Online Learning at Greensboro College: An Interview With Dr. Kathleen Keating

Greensboro College offers a variety of online classes including degree-completion programs for online-only students and online classes for traditional undergraduates. Similar online classes are becoming more prevalent at many high schools, colleges, and universities across the country.

Online classes at Greensboro College are completed in eight or 10 weeks, which is about half the length of traditional face-to-face classes.

Online classes are popular among Greensboro College students and often fill quickly during the registration period. “[An] obvious benefit is that the flexibility of online classes allows students who work a lot to still complete their education,” said Greensboro College professor Dr. Kathleen Keating. “Two of the students in my online dystopian novel course were working full-time and taking classes as well. Online-only courses offer a great way to complete a degree when scheduling might be an issue … Many years ago, a student at Greensboro College was in the hospital during much of the semester. Instructors worked to make the learning happen for that.”

Keating, chair of the English department, also acknowledged other benefits of online courses.

“I’d have to say that the obvious [advantage] that comes to mind is the ability to have teachers from out of state still stay connected with Greensboro College students.,” she said. “Dr. [Lisa] Gunther in psychology would be a good example. For me, creating an online course takes much more time than preparing for a regular class. So it’s more work, not less.

“However, one advantage of teaching online is that I am having to think through the same materials in a new way. I like to introduce a new experiment or technique in my teaching each semester, so online courses give me a whole new realm of invention.”

However, some professors and students have voiced complaints about the restricted schedule of online classes. Once one falls behind in an online class, it is difficult to catch up again, according to some Greensboro College students who completed online classes in the Fall 2017 semester.

“The students who seem to thrive in online courses seem to be those who can manage their time well,” Keating said. “These students would probably describe themselves as organized, good at project management and ready and willing to use a day planner for all assignments.”

Some professors have also found it difficult to fit all the material in the shorter period while maintaining a quality classroom environment.

“The biggest challenge for me when teaching online courses is how to find a replacement for the feeling of ‘presence’ that occurs when students are sitting together in a classroom setting,” said Keating. “Once I went totally online, I saw a lot of text. I realized just how much I rely on students’ nonverbal language, facial expressions and even silences to learn whether everyone in class is on the same page. I missed the sound of students’ voices, too.”

In 2015, North Carolina State University issued a report in response to the growing popularity of online learning, which read in part: “Online method of education can be a highly effective alternative method of education for the students who are matured, self-disciplined and motivated, well organized and having high degree of time management skills, but it is an inappropriate learning environment for more dependent learners and has difficulty assuming responsibilities required by the online courses.”

The debate on the quality of online courses continues.

“There are many reasons why online-only learning can be the right thing for some of our students,” Keating said. “Different student needs may be met through online courses. However, I also think that the in-person classroom setting can be a powerful, motivating force for many students.”

Dr. Keating teaches online courses at Greensboro College in addition to her traditional face-to-face classes. She is also enrolled in an online course herself to learn a form of programming.
Dr. Gunther, former chair of the psychology department, left Greensboro College at the end of the Spring 2017 semester to take a job in research but is still able to teach some courses online.

By Timothy Crowell
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