Nearly 4,000 students are enrolled in courses at the College of Charleston this summer, but you’ll hardly see any of them on campus. That’s because over 50 percent of these students are taking classes online while another big group is enrolled in a variety of study abroad programs overseas.
Over the past five summers, enrollment in online courses has surpassed the 15,000 mark. Though the number of students attending summer school has remained relatively the same throughout that time, says Michael Phillips, director of Maymester Summer Sessions for the College, what has changed is the number of different online courses offered.
“We now offer a tremendous number of courses online,” he explains, “and our selection is growing each year.”
Among the most popular online summer courses, Phillips notes, are special topics courses and those that satisfy requirements for graduation such as Biology 112, History 116 and Mathematics 103. Although juniors and seniors comprise 60 to 70 percent of the College’s online enrollments every summer, Phillips says, many of these students still need to complete a general education course or two, even after they’ve declared a major. Because of this, many students find that summer is a great time to tie up those loose ends.
This summer, Phillips says, the College is offering a total of 247 sections online, which range broadly from Music Appreciation to Elementary Statistics to Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies. That number is a huge jump from the six course sections that the College initially offered in 2009 when it first began providing online options for students.
The growth of online courses at CofC, Phillips says, has been gradual rather than explosive.
“I think the College approached this wisely,” Phillips offers. “Rather than jumping recklessly on board the distance-learning bandwagon, we opted to do it in a piecemeal fashion and ensure that our faculty are properly trained in delivering these courses. Naturally, some professors were wary at first, so we’ve grown our online offerings gradually.”
Among those initially wary professors, he says, were faculty members in the Department of Psychology. Even four years ago, there were very few online offerings in this discipline. But that changed in a short order and students can now choose from an array of online courses in psychology.
“That department has truly become the poster child for online offerings,” Phillips says. “In fact, every standard lecture course that the department offered this summer, except one, was offered online. On top of that, they’ve had no course cancellations in recent years whereas just four years ago many of those courses weren’t getting sufficient enrollment.”
“We gave it a lot of thought,” says Daniel Greenberg, chair of the psychology department. “We wanted to be sure that our online courses could be just as rigorous – and as engaging – as the traditional versions.”
That meant knowing who will or won’t benefit from an online course.
“The online approach isn’t right for every student, every course, or even every professor,” Greenberg explains. “But when done well, it gives students the flexibility they need to keep learning while pursuing other goals.”
Both Phillips and Greenberg stress that it’s important for students to take online courses seriously, especially during the fast-paced summer semesters.
“You have to keep up with the content,” Greenberg warns. “Do the assignments, post on the discussion boards, the works. If you disappear for a week to go camping, you’re toast.”
What generally draws students to online courses during the summer, Phillips says, is the convenience inherent in this form of learning.
“A lot of students are employed during the summer or engaged in internships,” he explains, “so learning online is a more convenient option for them. They can pursue the course on their own schedule.”