Taking classes online has its ups and downs


Erin Doran, Junior Writer

As the amount of students attending online classes increases, counselor Rick Bolhuis’s concerns are as well.

“I do fear [the number of students taking online classes is] going to continue to grow,” Bolhuis said. “But I’m hopeful that people will recognize that there are so many benefits to a brick and mortar, face-to-face course with the very skilled instructors we have here at FHC.”

Of the 1,226 students enrolled at FHC, 123 are enrolled in online courses. There has always been a reason to take online courses, but never before has there been so many. While there are plenty of examples of when not to take an online class, there are a few instances where online classes are really beneficial and almost necessary. One of these cases is Senior Eric Conerty’s unusual situation.

Last year, Eric had to move to Ohio during second semester for soccer. This meant that in order to have remained a student at FHC, he had to take online classes. This year, knowing that he’d have to move once again, he decided to fill his entire schedule with online courses.

“[Taking online classes] kind of just made everything flow easier,” Eric said. “And your schedule is a lot more flexible.”

Eric’s case is unique, and definitely an exception to one of Bolhuis’s many concerns; this concern being that because of the way college classes are set up, many colleges prefer students to be in a traditional classroom setting if possible. Thankfully, Eric doesn’t have to worry about this, as he already has a scholarship for soccer at Butler University. Butler University even enjoyed the fact that Eric was getting some experience in online courses.

“[Bolhuis] liked the idea that I was able to get a new experience with the new learning type,” Eric said. “In college, you’re going to have a lot of computer-based classes; you’re going to have a lot of computer-based materials. So Mr. Bolhuis said it was no big deal, as long as they were NCAA approved for sports.”

The dark, out-of-the-way online classroom is a bit “crummy,” as Eric described it. But thankfully, online teacher Amy Singer, who acts as a mentor and checks students’ progress, allows senior students to work in the library rather than in the classroom.

Of course, the practicality of being enrolled in online courses, for Eric, doesn’t mean they don’t have their downfalls. Students tend to miss out on bonding with peers when taking online classes. Eric expresses feeling particularly lonely when he was in Ohio.

“I went to Barnes & Noble every day and sat by myself in the little Starbucks stand and just did work all day,” Eric said.

Thankfully, Eric has a little bit of company in all of his hours here at school, sans second hour.

“In the library, it’s a little better,” Eric said. “I got Mrs. Noonan and Mrs. Fowler to keep me company, and then I got Dylan and Maddie and Sydney Bruno. It’s a little bit lonely but it’s not bad– kind of relaxing too; it’s always quiet in here.”

But Eric may be a bit of an exception here as well. Senior Leyla Erhan is taking an online class because the class she wanted to take wasn’t offered in a traditional classroom. She often tries to interact with other students in the virtual class through messages, but to no avail.

“No one just goes and talks,” said Leyla, who is taking Japanese online. “It’s just for the grades, which kinda makes me sad, but that’s how it works.”

There is also a downside to having more friends around, as there is with traditional classes. Eric knows from experience that friends can be a big distraction.

“I do talk,” Eric said. “But that’s kind of how I am. I like having people, but sometimes it can get a little annoying because I get behind on my work.”

On the same note as missing out on relationships with peers, Bolhuis also worries about the lost relationship between students and teachers.

“When folks get old, and they look back on their time in school,” Bolhuis said, “that relationship that they build with instructors and the face-to-face time that they spent with them was of great value- is of great value- so you miss out on that in some ways.”

This is especially true for Eric, who has nothing but online courses.

The lack of teacher presence creates its own problems. One of the more difficult parts of taking an online class is the fact that students have to teach everything to themselves.

“For my stats class, it’s really tough because stats is a tough class all around already,” Eric said. “And learning that stuff on your own can be tough. You have to read a textbook, and then just know how to do it on a test because there are no assignments it’s just read these pages; do a test. And that’s hard for me.”

It also means that if an online student has a question, it can be difficult for them to get ahold of their teacher.

Most online teachers will answer questions through text conversations, calls, or emails. But teachers of online classes aren’t always available. All online teachers are required to have office hours where they will be available to answer any questions students may have, but there are some teachers who have office hours in the middle of the day when students have other activities going on.

“You don’t get to directly ask your teacher questions,” Eric said. “You have to email them or message them, and it can take a day to respond sometimes. So if you want a quick question, like how to do a quiz or the way to go about stuff, it takes like twenty-four hours [for them] to get back to you.”

Without a teacher present, online students are forced to be more independent. This could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how one looks at it.

The increased independence might create some issues with students who procrastinate. In many online classes, there are no deadlines until the end of the semester, just progress checks. The students have to be able to discipline themselves to make sure they get things turned in, which isn’t always easy for students who don’t manage their time well. Singer will send emails to students, parents, and a counselor if they fall behind, but it’s still up to the student to finish his or her work.

“You get in what you put out,” said Singer, who started teaching at FHC last year. “And I believe that, no matter if it’s face-to-face or online.”

And although Bolhuis wishes he could deny allowing a student to enroll in an online class, the state legislature prevents him from doing so unless there is already proof that that student is unable to academically succeed in an online setting.

“There have been times where we all wish we could have said no,” Bolhuis said. “But we don’t have a leg to stand on, and so we kind of strongly hint at the fact that we’re not necessarily super thrilled about the idea.”

On the other hand, more independence means students like Leyla can actually advance forward and complete material ahead of the progress checks.

“Because I enjoy the course so much, I go ahead,” Leyla said. “I love it– it’s actually my favorite class right now because of its content. It probably would have still been my favorite class even if it wasn’t online, but online makes it a little bit better because it’s more independent.”

Online classes also give Leyla the opportunity to try something new.

“It’s a part of my day that I’ve never been exposed to before,” Leyla said. “So I think it’s really interesting, and I like it.”

While she understands the advantages of being in a traditional classroom, Leyla equally enjoys the pros that come with the online setting.

“When I’m in classes all day,” Leyla said, “it feels more like work, work, GPA. But you take the online class because you’re interested in it.”

Eric recognizes the benefits of a traditional classroom as well. Despite the fact that all of his classes are online, he still wishes he could be in a brick and mortar classroom. But that doesn’t mean that he wouldn’t recommend an online class to anyone. In fact, he thinks it’s a good experience, as long as the student only takes one or two at most.

“If I had to advise someone if they should or shouldn’t take one, I would say go for it,” Eric said. “Coming from me, taking all classes online is not a good idea. It gets boring; you have to be super disciplined. So if they’re thinking about taking all online classes, I’d say no– unless their schedule needs it, like if they think it’s a better idea for them.”

Perhaps the only other case where a student might want to take all online classes, like Eric, would be students who are chronically ill or have severe anxiety and can’t attend classes regularly.

“Those cases I like it for because it allows students to not have their education as disruptive as it otherwise would be,” Bolhuis said. “It gives them the flexibility that they need.”

Overall, the amount of discussion surrounding online classes is increasing, but the chances of them completely replacing traditional classes is unlikely.

To say online courses are all good would be an incredible inaccuracy, but there’s no denying the opportunity they provide to students.

“Both have their advantages and disadvantages,” Leyla said. “I can’t really put online in front of the regular [classrooms] because regular [classrooms] have a little more advantages to them. But online does create a sense of independent study that a lot of classes don’t always have.”