Online classes raise issues

By Marilyn Robles
Pulse Staff Writer

Some students believe online courses are a way to cheat yourself out of your own education.  Others think online courses are necessary to maintain our enrollment.

“I would pass the course using Google translate,” said Cierra Cooper, a senior Communications major at Texas A&M-San Antonio who took Elementary Spanish at Palo Alto College.

Other students found similar ways to get perfect scores.

“I looked up the answer on another laptop while doing the weekly work,” said Priscilla Lopez, TAMUSA Communications major, who took Biology at Palo Alto.  “I ended up passing the course.”

Students also say it’s hard to learn without a professor to guide them.

”Nobody is going to study if the professor is not there,” said Blanca Garcia, Communications major at Texas A&M-San Antonio, who took Biology online at Palo Alto College.  “If you don’t study, I don’t think you’ll learn anything.”

They also believe a one-on-one connection with the professor is needed to understand the material and their responsibilities as students.

“It’s was hard to understand what was required,” said Mark Mata, freshman Computer Science major at Palo Alto College, who took Government online.  “I was limited on time, and my professor also had very limited office hours.”

Some students say online courses are easy to fit into a chaotic life because of the flexibility.

“Taking online classes fits any weekly schedule,” said Luis Bravo, sophomore Accounting major at Palo Alto College.  “You can fit homework and readings into any crazy lifestyle.”

Some Palo Alto College faculty believe flexibility must be an option for students who cannot attend in-class or face-to-face courses because of distance.

“I had a student from Iraq last year. It would not be fair to hold him back from continuing his education because he is protecting our country,” said Amanda Salinas, associate professor of Accounting at Palo Alto College.

Others also believe that online courses are good for parents who want  to continue their education but don’t have time to get to campus.

“I mean if you look at situations, fathers and mothers who put in long hours and then have a family to care for, do they have time to physically get in a car and come out to Palo Alto all the time?” asked Terrence Flannery, English professor at Palo Alto College.  “So the convenience is for those who really have those time constraints and restrictions placed upon them.”

Salinas believes students who want to learn will take the steps necessary to learn.

“That all depends on the individual student,” said Salinas. “I think there are some students that will do the least amount to pass the course, but you have those students in face-to-face courses, as well.”

Salinas also notices that students don’t take the time to ask questions, confirm information or respond to her weekly emails.

“Every Monday I email every single student to get feedback, and I get maybe 10 percent of the students that email me back,” she said.

Not only do students not ask for help, Flannery thinks students find it easy to cheat on assignments. He believes students will suffer in the long run by failing, and that will be their fault.

“I know cheating goes on. I know there are students that do this kind of thing. They are just hurting [themselves], and they are getting a false grade.” said Flannery.  “It’s the student doing it to him or herself. They are the ones that should suffer, and they will suffer the consequences of failing at a job or something else.”

Because cheating does happen frequently, Flannery makes it mandatory for his students to take their final exams on campus.

In Fall 2011 to Spring 2012, Palo Alto College had a total enrollment of 17,550 students, and 55 percent of students took online courses. About one third of those students were out-of-district students.  Currently, 16 distance learning degrees are offered at Palo Alto College along with nine certification courses.

Information requested from the college’s Institutional Research Department on the drop rate, fail rate and average grades for online courses was not currently available.

Salinas believes a reduction of online courses would lead to a decrease in enrollment.

“Quite honestly, if Palo Alto didn’t offer the online classes, someone else would,” said Salinas.  “And we would lose those students.”