NIU offers new online courses, plans to add 42 new degree programs

By Faith Healy

When students think about college courses, they may think of a professor standing at a podium lecturing. However, NIU also offers alternative class methods in online courses.

While offering online classes is not new to the university, there has been an increase in the number of courses offered on the Internet.

According to the NIU website, about 54 online courses were available last semester. This semester, NIU offers 64 online courses, though some classes are only available at certain campuses.

Currently, the university offers core classes for certain majors as well as several electives, but only offers eight online degree programs.

NIU President John Peters said in his Sept. 1 State of the University address that the number of online courses and degrees that NIU offers will increase by 2020. By then, Peters said NIU plans on adding 42 degree programs.

“We can no longer afford to lag behind competitors in the area of online learning,” Peters said in the address. “Students are turning to virtual universities, and frankly, we have so much more to offer.”

While NIU works to add more online degrees, it still lags behind the offerings of some other Illinois universities. The University of Illinois offers 109 degree programs, according to its website.

However, NIU is on par with University of Iowa, which also offers eight online degree programs; the university is ahead of Northwestern University, which offers four.

According to the NIU website, most online courses are blended courses, or courses that will require occasional face-to-face time. Online courses can also involve field trips, lectures, group projects, role-playing exercises and learning games. Some instructors also schedule regular chat sessions. Most of NIU’s online courses operate from Blackboard.

“From my perspective, working with our students who take courses at our regional centers … this is just another format for students,” said Judy Santacaterina, director of Bachelor of General Studies Baccalaureate Degree Program. “Some [students] love the online blended courses and take only those. Others do a combination and some strict face-to-face. I think students like the fact that they can choose a format that works best with their learning style and their lifestyles.”

Online classes can be difficult for some students, however. Sandra Weber, junior geology education major, said she took an online class, but soon discovered she became distracted by Facebook or TV while working in her room.

“I did not like it at all,” Weber said. “I am a very hands-on person, so walking to class helps prepare me to focus. Writing down the notes also helps me to retain the information.”

Weber said she prefers real classroom settings because any questions can be answered immediately.

“With an online class, you have to wait for a response to your email, and if you forget to go, you fall way behind.”

NIU offers online class demos where a student can go online and test if an online course is right for them.