(above) ESL Instructor Sabri Bebawi teaches all his classes online.
Some students use the computers in the campus library to access online classes.


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On the edge of campus at San José State University, Erik Duran sits on the steps of Duncan Hall attempting to get in some last minute studying before his next class. Erik is just one of the approximately

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Online Classes Offer Flexibility to SJCC Students
By Pamela Oslund, Reporter
Photos By Andy Nguyen

San José City College began offering online classes three years ago in an effort to provide more flexible learning options to their students. Currently there are 17 courses taught completely online and 10 hybrid courses where half the class is taught online and the other half is taught on campus. City College began offering online courses in the spring of 2001 when one of their faculty members, Melanie Levinson, instructor of English, proposed the idea of teaching English 1A online. After convincing the Academic Senate, the faculty governing board of City College, that English 1A could be taught online, Levinson filled out the necessary paperwork to gain approval from the Curriculum Committee. Getting an online class running can take as little as one semester according to Denise Norris, Dean of Instructional Technology and Learning Resources at City College.

Online classes offer a wide variety of benefits to students and teachers, “The most important thing the students cite is convenience: they don’t have to drive to the college, park their cars, or arrange for time off from work” says Sabri Bebawi ESL Instructor at City College. Teachers benefit from the convenience of not commuting as well. Both Bebawi and Levinson teach all their classes online.

Another benefit of online classes is that students get to interact with their teachers one-on-one more often. “In a classroom you typically don’t communicate with your teacher one on one unless there’s a problem,” says Norris. In online classes all communication between student and teacher is done through e-mail, discussion rooms, or by phone. Students communicate with their classmates this way as well. “Students get more time to think about what they want to say, and they get to see what everyone else has to say,” says Levinson.

While online classes have many benefits, there are some disadvantages to online learning. Online classes take more time and effort on the part of the student. Students need to be motivated and have good time management skills in order to complete an online course successfully. Norris also suggests that students taking online classes should be computer savvy, and willing to work on their own outside of a classroom. “People think online classes are easier, but it’s not. If that’s the reason they’re taking an online class they’ll be devastated,” says Levinson.

Norris says “you can’t be a passive learner in an online class, you can’t just bring your body to class and sit down and say ‘I’m attending’.” Students spend a lot of their class time in Internet discussion rooms with their teacher and classmates discussing reading assignments and class material. “The discussions are gratifying,” says Levinson, and even though online classes take more time, “it’s time they would have spent commuting to campus anyway,” adds Levinson.

Online Close-Up

Imagine a class where you get unlimited one on one time with your teacher, where every student participates in class discussions, and the time that the class meets changes each day to fit in with your schedule. Think it’s only a dream? Well, it’s not. That’s exactly how an online class works.

When Suad Jama, SJCC student, first came to the United States last year she needed to take English classes to complete her degree, but her full-time job was hard to work around. She tried taking night classes but they didn’t work for her. “I came to class sleepy from working all day,” says Jama.

This semester Jama is taking her English class online, “Now I have a lot of time, I can do my assignments and concentrate on it,” says Jama. She has free time during the day at work and that’s when she attends class and does her school work on the Internet.

For Jama’s teacher Sabri Bebawi, ESL Instructor at City College, the flexibility of an online class works better for him as well. Bebawi teaches all his
classes online and is only on campus once a week. Even though Bebawi is hardly on campus, he makes himself available to his students twenty-four hours a day by phone e-mail and instant messaging software. “To be a successful online teacher… you have to be available,” says Bebawi.

How exactly does an online class work? At the beginning of the semester, students attend an on campus orientation. This gives the teacher an opportunity to assess the students’ ability to use a computer, and give students their user name and password. Teachers can also conduct the orientation online for students who do not live close enough to campus to attend orientation.

After orientation, students log on to WebCT, the college’s online equivalent to a brick and mortar classroom, several times each week to check for updated lectures, assignments and announcements. Each week there’s a new lecture for students to read. After reading it, students log on to one of the four chat rooms at a specific time to discuss the lecture, and their assigned reading.

The chat room is more than a place for students to discuss assignments with other students and their teacher. It gives teachers an opportunity to take roll and make sure that students are participating. “You have to keep students active because ... there’s less structure. You really have to have [the students] log on everyday,” says Bebawi.

“It’s not for the lazy person,” says Jama.Online classes are more work for students and teachers. Jama spends 2-3 hours per day on assignments, posting questions, and chatting with other students. “It gives me a lot of time to practice my English,” says Jama. But it’s not all work and no play; students use chat rooms to socialize with other students in their class much the same way students talk before and after class on campus.

Many people think that students taking online classes online miss the typical college experience that comes with attending classes on campus and interacting with a wide variety of people, but that’s not necessarily true. “[My classmates] are all from different countries and that makes a lot of interesting subjects. You always want to know things about the [other students],” says Jama.



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