Angela Braud is enrolled in the Master's of Business Taxation program and is expected to graduate next spring. Her primary reason for enrolling in the class online was to avoid travel time to and from class—she lives in Duluth working full-time at the Hansen House Company. “This is the biggest advantage of the program, and I am absolutely an advocate of offering classes online,” she says.
She has noticed that the instructor and other students in class are more engaged than they were compared to her previous exposure to out-of-classroom learning—as an undergraduate enrolled in independent study.
Even though traditional classroom learning allows for conversation as materials are being taught with all students hearing the same information, Braud says the online MBT course was more effective than a classroom. She can name multiple reasons.
Online class allows students to study and learn when their schedules permit,” she says. “Everyone is busy, but family and work obligations still can be met when classroom work is flexible.” Also, a variety of learning media is accessed in an online class. She says presentations, articles, problems, and links all enhance learning beyond simply lecture and book readings, which are stereotypical of a classroom setting.
“The lecture presentations are prerecorded. In doing so, they could be viewed multiple times,” she says. “Especially for difficult concepts, this is useful to have a message repeated as many times as the student needs.” Another perk of a recording is that it can be paused so the student can work through difficult sections. “It was most beneficial when working through mathematical examples,” she says.
In an online class, interactions with classmates are generally restricted to discussion board conversations. These are actually conducive to generating more thoughtful participation. “Typed responses can be reviewed and researched prior to posting to the class discussion,” Braud says. “When a student has the ability to prepare a response with accurate information, both the student doing the research and the intended audience benefit.”
Also, because discussion boards facilitate, encourage, and oftentimes force participation—because they are part of a student’s grade—they cause the class to generally be current with the material to be able to engage in that week’s topic discussion.
"I am absolutely an advocate of offering classes online."
As an advocate for online classes, does Braud think they can encompass a whole program effectively? “I’ve taken only one online class through MBT, but I could see how the network of students, alumni, Carlson School staff, and adjunct professors might not be as strong without a physical presence at the school,” she says. “I was grateful to have made a few friends from previous on-ground courses whom I could ask questions of when we were adapting to the online format.”
She feels her existing relationship with these students was an advantage in the online course, if for nothing else than peace of mind. “If an entire program is offered online, how does this student interaction relationship build, with each other and the instructors?
I don’t have a suggestion, but I think this is the biggest barrier to entry regarding moving a program exclusively online,” she says. “How do you maintain an elite network of qualified individuals without them ever meeting or participating in real-time conversations?”
This feature originally appeared in the Spring 2017 Carlson School Alumni Magazine which you can read in full here.