Online opens opportunities

Lacey Jeffrey, above, looks at a culture at the Gunnison Valley Hospital in Salina, Utah. Jeffrey is attending school so that she can get her degree to become a lab technician. Her education has all been made possible by Weber State University’s diverse amount of online classes available.

She never answered ‘here’ to a professor taking roll, but when the summer semester ends, Lacey Jeffrey will have a degree from Weber State University.

Jeffrey said that when she decided to attend college three years ago, she considered taking night classes at Snow College because it was close to her home in Salina, Utah, a three-hour drive from Ogden. Ultimately, the single mother of three chose WSU because she needed to work full-time and wanted to spend as much time at home as she could.

“It’s been the only way I can get my degree,” Jeffrey said.

With 7,150 students taking online courses, WSU touts the largest number of online students of any public university in Utah. The Continuing Education Department holds two training sessions monthly to teach professors how to run an effective online class. With classroom interaction out of the equation, WSU is plugging in new variables to promote the success of its online courses.

“The online lectures are probably one of the main things that got me through the online classes,” Jeffrey said. “Some of my hardest classes have been the ones that don’t offer the online lecture. The classes that didn’t offer online lectures, I struggled.”

Jeffrey turns on soft music, sends her children to other rooms, and completes coursework on her computer in the corner of her dining room for 7-8 hours twice weekly. She’s also allowed to do classwork at Gunnison Valley Hosptal when work is slow, because her schooling is preparing her to work at the hospital as a medical laboratory technician.

“If I could go back to being 18 again, I definitely would have went on campus,” Jeffrey said. “But if your circumstances are that you can’t go on campus, then online is definitely a good thing.”

A good thing, but not easy, Jeffrey said.

“It is hard because you have to be very self-motivated, because there is no one pushing you,” Jeffrey said. “The work is hard and studying is hard, but to actually take classes online is easy.”

Online classes are easy not only because of the online lectures, but also because the classes are very organized, Jeffrey said.

Eladio Bobadilla, a junior, has also taken online courses, because he said it’s difficult for him to accommodate regular courses. He said he likes the convenience of online courses, but would like WSU to find ways to make them more personal in the future.

“There’s always a communication barrier, because you don’t necessarily know your professors, you don’t know your classmates,” Bobadilla said. “So it’s a little more impersonal, and that’s a big drawback.”

This fall, WSU will have a Higher Education Academy for faculty and professors to provide “insight” into the higher-education industry. “Leading Change in Higher Education” is among the topics that will be addressed. The topic is significant enough that Ann Millner, president of WSU, will be giving the lecture.

One of the changes WSU commenced two years ago was to develop hybrid courses. The courses are seven weeks long regardless of the semester, and require students to attend class only one night weekly and complete other coursework online. Ever expanding its offerings, WSU offered 23 hybrid courses this summer, compared to just 11 in fall 2010.

“Every semester, we get different people that will jump in or jump out,” said Bettie Turman, Program Development administrator and the employee responsible for developing WSU’s hybrid program. “Instructors that do it love it; they just say it’s tricky. Students love it; they just say it’s a lot of work.”