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Popularity of online classes grows

Wednesday, September 1, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:38 a.m. CDT, Saturday, June 14, 2008

This semester, Columbia College junior Amanda Burfield is taking all of her classes online.

“I used to take evening classes, but it got to be too much,” said Burfield, who works full time at a bank. “Sometimes I would not get out of class until 10 p.m. and then I would have homework. I just got tired.”

Burfield, who is a junior double-majoring in business management and marketing, likes taking courses online, where she has taken her last six courses. Online, Burfield is able to learn without losing free time.

“Being able to do my homework on my own time, in my bed, is so much better,” she said.

In its fifth year, Columbia College’s online program has grown like corn in a hot July — from 10 courses and 186 enrollments in 2000 to 261 courses and 5,399 enrollments now. Online enrollments figures represent the number of spots filled in each online class rather than the total number of students enrolled in all online courses; if a student is enrolled in more than one online class, that student counts as more than one enrollment.

The college — which has 30 “extended campuses” nationwide, including one in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — offers five online sessions a year. Students may take two three-credit courses per session. For the August session, 3,801 students are taking online courses.

“The growth from last August to this August has been by 31 percent,” said Terry Smith, vice president and dean for academic affairs.

Soon, campus leaders said, Columbia College will graduate students who have never stepped foot in a classroom.

College President Gerald Brouder said the online program is meant to meet the needs of students who are juggling family and work responsibilities and who require greater flexibility.

“Candidly, I was a bit skeptical going into it,” Brouder said. “But looking now at both the results of quality and the results of rigor in the program, I am convinced it is the wave of the future.”

Jeremy Martino, a sophomore majoring in international business, is taking his first online course this session. Martino also works full time.

“A lot of my education is figuring things out for myself,” he said.

The business course that Martino is taking was full on campus. By taking it online, he will not fall behind in credits toward his degree.

Another aspect of online learning is the student’s ability to learn at his own pace. “If I don’t understand, it allows me to slow down and take my time until I understand it,” Martino said.

Online learning is more than logging on and taking tests. Students are required to participate in a discussion board. In this forum, students respond to each other’s questions and to questions proposed by the instructor. The only difference is that the students and instructors do not typically meet face to face.

“In the classroom I get to meet people. Online, I don’t,” Martino said. “It takes away from the socialization aspect.”

MU offers 464 online courses and two dozen online degree programs including master’s degrees. Online courses began in 1995 at MU and the online degree programs began in 1999.

For the 2003-04 academic year MU had 7,302 enrollments in online courses with 4,034 students.

“Most of them don’t set foot on the MU campus, but they are part of the reason that MU is setting record enrollments,” said Dolores Shearon, marketing director for MU extension.


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