By Maggie Cunningham–

In two years, four semesters and 18 classes, I had been to campus a total of three times. Each time had been to visit my advisor so that they could remove the academic hold on my schedule for the next year. The advisor constantly reassured me that if I wanted to, and planned accordingly, I could finish my entire Bachelor’s Degree online.

I didn’t know who the president of the university was or what he looked like. The campus was a maze, parking was confusing and I didn’t know a single student or organization.

Classes taken online by way of Blackboard have been the only option for me to ever finish my degree. I don’t have scholarships, grants or loans, and FAFSA is, well, not helpful. Paying out of pocket when you are a young adult is costly, so the only way to make it happen is to work full time, which in turn takes up all of the time the average student would be spending sitting in a classroom.

Some students, like me, excel in the online atmosphere. I have made it on the Dean’s List and am getting straight A’s for the first time in my life. But they don’t work for everybody. So how do you decide if online classes will work for you?
I don’t know anyone who knows online classes better than I do. So as I do with most things, I made a list — a list of pro’s and con’s to online classes.

The most important pro is flexibility. Instead of going to class on Monday, Wednesday and Friday for an hour at a time, many teachers will assign a few items for the week and they are due by a certain day and time towards the end of the week. You can read the assigned chapter, complete any activities and participate in blogs and discussions around your schedule when it is convenient for you. You can fit your class time around work, errands, a child, an internship or a practice schedule.

As far as money is concerned, I have never had to get dressed, put on makeup, or buy any excessive school supplies. I have never wasted gas on driving to and from campus, or spent any money on a parking pass or a meter. I assume in the grand scheme of finances, these seemingly insignificant costs really add up.

It is also important to note that taking tests, in some ways, can be easier when done online. On Blackboard, every test is open-book. However, most tests are timed, and being unfamiliar with the chapter material can and will hurt you. In most cases, you should read a question and recognize it. If you don’t remember the exact answer, you have a short window in which to find it and move on to the next question. Some classes, like Spanish, actually require a webcam for some tests so that you can prove verbal and written competency, and that you definitely can’t fake or cheat.

In my own mind, I have always had this list of pros readily available to defend the type of education I receive. When some family members found out I was taking classes online, it seemed like they thought less of the education I was getting because of how I was learning it. Let me make one thing clear: taking classes online is no walk at the park.

Because of the lack of face time and physical class time you get, you have to do twice-if-not-three-times the coursework to prove to the teacher and the university that you are learning what you are supposed to. In a classroom discussion about history, you can hide in the back and never raise your hand, but still get participation points for being there. Online, you are almost always required to post in discussion boards at least two to three times a week and each has to be a certain length. Most often, you have to make your own initial post, and then wait a certain amount of allotted days or hours before logging back in and responding to other classmates posts. Weekly quizzes often ensure you have read the book if one was required for reading; and assignments and papers are heavy, so that they know you aren’t just coasting through.

An extreme downside is the financial aspect. Online hours are more expensive, and they don’t cap at 12 credit hours if you are taking more. So if you take five classes, or 16 credit hours, not only are you paying for each individual hour, you are paying roughly 130 percent of each of the normal cost for those hours.  To some this may not be worth the pajama classes from the couch. But even with the added expense, I wouldn’t have been able to pay for regular tuition without working full time anyway, so paying the extra bit was more than worth it. It was my only option.

For many students, an actual lecture and the teacher and student interaction that you get face-to-face in a classroom is vital to a clear understanding of course content; taking online classes spells disaster. Between not being able to force themselves to do the work since there is no official set class time, and the many distractions that can keep you from finishing your work, if you don’t see yourself as a motivated and organized individual the lack of a classroom could be detrimental to your GPA.

The biggest con however, was the one I didn’t know about. Last semester I finally broke down and took a class I was obsessed with taking that was only available on campus. It wasn’t until I had to come here more often that I realized how much I was missing. I had no idea what any of the buildings were, where they were or what purpose they served. I didn’t understand what wide array of groups there were to become affiliated with. There is so much here to take a part in, that is a major part of our lives and shouldn’t be missed.

If I hadn’t taken that class, I would not have met the teacher who opened up so many doors for me both on and off campus. Since I finished her class, she has sent me numerous internships to look into, and written me recommendations for them all. She also wrote me an amazing recommendation for the Mortar Board at U of L. She didn’t do these things because I am “just that awesome,” she did them because having face-to-face interaction built a connection between student and teacher that cannot be built through a computer screen.

The most important thing that this teacher did for me was introduce me to The Louisville Cardinal. Having not been on campus, I had never even heard of the student newspaper.  When a position opened, she recommended I apply. So I did, and here I am. I have learned more in the past few months about the things I want to do when I leave this school from working at the paper than I have in any class. The experience alone will make it easier for me to succeed.

I can only imagine all of the doors that could have been opened for me by teachers just like her, who I never had the chance to meet. I highly recommend online classes because they have allowed me to finish a degree that I never thought I could. But I also advise you not to take that classroom or lecture hall for granted.

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