Taking an Online Class at BC

This semester, BC offered Analytics and Business Intelligence as an online course. There are not many courses offered like this at BC because they are still experimenting to see how successful the online format is.

The only other time I have taken an online class was back in high school. I came to the US as a junior and was a bit behind in math, so I took an online Pre-Calculus class the summer before senior year. That class was actually a lot of work because it involved a lot of problem sets that had to be completed after every lecture. For that class, I had a tutor that emailed me and allowed me to call her when I ran into problems. She helped me a lot when I was stuck with exam questions but it didn’t seem fair because in a real class setting that would not be allowed at all. I was also given 1 week to complete the midterm and the final examinations, which is an insane amount of time (in my opinion).

The Analytics and BI course at BC was divided into weekly modules that looked this on Canvas:

module

I will analyze the class across several categories based on my experience this semester:

Attendance

While we did have to complete one module per week, there was no attendance requirement in this class. I did go to office hours because it helped a lot when I didn’t understand a concept but other than that, I could do all the assignments from the comfort of my dorm room, from the library or from a coffee shop.

Lectures

All the lectures have been previously recorded. The professor taught this class physically at BC a few semesters ago. One of my current roommates happened to be in that class and she had to sign a consent form so she could be on camera.

What is weird about the lectures is that there are some times where the professor asks questions and students participate and we just watch how this happens without having a chance to participate and add our opinion. In addition, the content has not been updated to reflect this year’s latest news (e.g. we could have talked about the Facebook scandal in class).

Technical Talks

Every module included a 10-15-minute technical talk video that shows different concept that are used in R (statistical programming language). This was particularly useful for when we had to use R Studio and write code on our own.

Hands-on R video

In addition to the technical talk, there is a hands-on video where the professor does a voice-over showing his screen in R Studio and shows us how to code things in R. This is paired with a PDF handbook that is split into 12 chapters, each linked to one of the hands-on videos. The handbook was our ‘textbook’ and it was indispensable to understand how to use R.

Quizzes

Every module also required us to take ‘Knowledge Checks’ that were usually 6-9 points. If we didn’t understand why we got a question wrong, we could always go to office hours and talk to the professor about it.

There is a lot of trial and error in programming languages and most of the time when I was running my code I felt like this:

running code

Discussion posts

In addition, there was a discussion topic for every module and every student was required to write a post or respond to a classmate’s post. I usually tried to post new material but sometimes it was hard to come up with new topics so I ended up responding to someone’s post, trying to avoid sounding like this:

discussion

I also tried to read some of the other post’s but it wasn’t required. Maybe in the future the class could be structured similar to this one, where we have to read and respond to our classmates every week.

Group Project

In my opinion, this part of the class was the trickiest. Since the class was entirely online, it was hard to form a group in the first place. I was approached by a classmate that knew me and asked me to join his group of 3. I reached out to another friend in the class and we formed a group of 5.

We ran into some problems throughout the group project since 2 out of the 5 members never responded to messages and never showed up to the meetings. It was really hard to reach them because, since we didn’t have a physical class, we didn’t know who they were or how to find them. It all worked out at the end but it was not a good group project experience for me.

Exams

There is a midterm exam and a final exam that are both online and open-note. The midterm exam was fair and we were even allowed to google things that we were missing because not everything had been covered in-depth in the material. I liked this learning style because it is different from most exams where we have to memorize formulas and procedures.

open note

So … what did I take away from this experience?

I have to say that this was not like most online classes that people take because there was some in-person interaction with the professor and the TAs that were available on-campus. However, all the content that was taught happened on-line and I am sure that a great majority of the class never went to get in-person help.

In my opinion, I would have enjoyed this class more if it was happening in a physical classroom because when I was watching the lectures on-line, it seemed like it was a discussion-based class, where everyone participates based on their own experience. I don’t think the online discussion posts on Canvas can substitute a class discussion because most people don’t go back and read other posts. Even though I don’t participate much in class, I like hearing other people’s comments and I think that that is one of the benefit of in-class discussions.

Overall, the workload for this class was similar to my other classes but the benefit was that everyone could work on each module at their own pace and if someone needed more help, office hours were a great resource.

Throughout the course of the semester we received some emails from our professor clarifying things and asking us for feedback on how the course could be improved, which I really appreciated. Although the course structure still needs improvement, I had a pretty positive experience. Maybe a hybrid model with some online and in-person components might be the better way to format the course but we’ll see what they come up with!

I would love to hear your thoughts about online courses!

Have you taken online courses before? Were they at BC or somewhere else? How was your experience?

What do you think of universities that offer online degrees?

 

10 comments

  1. kennedy__bc · ·

    Coming from friends of mine who have taken online courses from various institutions throughout the years this one sounds by far the most interactive and successful. Personally, I don’t believe I am the type of person who could take multiple online courses because I get too easily distracted during video lectures by my roommates or my phone. However, all students are different and I know some people that I think would benefit greatly from the ability to sit somewhere besides a quiet lecture hall listening to a professor teach. Additionally, I’m glad that BC is taking steps towards a more diverse learning experience for students, it’s important to recognize that no two students are alike and that the ability to simply learn from your computer is a skill that some students would benefit from immensely. I would love to know your largest take aways from the experience and any major changes you think need to be made to the program. Do you feel BC is headed in the right direction in online learning?

  2. Addison LeBeau · ·

    Great post! I had heard of this class in CSOM, but didn’t personally know anyone taking it. I think your past experience with an online class helped a lot with the comparison you explained in the post. I think you made a great point when you pointed out that the recorded lectures clearly had a discussion based element, so it was frustrating to watch the lecture and hear questions, yet not have the ability to participate. I personally think this is something BC should have taken into consideration before adapting this into an online class, and considered how unbalanced the lectures were compared to the online course structure.

    On another note – I loved the memes used in this post! Very relevant and they made me laugh!

    Well done!

  3. tylercook95 · ·

    I personally have never taken an online class but I definitely have had friends at other schools take them. I actually didn’t know BC had online classes until reading this blog post! It feels kind of off-brand for BC to have online classes, considering in their tours they talk about how discussion based and small and personal their classes are. I do like that BC could be helping people who like to learn in different ways though because discussion-based classes are definitely tough for people on the shy side. I wonder if they would ever make the move to do a class with a live stream option, which would allow for possible discussion on the live stream while giving you the benefit of being remote. I think that with technology advancing so quickly online classes may become more popular, especially since working from home remotely has become very popular as well. It makes me worry about people losing social skills, if more and more classes become online classes. I also worry that you would lose the centralized campus school that BC is. Really cool post!

  4. Jobabes121 · ·

    Amazing post. I have to second @kennedybc where I am a type of student who would be easily distracted with an online lecture style. You did a great job of summarizing some pros and cons in your experience in taking this online course, and it does seem like a lot better than 100% online course with 0 interactions with the professor or TAs.

    Of course, most students who are at least passionate about learning or like to participate would prefer a classroom education style. Take our class for instance. It would feel a lot emptier if we simply had to post blogs, tweets and recorded ourselves for 6 minutes for our individual presentation that are counted as 25% of our grade with unlimited chances of recording. This model would not only be disengaging but also make the course’s level of difficulty a lot lower. Same with your course, where the group project seemed to be A LOT more difficult than the exams that probably counted 3-4 times more than the group project. In my opinion, having a group project in an online course education model is almost impossible given the challenges you listed. Unless the exam involves some type of project or creation of something (via coding for instance) that can be translated to a “take-home exam,” it would not be a good idea to implement this type of courses and still want to be considered as one of the nicest universities that provide valuable learning opportunities to its students. Neither the challenge nor the learning is there in this model in comparison to the traditional one as I just explained.

  5. jamessenwei · ·

    Hi Nuria, nice post. With all the hype surrounding online courses being the future of education, this is really relevant. I have never taken an online course before. That being said many of the miscellaneous things that I know how to do were learned by using online resources such as Wikipedia, Khan Academy, and Youtube (especially Youtube). At this stage, I think many students feel that same as you do. It can be super convenient, even giving students an unfair advantage, but ultimately less engaging.

    Coincidentally, I actually took the physical class version of Analytics and Business Intelligence and I actually think that class is one of the best class to be converted to an online course. Much of the work we had to do for the physical class was exactly the same as the online version you took. We too were assigned the exact same video lectures, technical video lessons, quizzes, and discussion board posts. It seem that despite being a completely different format of class, the work and learning was almost the same.

    As a disruptive technology, I think online education still has a long way to go before I can see it as a good alternative to traditional education. As you mentioned, having the professor available for office hours was a huge help and didn’t really make the experience a true online class. Maybe a mix of lecture and video conferences?

  6. danmiller315 · ·

    I actually took this class in-person during the fall semester and I can say that I would not have gotten as much out of it if I had taken it online. I feel that it would have been difficult to motivate myself to pay attention to the lecture videos without physically being in the classroom.

    I think that the biggest obstacle that online classes will have to overcome is the issues regarding academic integrity. We all would like to think that if a student signed up for a course that he or she would be the one doing the work, but we unfortunately know that doesn’t always happen in some settings. I think this potential lack of legitimacy is why online classes are not used at more prestigious universities. This calls into question the theme of trust that we discussed earlier in the semester. As our society becomes more reliant on digital technologies, we need to be able to trust the users on the other end of any given platform.

  7. Nice work. I do think BC is experimenting with online courses is a good initiative, although I do wish we would be more progressive in our thinking. I’m not sure an 100% online course is the best solution, but – rather – some hybrid that makes use of SOME in class interaction, replaced by SOME online components. Just my two cents.

  8. roarkword · ·

    It was nice to hear about your perspective of this model of classroom, especially when normal BC classes make use of a lot of the same resources that you mentioned (albeit on a much smaller scale). I have my own qualms with lecture capture as far as video and audio quality are concerned, but I think the most legitimate problem would be student engagement which I’m glad you brought up. You mentioned the nature of in class topics and news related examples which could be brought up rather than the dated ones from back when the video was taken, but I also believe the ability of the professor to engage with individual students as needed and feeling out the class dynamic as a whole is important to appropriately structuring and pacing the class on a semester by semester basis.

    In the end, I feel like even a once a week portion (which several people have mentioned) would be the most adequate way to address these problems and maybe even videos created semester by semester in order to ensure quality of content for students. One thing is certain, online will only become a more prominent option.

  9. Great post! It is cool to see that BC is looking towards digital, however, I know that I personally do not thrive in a strictly online course.
    While I was abroad, I took an online Astronomy class. It was very interactive in that we had to write blog posts pertaining to anything astrological. We had several different modules that incorporated videos of professors and readings. Accompanying the modules were indepth open note reading quizzes, which really did hold me to understanding the material. While the class was a well-oiled machine, I do not prefer it to an in class experience. I feel like if I was taking a class for my major it would have been even more difficult to learn and grasp new content, however, being that it was a core class I wasn’t too stressed out.
    I am intrigued to hear how BC adjusts the class in the years to come.

    P.S. I can’t imagine orchestrating a group project for an online course. Kudos to you.

  10. Keenan Neff · ·

    I have never taken an online course, and I do not think I am ever going to. I feel like I would be way to distracted if I was on my own laptop. I would most likely have multiple tabs open during the online lecture or just scroll through my phone. I also think it would be rather challenging because I believe that you do learn more by physically being in the class because if you are ever confused, you can ask a question right on the spot and have that interaction with the professor while he or she is explaining it to you. One concern that I have with online class is what if your network suddenly crashes in the middle of the class time. Worse yet, if it is a night class and there is a storm around you and a tree falls and breaks the power lines, you won’t be able to log onto class and therefor will not be able to follow along. I do however, believe that there are some courses that could be better taught online rather than in person. I think it ultimately depends on the class and what type of student you are. If you learn by being in an interactive classroom and asking questions, then online class is probably not for you. In sum, I do not know how the University of Phoenix does it.

%d bloggers like this: