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