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Online courses offer convenience, flexibility

Jun 01, 2018

For many Florida State University students who have obligations beyond earning their degree, having the option to take classes and study on their own time, at their own pace – and in their own place – can make a world of difference in achieving their career goals. At the same time, traditional undergraduates find taking their core courses online also has many advantages.

Taking two of her required courses online this summer makes it possible for junior Lauren Chapman, a grants compliance associate, to pursue her undergraduate degree in finance without having to take time off from her demanding full-time job. Full-time student Caleb Stephens, a junior majoring in economics and marketing, is taking his retail marketing course online while he participates in a spiritual and leadership program in Israel this summer.

“I can engage in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that simply would have been impossible with traditional, in-person classes,” said Stephens, who also plans to enroll in two online courses next school year so he doesn’t have to interrupt his internship at the Government Accountability Institute in Tallahassee.

The College of Business has been at the forefront of offering both online undergraduate and graduate courses. Aiden Sizemore, who as director of Academic Technology leads the instructional design, implementation and support unit for online learning, said there has been a substantial increase in online enrollment since he joined the college five years ago.

An early pioneer in offering online graduate degree programs, the college has gained an outstanding reputation since launching them in 2004 and consistently ranks highly on U.S. News & World Report’s annual listings of best online programs. Rankings for 2018 include No. 6 overall (No. 5 among public schools) for the college’s online master’s degrees in Management Information Systems (MS-MIS) and Risk Management and Insurance (MS-RMI) and No. 16 overall (No. 14 among public schools) for the college’s online Master of Business Administration (MBA). The college offered its first online undergraduate courses in 2012.

The flexibility of “going to class” at a time convenient for the student is the biggest bonus, said Kim Hicks, the college’s director of Undergraduate Programs. Having earned her graduate degree entirely online from FSU, she knows and appreciates the advantages of an online course. Her own experience makes it easy for her to recommend the college’s online undergraduate options.

“As a full-time employee, wife and mother, I would have had to sacrifice precious family time, including dinner with my family, my son’s extracurricular activities, chaperoning field trips, etc. to go to class and prepare for the next class meetings,” Hicks said. “With online classes, I was able to complete two courses each semester and fit my class obligations around my work and family obligations.” 

To succeed online, students need a certain amount of discipline, said Charles Nyce, the Robert Atkins Associate Professor of Risk Management and a recipient of FSU’s 2015 Online Teaching Award with Distinction.

“While we are constantly striving to achieve the same level of interaction you would have in an in-person class, it is still not quite the same, so I believe that students taking online classes need to be a little more self-motivated than those taking the in-person version,” said Nyce, who is teaching Risk in Business and Society online this summer. “Because of the flexibility offered in an online class, it is easier for a less-motivated student to fall behind.” 

Chapman, who is taking Nyce’s class and a new core course titled Spreadsheets for Business this summer and who had experience with online classes before transferring to FSU this semester, said she makes a point to set aside time several evenings a week to ensure she keeps up. She said she also appreciates the support available through the college.

“I notice the College of Business has a lot more resources, like videos that go into detail about textbook chapters we’re covering, and that is very helpful,” she said. “I also like that you can watch the classes and videos at your own pace and that if you don’t grasp a concept at first, you can go back and re-watch until you get it.”

Faculty members work hard to make courses as easy as possible for students to navigate, giving them every opportunity to succeed, said Michael Brady, chair of the Department of Marketing and the Bob Sasser Professor of Marketing, who has twice received FSU’s Office of Distance Learning’s Award for Excellence in Online Teaching and won an award for Excellence in Online Course Design.

“Expectations are very clear, and students get dozens of reminders that detail what is due and when,” said Brady, who is teaching Basic Marketing Concepts this summer. “Also, each student has a personal teaching assistant who is managed by a senior assistant, and all of them are managed by the instructor. So there are layers of help for students in online courses, which usually doesn’t occur in live class sections.”

Brady said online delivery allows instructors to teach large introductory courses efficiently and effectively. “Rather than running dozens of sections for these introductory courses, we’re able to offer only one, and that allows us to offer small, in-person sections in the more advanced courses where students really need personal access to faculty. This means that when students are focused on their majors, they are exposed to our best instructors at that critical time when they are determining their career paths.”

From the instructor’s perspective, teaching online provides the benefit of increased flexibility that comes with not having a dedicated class time. “This is important because it allows faculty members to engage students in other ways, such as taking our students on recruiting trips, competing in case and other competitions, and attending industry conferences that help build the FSU brand in a very positive and comprehensive way,” Brady said. “Faculty members across the college are doing all of these things regularly, and online courses allow for the flexibility they need to do them.” 

For her part, Chapman said for all of the pluses of the online classes, “I’m most grateful that the online option is allowing me to get my degree. I don’t know how I would be able to do that otherwise.”

By Barbara Ash





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