A Look at Internet Schooling

Some families will consider Internet schooling for their son or daughter after completing high school home study rather than attend a traditional college. Their reasons can be as varied as the reasons they initially chose to start homeschooling their child.

Recently, I asked a friend who teaches online courses what a homeschooled student might expect if s/he enrolled in Internet classes. Her answers are below...

1. Can you share with us your credentials as an online professor?

I have a B.A. in English/Secondary Education and a M.A. in English. I have taught over 10 years as a full-time professor of English at a large community college before teaching my first exclusively online class. I have been teaching online English courses for over four years.

2. How many students do you have in a typical online class?

My classes (I teach for a brick-and-mortar college that offers some online classes and one "virtual" university) average between 25-30 students.

3. How do your students contact you if they need additional help?

Usually, students ask questions and express concerns using email or areas in the course designated for asking questions. I hold office hours using instant messenger programs and schedule online "conferences" with students by request. I also provide my phone number or call students when necessary, depending on the particular policies of the institution.

4. What resources are required for an Internet class? Do they purchase textbooks or are all the materials found online?

It depends on the institution and the course. If you are taking an online version of a class offered face-to-face, it is likely that you will be asked to purchase the same course materials as the traditional class. I have taught classes that provide electronic textbooks, but the majority of my classes use a combination of Internet materials and traditional hard-copy texts.

5. How long does each Internet course last?

My typical class assignments last between 10-11 weeks.

6. Is the coursework for Internet schooling less challenging, comparable, or more challenging than what is found in a traditional institution?

I think that most students are surprised to discover that well-designed online courses can be more challenging than face-to-face classes. Due to the nature of these classes, YOU take on more responsibility for your own learning.

For example, one of the biggest challenges may be remembering that you will need to show attendance and participation in a different way in online schools. In a face-to-face class, a teacher can see your attendance and observe eye-contact, head nods, and other body language to determine your engagement and understanding. For online courses, you have to show your participation through written responses, not only on major assignments but also for the daily activities.

Furthermore, because you don’t have regular class sessions during which an instructor verbally covers content, you must take time to read your textbook assignments and the "lecture" material. You may also face a learning curve in understanding the technology used for the online course: how to navigate within the course, where to turn in assignments and how to access feedback, etc. Even though online courses can provide a great deal of flexibility and convenience, you may find that you have to invest more time in them than your traditional classes.

7. What are some of the reasons you find students taking online courses?

I have found that the most common reason, by far, is for convenience and flexibility. Most of my students are juggling a number of responsibilities, including jobs/careers and family obligations. Some are undergoing major transitions: career changes, job losses, changes in marital status, family growth, and so forth. As a result, they are looking for paths to degrees or certification that can "fit" into their busy schedules.

8. Who takes online courses? What types are they?

Online learning communities are quite diverse. The majority of my students are adult learners in their mid-thirties, but I have had students that range from sixteen to sixty-five years of age. They are full-time students, business-owners, retirees, mothers, fathers, full-time employees, recently unemployed, students with physical challenges, and members of the military.

One of the great features of Internet schooling is the ability to be a part of such a unique community that varies in age, gender, religion, interests, backgrounds, geographical location, nationality, and even native language.

9. Have you seen an increase in distance learning at your school? Do you think that will continue?

I have definitely seen an increase in the number of distance learning courses offered by traditional colleges and an increase in the number of institutions exclusively offering Internet schooling. I certainly think that this trend will continue.

10. What are the skills students need most if they are going to succeed at Internet schooling?

  • Strong time management skills
  • Self-motivation
  • College-level reading comprehension
  • Competent written communication skills
  • Comfortable using the computer and learning/using new technologies

11. What are the major reasons why a student doesn’t obtain a passing grade in one of your online classes?

  • Poor time management skills
  • Failure to communicate with instructor
  • Failure to use resources
  • False assumptions—assuming that online courses are self-paced or correspondence courses. To succeed, students must follow deadlines and be fully engaged in class discussions and other activities.

Internet schooling is definitely here to stay as an option for post-high school studies. If your son or daughter has the requisite skills and study habits, online schooling may be perfectly suited for him.

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