TheAggie: Online courses expand opportunities for students

Story originally posted on The Aggie on March 13, 2014

By Melissa Dittrich

Options for online classes are increasing both on the UC Davis campus and within the University of California system. One of these options is UC Online, a system that allows professors from all seven of the UC schools to teach the classes they specialize in over the Internet.

According to Shelly Meron, a UC Online spokesperson, the UC Online classes are developed for UC students to enhance their undergraduate education. Meron said that the feedback received from students has been positive. Some students have been able to take online courses that they would not have been able to fit into their schedules otherwise.

“These classes are primarily for UC undergraduate students,” Meron said via email. “This program aims to give more flexibility in terms of student learning, expand access to high-demand and gateway courses and help our students progress toward getting their degrees.”

Although the classes are aimed to teach UC students, students from other colleges and from high schools can also take the classes. The cost is free for UC enrolled students but costs a certain amount per unit for any students outside of the UC system.

The classes range from writing courses and computer science classes to those on global climate change. The platform allows students to watch the lectures at their leisure and only leave the online format when they have to take an in-person test.

Anthony Tromba and Frank Bauerle, two UCSC professors teaching Math 19A: Calculus for Science, Engineering and Mathematics, said they have had an enjoyable time teaching the course online.

They said that during their time teaching the course in-person, they have only seen a small handful of students come to physical office hours. However, communication through the online chat rooms has shown to be a success.

“Students can talk and comment anonymously through the chat room,” Tromba said. “It’s led to a dramatic increase in communication between faculty and students.”

Tromba and Bauerle said that with classes getting larger, online courses are a good alternative. In the online course, the students and professors still have a chance to interact over the Internet as if it was a one-on-one situation.

“Given the fact that we do not have 30 to 40-student classes anymore, this is an appropriate solution,” Bauerle said.

Nutrition 10: Discoveries and Concepts in Nutrition (NUT 10), a popular general education course for the UC Davis campus, is a class that has gained more acclaim since it was put into an online format for the winter quarter 2014. Dr. Elizabeth Applegate, who teaches NUT 10 both in-person and online, said that teaching the course in both formats has allowed more students to enroll.

Applegate said that one advantage to the online course is that students are able to watch the lectures when they want for a week after they come out. She also said that the technology has worked well and there have not been any problems with the equipment: one main camera and two backups.

“Working with the online format has been really positive,” Applegate said.

According to Applegate, the scores on midterms have been better by about one point for the online students than the in-person students.

Krista Sowell, a TA for NUT 10, said she has seen an increase in communication between herself and students through online forums.

“Some students may feel like they can’t come up to a TA in person,” Sowell said. “I feel like I’ve had more contact with students through virtual methods.”

Sowell said that students have perceived the online course positively. She said she is glad that NUT 10 has been able to reach more students because of the higher enrollment that the online course allows.

“I just hope they’re still getting the NUT 10 experience,” Sowell said.

Applegate said she spoke with California Governor Jerry Brown and student regents about making NUT 10 an online-only and UC Online course. The hope is to get the course up and running for the UC Online system sometime next year.

“I want to get it right first at UC Davis,” Applegate said.

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