But W. Andrew McCollough, associate provost for teaching and technology at UF, warns that online classes don’t automatically solve the college-affordability problem.
“There is no inexpensive way to develop quality online learning,” McCollough said. “If you’re going to maintain the quality you insist on, you need scale.”
That means online classes of 200 students, not 20, McCollough said. Regarding MOOCs, McCollough views the gigantic courses as an initiative to freely spread the knowledge of the nation’s best professors worldwide — but without awarding college credit.
Others think MOOCs will eventually shift to a for-credit model, thereby allowing students to take a sizable chunk of their college courses for free. But for now, only a handful of colleges nationwide grant transfer credits for a completed MOOC.
At in-state schools such as FlU, the University of Central Florida and Miami Dade College, the online classes taken for college credit are actually slightly more expensive than traditional face-to-face classes. That’s because the schools, in an effort to offset the cost of developing online courses, tack on an extra online-learning fee. FIU’s online fee is $160 for a standard three-credit course, added to the normal tuition of $615 per class.
Such fees haven’t slowed the popularity of online learning at UCF, where an astounding 74 percent of students take at least one online course, Even with the fees, President John Hitt argues that the online revolution is saving students money.
Thanks to online courses, Hitt said, UCF is no longer constrained by the number of classrooms available at its Orlando campus. As a result, the university can offer more of the classes that students need to graduate on time preventing students from having to stick around for an additional year.
“That’s easily $10,000 or so for a year,” Hitt said. “That’s a huge savings.”
UCF has built a national reputation as a leader in online education, and Hitt says he’s “very optimistic” about what the future will hold.
Administrators say online classes — perhaps suprisingly — are helping enliven the school’s traditional campus. Most UCF students aren’t fully online — they take a mix of online and face-to-face classes. But the scheduling flexibility of online classes has given students more time to hang out on campus and participate in student clubs or other activities, administrators say.
Online classes have also transformed the teaching practices of traditional face-to-face classes. At UCF, it’s common for professors teaching classroom courses to nevertheless use the online learning management system to post interactive activities for students. The standard “chalk and talk” lecture approach is fast disappearing, said Joel Hartman, UCF’s vice provost for information technologies and resources.
“There aren’t that many pure face-to-face courses left anymore,” Hartman said.
When UCF students rate their courses at the end of the semester, blended learning classes (combining in-person and online instruction) have received the highest marks. Fully online classes, and then traditional classroom courses, rank the next highest in student satisfaction.