Online-only classes increase in popularity at UHV, nationally

Nicole Garcia admits she was a little skeptical about whether she’d like online classes when she took her first one nearly a year ago at the University of Houston-Victoria.

But now the junior education major loves both the convenience and the structure of online classes and has gotten to the point where she prefers taking them to sitting in a classroom for a face-to-face course.

“Once I experienced online classes, I really liked them,” Garcia said. “The classes are flexible and convenient, but you still have a schedule to follow that gives you some structure.”

Garcia is one of a growing number of students at UHV and across the nation taking online courses. At UHV, 1,654 students, or 51 percent of the 3,260 students enrolled at the university this semester, are exclusively taking online courses. Another 983 students, or 30 percent, are taking at least one online course plus face-to-face and/or Interactive TV courses.

A year ago, 1,410 UHV students exclusively took online courses at UHV. The number of students taking these courses grew 17 percent from spring of 2008 to this semester.

“I think online-only courses at UHV will just keep growing,” said Holly Verhasselt, the executive assistant to the UHV provost and the distance education contact at the university. “The reality is that students’ lives are getting busier. For people who have families and jobs, online courses provide the flexibility they need to balance their educational goals with their other obligations.”

Online offerings continue to grow at universities across the country as students seek more flexibility in their educations and the economy remains uncertain. More than 3.9 million U.S. college students took at least one online course during the fall 2007 semester, according to a November 2008 report from the Sloan Consortium, which keeps statistics about the state of online learning in U.S. higher education.

This was a 12 percent increase over the previous year and was more than double the number of students taking at least one online course in fall of 2002 when the consortium started surveying students.

The first universities to offer online classes began their efforts just over a decade ago, according to consortium data, and UHV was at the forefront of that movement. The university offered its first online class, a business course, in spring 1998 and immediately began expanding its online course offerings. Now most UHV degrees are offered at least partly online, and some are offered entirely online.

For UHV faculty members like Andria Young, an associate professor of special education in the School of Education & Human Development, online courses provide several advantages. She enjoys the increased student participation that occurs with the online education courses she teaches. Some shy students are hesitant to speak up in a classroom setting, but with online courses, they feel more comfortable participating in discussions, she said.

“They feel comfortable because they have longer to think about their answers, and they can answer more anonymously,” Young said.

Young also likes the convenience of online classes for herself and her students. As a single parent, it is easier for her to be online interacting with students than it is driving to a classroom.

“Online classes just allow so many people to participate who may not have time to go back to school in a traditional setting,” she said.

Jennifer Ramsay, a Corpus Christi resident who is working toward her Master of Business Administration from UHV, is one of those students. Although she just started online UHV courses this semester, she prefers them to the face-to-face classes she took as an undergraduate.

“The convenience of it is definitely a plus,” she said. “I can work on my course online at 11 at night if I want to.”

In addition, taking online courses gives her the freedom to travel with her parents and study to take her real estate license exam while being a full-time student. Some of her classmates also have the need to take online courses because they live out-of-state and have families and full-time jobs, she said.

UHV faculty members strive to make their online classes more interactive for students by using audio, video, podcasts and blogs.

“It’s a flexible way to take classes, but the professors are still available when you need them,” Garcia said. “They answer questions quickly and provide me with information.”

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973 in Victoria, Texas, offers courses leading to more than 80 academic programs in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, Texas, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.

Paula Cobler