people do your work if you don’t want to. Some (accredited and public, not one of those private ones you see on TV) schools allow all work to be done online, so once you are accepted anyone can do it for you.

I struggle with this issue, and have structured some of my assignments to be a real PITA for someone employing a proxy, i.e. some of them required MANY short responses spaced irregularly over a period of time, some of them require the proxy to participate in conversations on-line, and I’ve thought of using Skype for some, or even for asking some to take on-line exams, proctored by a third party (who would check photo ID, etc.) None of this is foolproof, but enough of it is discouraging to anyone using a proxy, who would have to be on-call 24/7.

Professors who have embraced online teaching taught great courses. They interacted with the students and required that the students interact with each other online. They were accessible, they were available, and I got something out of the class. It was different than an in person class, of course, but it was a good experience.

On the other end of the spectrum, I had one professor that had us show up in person on the first day of the term, handed out a hard copy of a list of problems and questions to turn in by the day before the final exam (the list was not even available by email), and was not seen or heard from in between. The only response I got for him was an email saying he’d received my homework after I’d asked several times for some kind of confirmation. He never answered student questions by email or by post on the class message board, never submitted his own notes or lecture slides, never did any actual work. I complained to the administration about that one. I don’t think they cared.

IME the experience highly depends on the professor.