Photo Illustration by Matt Weir / The Collegian
Digital Campus representatives say online classes just as good
The Digital Campus (DC) at Fresno State is designed to enrich courses by offering an online aspect to every course that uses Blackboard or other online resources, officials said.
With vast amounts of information available to students and faculty through the Internet, the director of Digital Campus, Brent Auernheimer, is in charge of making sure that everything runs as smoothly as possible.
“Digital Campus supports online teaching and learning,” Auernheimer said. “From doing the technical system administration and configuration of Blackboard, to helping faculty develop online classes, to figuring out why students or faculty are having problems with Blackboard or other academic technology.”
All of these services are in place to complement and enhance various learning styles.
Auernheimer said that all types of students have used DC and many different programs can benefit from using the system.
“Universities in general are finding that their on-campus students are also their online students,” Auernheimer said. “It also varies by discipline. Online works better for some more than others.”
Auernheimer has seen the progression of DC at Fresno State since he came here in 1986 as a computer science professor.
“I’ve been interested in using technology for teaching and learning for a long time,” Auernheimer said. “I really like hybrid classes where we meet half of the time in the classroom face to face, and the other half doing things online.”
Lynda Harding, the former director of DC, said that some faculty members are reluctant to use DC.
“Many faculty members remain concerned about the quality of online courses,” Harding said. “They also perceive online courses as requiring more work to develop and teach.”
“There was a recent Department of Education publication about how hybrid classes are probably the most effective mode,” Auernheimer said. “For a long time there’s been a ‘no significant difference’ phenomenon that online and traditional classes are equally effective.”
Harding added that Fresno State is ahead of the national curve in regards to online learning according to the 2008 Sloan-APLU national survey about Online Learning.
“Our campus was above average in the number of online courses developed and taught by faculty, and substantially higher than average in faculty ratings of support for online teaching and learning,” Harding said.
Auernheimer said cheating has not necessarily been a greater problem for online classes.
“We haven’t seen a lot of difference, although cheating takes different forms depending on delivery mode,” Auernheimer said. “Faculty can choose to use plagiarism detection software, like TurnItIn.com, that is integrated with Blackboard. Or faculty can have an in-person final exam and check IDs.”
Online courses can also be perceived as more cost-effective than traditional classrooms since more students can fit in one online class than a traditional classroom.
“That probably isn’t true since online classes have faculty just like traditional classes do,” Auernheimer said. “Higher education is a personnel-intensive business. There can be efficiencies and increased convenience by offering online classes, but I don’t think you’ll find a lot of cost savings.”
Harding agreed that completing a lot of the technological tasks can end up raising the costs of instruction.
“There are ways to use technology to save money,” Harding said. “At least in high-enrollment courses, but they require off-loading, to technology or student assistants, some of the work currently done by faculty members. As Brent points out, the main cost of instruction is faculty time, and that’s at least as true for online courses as for face-to-face courses.”
In fall 2009, there were 155 fully online classes, eight hybrid and 3,343 traditional classes that had a Blackboard presence. This semester there were 123 fully online courses, one hybrid and 3,371 traditional courses with blackboard.
For the future of DC the plan is to upgrade to Blackboard version 9.1 over the summer.