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Evolving Education: Online college courses require attention for the future
CSUS online ed
For the current semester, California State University, Stanislaus offers 96 online and hybrid courses with a total of 1,937 students enrolled. - photo by Photo Contributed

First it was chalkboards, then it was white boards and now it is online message boards. The face of education is changing.

The California State Student Association recently published a white paper report on online education and digital learning to offer the student perspective on an issue that is taking center stage at universities across the country. The report examines online education across the 23 CSU campuses, which serve 437,000 students, and can be distributed among state legislators as traction increases around online education in the political sphere.

“We were really excited about the white paper because it is a useful tool for us to have a collective voice as students of the CSU,” said Amber Deming, governmental affairs administrator at CSU Stanislaus, who serves on CSSA and contributed to the white paper along with CSUS Associate Students, Inc. President Mariam Salameh. “The main takeaway is that online education is more of a tool and not a replacement for classroom education.”

With search engines at students’ fingertips, the professor to pupil relationship is changing and online education is playing a role in students’ lives whether they are enrolled in an online course or not. Online courses are advantageous for universities because they universalize education in the sense that faculty are able to reach students that would have been excluded due to time and place constraints, according to CSUS Provost James T. Strong.

“The university is very supportive of online courses. The use of online technologies to deliver courses has steadily increased over the past 20 years and will continue to grow and continue to have a major impact on higher education. Online instruction is not inexpensive, but if done well, it can be very effective,” said Strong.

CSUS offers offer fully online courses, online and in-person hybrid course,  and courses that use online capabilities to supplement ground-based teaching. For the current semester, California State University, Stanislaus offers 96 online and hybrid courses with a total of 1,937 students enrolled, according to the Office of Institutional Research.

While CSSA acknowledges the importance of online education, students are advocating for refining the way information is delivered to ensure that their education is on par with the ever-changing technological world. The CSSA report places emphasis on not only the content of the courses, but also the aesthetics and accessibility of the information.

“Generations before us did not grow up in the same technological environments, therefore, the approach to how to use and administer technology comes from different perspective,” states CSSA in the white paper.

The Association also advocates that online education should be dynamic and interactive, with special emphasis placed not only on student access but faculty usability. The report suggests that online education development ought to include input from a variety of stakeholders, which is on par with the way online courses are run at CSUS as faculty decide how best to use online delivery with the technical support from the university.

 “Faculty are just as an important stakeholder as students in the equation for what online education should be. Faculty are the gateway to education for students, and it should be simple and effortless for them to deliver instruction to students,” states the report.

The Association also encourages innovation in the online education sphere, such as ensuring that online education is accessible on mobile devices and includes the input of the private sector by treating the development like a start-up company. CSSA also acknowledges that online education is only one way to develop university education and the physical classroom still plays an integral role in furthering student education.