Tennessee Alumnus

Future of Higher Ed

Alex Cate settles into his recliner for his Statistics 474 class at UT Knoxville.

This is a post by Alex Cate, student intern in the Office of Communications and Marketing.

Your senior year of college should be a year of “lasts,” right? Your last football game as a student.  Your last semester being able to roll out of bed at noon and walk to your first class.  Your last time having to stay up all night studying for an exam.

For me, there has been one “first” – my first online class.

Sure, in previous classes parts of the course have been online.  Most every course at UT these days has some sort of online presence woven into the infrastructure of the class.

But this course isn’t like that. I don’t go to a physical classroom.  No, instead I flip open my laptop and plug in my headphones, pull that fun little lever on the side of my recliner that flips up my leg rest and attend my live Statistics 474 class – all from my apartment.

It’s actually pretty nifty.  Through Blackboard Collaborate, UT has created a virtual classroom.  Each student logs into the class and watches as the instructor presents the day’s material.   There’s even a button to “raise your hand” and students with microphones can voice their questions out loud.

So far I’ve been extremely impressed.  I’m halfway through the class and there have been very few bumps along the way – of course my professor has been doing this for several semesters now.  I really only have one complaint.  Without face-to-face interaction, communication between the instructors and students can suffer.  Here’s an example: Every Tuesday and Thursday, our assignments are due by midnight.  Usually these are activities in a statistical modeling program.  We, the students, take screenshots and put them in a Word document before uploading them to Blackboard.  It took almost two months before the TAs grading the work said they wanted them uploaded in pdf format.  Not that this is a huge issue, but without any physical interaction it can be tough to stay on the same page.

Other than a few minor issues here and there the course has be integrated well.  I like the software used to stream the course because it also records each class.  If I miss a class, I don’t worry about it because I can go back and watch the entire lecture at my leisure.

It seems like these kinds of classes are trending right now. As we highlighted in the Alumnus issue on the future of higher education, there are classes similar to mine being tested each semester such as the Nutrition 101 class.  It’ll be interesting to see how much success they’ll have.  I love having the flexibility in my schedule to not have to be at a certain place at a certain time, and I know many other students do as well.

For the most part, my experience with an online class has been better than what I expected.  Only a few minor flaws here and there keep it from being spectacular, but I don’t think I’ve been in a course that didn’t have some problem at some time.

Now I’m going to face a bigger struggle – keeping my eyes on the computer instead of the baseball game on the TV behind it.  Wish me luck!