Bringing academia online

By Cameron Cable
Flapjack Chronicle

Like most things in common society today, education is moving more and more into the online arena. It can be seen in every facet of the education system, from high schools which provide laptops to students to entire college level courses being offered through online mediums. At Humboldt State University, every course offered each semester has a web-page tailored specifically to that class.

There are significant benefits provided by moving part or all of courses online, professors and students agree. Instructors can upload study guides, syllabi, helpful links and online quizzes and exams to online, making them all instantly accessible to any student in the class with an internet connection. Less paper waste is generated when no exams need to be printed out. Also, online tests themselves don’t waste any class time. Instructors often lose an entire day of class to exams, which could have been used teaching the next lesson. Another beneficial aspect of taking tests online is the instant feedback allowing students to know how they did on a test seconds after it’s submission.

However, there are also drawbacks to moving online.

David Stacey, an English professor, has worked with HSU extensively in developing the online system to support academia on a large scale. While he supports the use of resources online, he also described the movement as something of a “bandwagon” that schools have hopped on but are not sure of where it’s going. Because it’s such a new medium and that school systems are still relative newcomers to the online scene, Stacey believes the school system has a long way to go before they work out the kinks.

“Right now, if the CSU system moves online they’re going to do it wrong,” Stacey said.

Creating an online system will always be an expensive proposition, and at the end of it all nobody knows if the system will be effective. The biggest problem Stacey sees involves fears that the schools priorities might reflect those of the greater student body.

“The management sees little cash signs before their eyes when they consider one teacher to an infinite amount of students,” Stacey said.

For many students, moving testing online poses as many problems as it solves. One problem is that many students can’t afford a computer or Internet connection. While the school does provide computers in the library, this still poses an extra hassle for lower-income students. While physical paper tests would be in the classroom at the time of the class, students without computers have to add another errand in what could be an already busy day to not only get to the library but to also allow time in the event that the computer lab is full. This only gets worse towards the end of a semester, as computer labs across the campus begin to overcrowd.

Another drawback for students using online testing is its instability. Harold Jones, a 24-year-old chemistry major, had a wildly different experience with online testing. During online math quizzes, he would frequently get questions wrong that technically he had completed correctly, only to put the answer online in an incorrect format. This led the school’s online system to mistakenly give him a poorer grade than he deserved. Though he eventually got those grades sorted out, he related that it was “a nightmare.”

Errors can occur in numerous locations between the schools Internet servers and a student’s computer at home. HSU’s own online system, Moodle, has had a multitude of errors which have plagued both the students and the instructors using it. For example, a student taking an online multiple choice test is awarded a zero after none of his or her answers are saved. Another example would be a student writing a multi-paragraph response to a question. This student ends up losing the entire response because he or she took too long and the Internet connection timed out. The difficulty highlighted in these two examples is that it’s unclear how many events are a system-related error and how many are operator-error. This is complicated even further by the fact that Moodle is open source: meaning it’s free to use and modify, but that said modifications are to be done largely at your own risk.

The biggest flaw in online testing is its most controversial aspect: theoretically, students take these tests online at home. Because of this, there is literally no incentive towards academic honesty.

When asked if he prefers physical or online testing, Ethan Moon, a 22-year-old English major responded that he prefers in class testing because it “actually requires preparation and study” and that online students can just Google the answers.

“Fuck that Google swag, bruh,” Moon elaborated.

Joe Moore, a 21-year-old wildlife major, had a diametrically different response. Having never taken an online test, he speculated that he would much prefer it as he could simply Google the answers.

Despite the idea that the movement of academia online is inevitable, the road itself will be a bumpy one.

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