Online Universities: The Benefits and Disadvantages for Students and Professors The internet first came to universities during its creation. In 1970, when the first five nodes for the internet were established, four existed at universities: Stanford University; University of California, Los Angeles; University of California, Santa Barbara; and the University of Utah (Mauriell0). At this early point in its early history, nobody could have imagined what the internet would become or where it would end up. In a twist of fate, the internet would come back to universities later in its life in a controversial way. In 1989, the University of Phoenix offered its first online classes (Levine) and in 1999 Jones
International University became the first “fully online university in the U.S. to be accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and
Schools” (Jones International University). Opinions about online higher education is split; many people distrust online universities, others hail them as the new age of higher
education, and still some are unsure of what to believe. The purpose of this research paper is to objectively identify the benefits and drawbacks of online universities for both students and professors. After weighing the benefits and drawbacks for both students and professors, I found that online universities fulfill an important role for the students who attend them and the professors who teach in them which will no doubt be dramatically expanded and improved upon in the future.
Students benefit from online universities in a variety of ways. In study done to learn why students participate in online courses, researchers found that 80% of a group of 90 students viewed the flexibility of online courses to be a motive for taking them (Braun 70). In the same study, 74% of the students then indicated that the ability to do coursework at home was also a motivating factor for them. With these two points tied together, online education is naturally aimed at a very specific market of people: adult, working-class students who have other responsibilities besides college that require their attention; in the
study, the researchers make special note of a student who commented that “the commute in Los Angeles was so bad she could not imagine coming onto campus and spending all the additional time on the freeways and not with her children” (Braun 70). Not having to attend classes on campus can benefit others, though, as well. Students of all ages can attend
schools in any state, country, or continent. The online nature of the classes also allows students to “learn at their own pace,” (Freeman et al. 23) as noted by The Virtual University: The Internet and Resource-Based Learning.
Professors also benefit from online universities. One of the great things about online courses is that they allow professors to reach a broad range of students. A professor in a traditional classroom would only be teaching a group of students in a similar demographic; take a sample classroom from the university I attend, Salem State University, as an example. The class would most likely be filled with white, democratic, middle-class working young adults who work part to full time. An online course, on the other hand, would be filled with students of all ages and all ethnicities, possibly even from around the world. This kind of variety in students allows a professor to have a greater range of opinion in discussions and has the potential to give them differentiating feedback on their own teaching style and materials.
In addition to this, online universities give professors access to a great number of tools to allow for a more well-rounded teaching experience compared to simply lecturing or presenting in a traditional classroom. Some examples given by The Virtual University include: hybrid documents with pictures as well as text, images, video, and sound (Freeman et al. 54). Increasingly, there are also tools for professors to employ virtual reality to teach students online. One well-known example of a virtual reality tool is the online virtual world Second Life (Sussman). In Second Life, professors can engage students by presenting them with three-dimensional objects or environments. Chemistry professor Jean-Claude Bradley
praised it as a more “effective way to study” (Sussman) for some students, explaining how he can use Second Life to show students molecules and have students virtually walk around them. In addition, traveling to places within Second Life – which may be infeasible if not impossible for some students in the real world – can provide a realistic and wholesome experience. Assistant instructor Joe Sanchez brought his students to a Virginia Tech memorial in Second Life, and “when they arrived, conversations became hushed…they felt like they were in a sacred place" (Sussman).
Unfortunately, drawbacks do exist for both students as well as professors of online universities. For students, the main drawbacks revolve around the fact that some employers do not look favorably on online degrees or universities. In a questionnaire sent to hiring managers, 72% said the type of college (virtual vs. traditional) of the applicant would play an important role in their decision; in addition to this, 56% said they had reservations about a degree earned with a mix of the two (Adams, Defleur 41). One hiring manager explicitly stated his concerns, saying, “My perception is that virtual degrees are not as rigorous as a traditional degree” (Adams, Defluer 43). Furthermore, there is also another concern: by attending a newly established online university, one loses the potential branding and
networking that traditional universities such as Harvard or MIT could provide you (Cohan). Not only that, the fact that some of the large universities are proceeding to host classes and information online for free could lead to a furthered devaluation of online education as a whole.
For professors, it can be difficult to get accustomed to an online format. One professor admits that “converting a face-to-face credit-bearing course into one taught asynchronously on WebCT took lots of planning and even more time to build and
implement successfully” (Daugherty, Russo 23). She then adds that it took an additional six years of adjustment to “deliver effectively course content equivalent to that of the
face-to-face class” (Daugherty, Russo 23). With the caveat that this occurred from 2001-2007 and various online technologies have streamlined since then, it must be acknowledged that a large amount of extra work is necessary for professors to learn about various multimedia tools to be able to effectively use them. In 2009, a major survey of public colleges and universities found that “70 percent of all faculty members believe the learning outcomes of online courses to be either inferior or somewhat inferior” to traditional courses (Parry).
In addition to this, professors at online universities are almost always paid less than professors at traditional colleges due to most every online university being a for-profit business. These statistics from the well-known University of Phoenix give the best monetary comparison between an online university and a traditional one:
The University of Phoenix is a for-profit enterprise. It costs Phoenix online $237 to provide one credit hour of cybereducation, against $486 per hour for conventional education at Arizona State…Arizona State professors get an average of $67,000 a year. The typical University of Phoenix online faculty member is part time and earns only $2,000 a course (Freeman et al. 19).
In conclusion, there are many benefits and drawbacks for both students and professors concerning online universities and online education. However, the benefits would seem to outweigh the drawbacks for both groups if one more factor is put into the equation: time. For students, the main drawback at the moment is the misunderstanding and confusion of hiring managers concerning the relatively new addition of online learning into the higher education system. Once online universities and degrees become more well understood and common, it is likely that the percentage of managers who would factor in the type of degree into their decision will fall. For professors, there is little doubt that a new generation of technology-savvy teaching professionals with more advanced, streamlined tools at their disposal would be better equipped to teach online courses. And as
online universities are established, salaries may change as well. For now, online universities remain the new frontier for any adventurous students or professors who dare to brave the unknown and snatch the intellectual wealth that awaits.
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