ARIGE SHROUF |
ST. CROIX — It’s 4 o’clock on a Monday afternoon as Sarah Jagrup heads to her first class of the new semester. A brief glance at her schedule indicates she has Caribbean Literature in room 401 from 4-5:15 p.m. She is unaware that the class is a video conference course or that the professor is on St. Thomas as she enters the theater in the Evans Center Building.
She walks in to find the room in complete darkness and completely empty. Sarah double-checks the room and time on her schedule. Reassured, she turns on the lights and makes her way to the center of the room as she waits for her classmates and her professor to arrive.
Ten minutes pass and nothing happens. She is still alone in the largest classroom on campus. Sarah decides to investigate why no one is there and finds out that the class is video conference, so she heads to the library to get help from the IT department.
After a thorough investigation to determine which classroom the class is being held on in St. Thomas, the helpful IT technician connects Sarah with her class on St. Thomas.
When the connection goes through, she finds they have been conducting class without her for the last 30 minutes. She is the only student registered for the course on St. Croix while there are about 17 or 18 students on St. Thomas. A single person missing is easily overlooked.
Sarah goes through this tedious process of trying to connect with her professor and classmates on St. Thomas every Monday and Wednesday afternoon. She makes it a habit to contact IT before making her way to her class since she anticipates an endless list of issues with the equipment. She is at a total loss on how to operate the video conference equipment herself until six weeks into the semester, when an IT technician decides to show her how to operate the technology.
As an education major, Sarah has to have a certain amount of patience, but she confesses that after several days of dealing with lags, glitches, missing out on class time, and being overlooked, her patience was at an all-time low.
“It was horrible and disappointing to me. I was lost and really fed up with the course,” Sarah said. “I could not wait for it to be over.”
“I felt like the ugly duckling, and I was at a total disadvantage,” Sarah said. “It should not be that bad, but it is. The people on the other side just don’t understand our frustration.”
After such a horrible experience, Sarah developed an aversion to video conference classes, but she would soon realize that video conference and online classes are impossible to avoid at the University of the Virgin Islands, and in any case, it is a totally different experience when the professor is on St. Croix and the St. Croix students have the advantage.
Out of the roughly 330 classes currently being taught at UVI’s St. Croix campus – some of them repeated courses being taught by several professors or in different sections – 70 of them are video conference courses and 33 of them are online. Most of these courses are upper level courses and the professors are located on the St. Thomas campus. This means that about 31 percent of all classes being taught on the St. Croix campus are asynchronous upper level courses in which the student either never sees the professor or in which the professor is merely one of several faces on a screen.
Online and video conference courses do have their advantages because they allow students to have access to more classes and more professors than one campus provides. Online courses in particular can also be more convenient for commuter and non-traditional students who have busy lives and have a harder time making it to classes on a regular basis.
Despite the advantages, students and even some professors seem to prefer regular classes to online or video conference classes.
Dr. David Gould, an English professor, prefers teaching in the classroom to teaching online because in online classes there is “not enough face to face communication and online classes encourage plagiarism.”
“I prefer regular classes in a single classroom in which I can interact with the professor and my classmates more effectively,” Corwin Commabatch, a junior majoring in business administration said. “But online classes represent a challenge that can be useful for when we graduate and we are on our own.”
According to Commabatch, online classes force students to be more responsible, to “learn to adjust and be professional” and they are more convenient because they allow him to work at his own pace.
Dr. Valerie Combie, a Master Professor of English, certified to teach online classes said, “I always prefer regular classes. I like the interaction and I can assist students more when they are present in real life.”
“In video conference classes, it is harder to engage with the students,” Dr. Gould said.
With about 88 percent of junior and senior level English courses, 85 percent of upper level communications courses, 58 percent of criminal justice courses, 50 percent of accounting courses and 35 percent of upper level psychology courses – just to name a few – currently being taught online or via video conference, UVI professors and students are no strangers to the varied class formats and most have their preferences.
Zohn Fleming, a sophomore speech communication and theater major said, “I like the video conference classes better because I get to hear a lot of different opinions from students on both or all three campuses. I wish more of my classes were video conference, but I don’t like online classes because I just keep forgetting to do the work.”
With asynchronous classes, it sometimes seems to be a case of “out of sight, out of mind.”
“The video conference class got to the point where I just did what I had to do and nothing more. I would sit in class and be on my phone or iPad the whole time because no one cared,” Sarah Jagrup said. “My interest was not there at all because there was a total disconnect and I was left out. I wished I had more access to my professor.”
“I can’t engage in an online class when the professor is on St. Thomas, but now that I am a senior, I just don’t care anymore,” Sarah said.
“I don’t think it’s fair for students on the remote campus,” Dr. Combie said.
Sophia Horsford, a junior majoring in criminal justice said, “the professors in St. Thomas are hard to get in contact with and if more of our classes were regular classes with just St. Croix, we would have no technical difficulties.”
I would prefer if more of my classes were regular/traditional classes because in class it’s more personal,” Olinger Augustin, a sophomore majoring in communications said. “You don’t have to yell over to the camera and you are more likely to be remembered.”
Shanah Bannis, a senior psychology major said, “I prefer regular classes for the interaction and online classes for the convenience, but in video conference courses is it not easy to engage both sides.”
Despite the challenges of asynchronous courses, they play a crucial role in our campus and, when the technology works and the students are kept engaged, these courses can be effective and provide the campus with a useful resource to connect with not only St. Thomas but St. John as well. Without video conference and online courses, there would be over 100 fewer classes at UVI and taking the necessary classes would be an even greater challenge for students trying to graduate in a timely manner.
“I actually like VC classes,” Dr. Gillian Royes, a communications professor said. “It can be fun with small classes where the students on both campuses get to discuss issues together.”
“Providing video-conferencing and on-line courses provides a service to those who may not otherwise have the opportunity to matriculate,” Nancy W. Morgan, a professor of education, said. “With a motivated student, is not ‘something’ better than ‘nothing’?”
For students like Sarah Jagrup who have had horrible experiences with online or video conference classes, that motivation is hard to come by or maintain.
“At the end of the day,” Sarah said, “you just have to suck it up and get used to it because more and more of your classes are going to be online or video conference.”