to Teach Online
W. Mentor, J.D., Ph.D.
Department of Sociology and Criminology
University of North Carolina Wilmington
presentation was prepared for the
Annual Meetings of the Western Society of Criminology
San Diego, February 21-24, 2002
distance education." Some educators will suggest that this
statement is an oxymoron. Considering the "correspondence
courses" of the past, these educators have reason the be
skeptical. Correspondence courses, by nature, require a
trade-off between personalized education and efficiency. These
programs often required a level of institutional support that
could not be justified without a high number of students and/or
limited contact with students. These early experiences with
distance education walked the line between quality and quantity
- often the choice was quantity.
with problems associated with correspondence courses, educators
moved to other modes of course delivery. The second generation
of distance education relied on mail, teleconferencing,
video tapes, synchronous video, and travel. Institutions
invested in expensive teleconferencing equipment and established
satellite campuses where students would gather to participate in
a televised class with a professor and group of students at
other locations. In other cases "distance education" meant
that the educator would travel to meet with students. Other
programs included a residential component that required students
to travel to the university campus. Each of these models
involved high costs to the institution and/or the student.
Pressures to reduce these costs often reduced the quality of the
distance education experience.
advances in distance education now have the potential to
eliminate the quality/quantity tradeoff. The internet has the
capacity to provide both asynchronous and synchronous learning
opportunities. The flexibility provided by the internet allows
courses and programs to be designed around proven strategies for
teaching and learning. This can be accomplished without the
significant expenses associated with video conferencing, travel,
and other delivery methods. Today's web-based courses allow a
structured experience that leads to a collaborative learning
environment. In effect, every computer becomes a classroom.
Students learn from the comfort of home while participating in a
high quality learning environment that includes interaction with
other learners. This is a significant improvement over distance
models in which many offerings of a course were to a class of
value a collaborative environment. Administrators value an
efficient environment. Web-based courses have the potential to
eliminate the conflicting demands of these values. However, this
is accomplished through a shifting of institutional resources
that place a greater burden on individual faculty members.
is a double edged sword for educators. Quality control is gained
as educators take responsibility for delivering course content.
This relieves administrators from the burdens of coordinating
the mailing of course materials, the hiring of graders, and
communication with students in diverse locations. Web-based
education also eliminates the need for "satellite campuses" with
support staff, expensive teleconferencing equipment, and a range
of additional costs. The on-campus costs of distance education
are reduced to computers, software, and salaries - costs the
university is accustomed to paying. Off-campus costs are shifted
to students who are responsible for computer equipment and
internet access - again, something many are paying for already.
shifting of costs can be very compelling to administrators. This
model can also be compelling to educators that long for
efficiency, control, and academic freedom. We believe this
trade-off can be beneficial to students and educators. Further,
we proceed under the assumption that skilled distance educators
will, when provided with adequate resources, create online
learning environments that are equivalent to, or superior to,
the learning environment found in "traditional" classrooms.
page is devoted to a range of issues faced by educators that are
working to provide courses, or entire programs, over the
internet. This page includes links to distance education
resources, criminal justice related distance programs, and a
discussion of major issues related to distance education in
a web-based course, or adding web content to a traditional
course, is much more than placing lecture notes on the internet.
Witty intellectual banter in the classroom can be a lot of fun,
and many of us are good at this. How does the online educator
translate these skills to a web-based course? Should you even
try? The following links start with information that will help
you decide how to structure your online materials.
first group of links provide information about the relative
strengths of traditional and distance education.
online educators report that the initial course preparation time
needed for the first online course greatly exceeds the amount of
time needed to prepare a traditional course. Time demands can be
significantly increased for an online educator with little
experience in website design. As this is a typical situation, it
is important to allow the time needed to acquire the skills
needed to develop effecting pedagogical methods and material.
following links, arranged by topic, offer a good place to get
started. These links provide an overview of issues and resources
related to an effort to get courses, and possibly entire degree
your course be entirely online or do you plan to offer online
materials to a traditional course in a "hybrid" format? Will all
communication be asynchronous, or will you attempt to create a
simultaneous "online classroom" experience through chat rooms or
other synchronous course tools? Are you trying to replicate what
you do in the classroom, and are good at, or are you planning to
try new things? Will you, and the others in class, be
comfortable not seeing the faces of the professor and
classmates? Will you adopt an organizational structure similar
to the 15 week structure common in most universities (and
textbooks)? Will exams be included? If so, what level of
security is needed? If written assignments are required, how
will they be submitted, graded, and returned?
many questions! Planning for a high quality online course begins
well in advance of the first effort to design a website. The
educator must develop a picture of what this course will look
like, and how it will function, before making the initial effort
to design the course materials.
your site include text versions of in-class lectures? What about
PowerPoint presentations? Will you include a list of links? What
about online discussions? Here are a few ideas:
internet is full of ugly pages with confusing organizational
structures. We have all seen them - now you get a chance to do
it right. Do you want, or need, a bunch of animated icons? Some
think they are ugly while others find them to be cute. The
process of designing a web site calls on organizational, and
artistic, skills that may be somewhat dormant in educators. Your
website is your public face to these students. Do you also want
a photo of your real face on your site? If so, how do you do
this? How do you do this without creating a page that will take
two minutes to load on a slow internet connection?
personality will shine through to your students - take the time
to design this component of your course so that you and your
students are prepared for a high quality learning environment.
universities have adopted "courseware" that is used to create
and deliver web-based content. These programs solve many of the
problems confronted by distance educators who attempt to design
all course components from scratch. In general, these programs
are very good. They are clearly superior to proprietary course
tools provided by publishers. In fact, many publishers have
abandoned efforts to provide course creation software and are
offering course content that can be included in popular
and Blackboard appear to have cornered the courseware market and
many institutions have one or the other. Each of these delivery
systems have limitations but they offer many advantages to the
online educator. It is relatively easy to create a simple course
website in just a few minutes - as long as training is provided.
These programs also have the flexibility to serve the needs of
more experienced web educators.
adoption of either of these packages requires an institutional
decision that is likely to be accompanied by various support
systems. This support typically includes faculty training in the
use of these programs. WebCT and Blackboard also include
extensive support information on their websites. These sites
include discipline specific information and opportunities to
communicate with other distance educators. Much of the material
n these sites is freely available.
solutions typically encourage faculty to post all course
materials on the courseware server. The result is that all
materials are password protected. One of the advantages of
online course material is that this material is available for
review by prospective students and the general public. This
advantage is lost when all material is hidden behind a password.
Of course, this decision is up to the individual faculty member.
Some will prefer the secrecy offered by passwords while others
see advantages to open access.
full access is desired, the distance educator will need to find
server space for the posting of course materials that are not
contained within the structure of WebCT, Blackboard, or other
course delivery tool. The logical solution is to post this
material on University servers. In some cases this solution will
result in costs to the department as computer support services
attempts to recover some of their costs. If the cost for server
space also includes help for faculty and students this may be a
cost effective solution.
ownership of course materials is another factor to be considered
as you decide where to post your course material. Many
institutions have created policies that claim ownership of all
materials placed on university servers. It is a good idea to
check on the policies of your institution before posting
material on their servers.
service providers offer an alternative that protects the
educator's ownership rights. Some of these sites are free (with
pop-ups or banners), others charge a minimal fee with limited
support, and others offer full services including site design,
hosting, and customer support.
are many differences between these services. Some offer
Microsoft FrontPage server extensions. This is a plus if you
want to use some of the advanced features (site map, search,
etc) available in FrontPage. Other services use UNIX or Linux
servers - there are advantages to these as well. Database
support might also be an important feature.
carefully, looking for the features you will need for your
courses. Customer support varies greatly. It might be helpful to
ask a question of customer support before you commit to a
service. The response will give you a good idea of what to
expect if you continue your relationship. Finally, many of these
services offer a lower rate if you commit to a longer agreement.
It may be a good idea to try out the service for a shorter
period of time before committing.
you move your pages off the university servers you get to choose
a cool domain name. The cost of registering a domain name has
dropped significantly over the past couple of years. Use a
search engine to search for "registering a domain name." You
will be presented with many options. In general, each company
goes through the same process, especially if you are registering
a .com or .org name. Costs may vary so it is a good idea to be
sure you are getting something for the additional cost.
all cases, let the buyer beware. The "corporation" you are
dealing with might be a 14-year-old with a server in the
basement. This might actually be preferable to a large company.
Select a solution that provides the level of service you need
while providing a level of support and trust that makes you
links should help with these decisions:
this point your online course has been planned, designed,
created, and posted. Be sure to test all the components. Ask a
few colleagues, students, or others to test your site from their
home or office computers. This process will provide good
feedback for last minute changes. Screen resolutions, browser
types, and connection speeds vary greatly from one user to
another. A good test run will help you eliminate many potential
is finally time to welcome your students. Students comfort and
experience level is an issue in any class. This is true for
web-based classes, although the sources of discomfort may be
different. The first few days of an online class are very
important. It may be helpful to delay discussion of the subject
matter until students are comfortable with the mode of delivery.
You may want to place an end date of public discussion of issues
related to course delivery. When the majority of students are
comfortable with the format, further discussion of computer
issues becomes a distraction. Remaining problems can be
addressed on an individual basis without prolonging class
discussion regarding course delivery.
related to delivery that extend past the first couple weeks may
be indicative of several issues. If these problems are related
to design, it is important to address these problems as soon as
possible. This can be relatively easy when compared to problems
associated with a distance student's computer knowledge or
equipment. It is not safe to assume that a student that
registers for an online course is computer savvy. A clear
statement of policy regarding equipment and support can
eliminate or minimize these problems.
courses can place different demands on the educator's schedule.
Students are often online late at night. If the professor is
comfortable with this schedule he or she may find that this time
presents an opportunity to interact with students. It can be
strangely comforting to know that you are not the only one in
class at 1:00 am. Of course, this schedule is not required and
it is entirely possible to teach web-based courses on a 9-5
schedule. Set the expectations at the start so students
understand, and respect, your schedule and work style.
issues are also a bit different in a web-based course. We are
all aware of "good" students that complete their work on team,
every time, in a traditional classroom. These students keep up
with their work because they carefully keep track of all
deadlines. They know they completed and submitted a given
assignment because the assignment was handed to the professor in
class. These students often respond in a different way to online
assignments. They can be uncomfortable with the uncertainty
associated with the submission of an online assignment. Clicking
a "send" button may not be enough for a student that worries
about every assignment. They may submit an assignment several
times, perhaps asking for a quick acknowledgement of each
are also familiar with the less motivated student. This student
may exploit the uncertainty associated with the submission of
online assignments. The online educator is placed in a difficult
situation when a student, who was assumed to be AWOL, suddenly
appears after a three week absence, claiming that he or she has
been there all along.
with each of these students can be reduced with a carefully
worded course outline. This is especially important in a class
that does not meet in person. Provide a clear listing of
expectations, schedule, response time, and other issues. Quick
grading of assignments, accompanied by an e-mail or online
discussion post that announces that assignments have been
graded, can reduce these problems. Problems can be reduced once
students are comfortable with the online assignments and are
aware that the professor is closely monitoring the class and
following links address a range of course management issues:
is some good news. The first course can be a bit rough but at
the end of the semester you have the framework for continued
development of this course. You have also acquired the skills
needed to try again.
leave my course information online and have provided links
below. The internet provides a great opportunity to learn.
Unfortunately, the commercialization of the Internet has made
this tool less valuable to students and educators. I believe in
free access to learning materials and have participated in
enough publisher funded "focus groups" to know that publishers
would prefer to limit free access to knowledge.
downside of the choice to leave materials online is that this
material has the potential to become outdated. An advantage is
that potential students have an opportunity to review materials
as they choose their courses. Another advantage is that any
student, regardless of enrollment status, has access to quality
course materials - just don't ask me to grade your papers!
concerns may also reduce the motivation to leave materials
online. Ownership of online content is a contentious issue. As
discussed above, Blackboard and WebCT allow the educator to
place materials in password protected areas. In spite of my
support of free access, I also place certain materials in
password protected areas. Each online educator has the power to
make decisions about access to course materials. The range of
tools available to online educators allow this choice. "One size
fits all" tools such as WebCT may cause educators to keep all
their materials in one place. This can be a tempting option but
remember that everything will be hidden behind a password. With
a little creativity, and a few website creation skills,
educators are empowered to provide full, limited, or no access
to their materials.
will your materials be stolen? The reality is that it is very
easy to steal entire websites and repackage them as your own. It
is also very easy to discover these "copies" by doing a search
of the web. Would a web educator be "flattered" if someone
ripped off his or her course material? No, most would be
offended. The only consolation is that if the "educator" is too
lazy and/or uninspired to create unique web content at least the
students will benefit from the once-removed efforts of a caring
following links provide examples of course web pages.
to Online Courses or Syllabi
Education - C.J. Degree Programs
links included on the left margin of this page include brief
descriptions of many criminal justice programs in the United
States. Many of these programs offer, or plan to offer,
web-based courses or degrees. The following lists include
programs that offer online coursework leading to a complete
degree. These lists are limited to progra
growing number of criminal justice degree programs are being
offered by internet-based institutions. In contrast to
traditional universities, these are "for profit" ventures.
Accreditation is typically from an organization that specializes
in accrediting online degree programs.
that an assumption of this presentation is that skilled distance
educators will, when provided with adequate resources, create
online learning environments that are equivalent to, or superior
to, the learning environment found in "traditional"
classrooms. To be brutally honest, and perhaps somewhat
biased, a review of the "for profit" educational sites cast
doubt on the validity of that assumption.
I began to list several of these programs but discovered that
these companies are paying search engines and other sources for
referrals and clicks to their site. Why should I use this
page to give it away, especially when these programs appear to
be below the standards we have come to expect, and work hard to
maintain, in established Colleges and Universities?
for "online criminal justice degrees" on any search
engine. Since they pay for their positioning on search
results, these programs will be at or near the top of the
list. Go ahead and click on the links - the search engine
provider will bill the program for each referral.
Education - Administrative Issues
are rapidly adopting web-based models of distance
education. Departments, colleges, and individual faculty
are being pressured to create online courses and programs, in
spite of the lack of experience and expertise in distance
education. To make matters worse, those who are exerting
this pressure may be similarly unprepared for the challenges of
delivering and supporting web-based educational content.
the pressure to move toward web-based models a threat?
Does this pressure lead to opportunity for those that "take the
bait?" How does web-based education interact with
intellectual property rights, academic freedom, and
tenure? What level of institutional support will be
required? The following links provide information about a
range of issues to be considered.
state of web-based education is somewhat unsettled.
Institutions have rapidly, and perhaps naively, expanded their
offerings in web-based distance education. Faculty members
have devoted a significant amount of energy in their efforts to
"go online." Students have been lured by promises, either
real or imagined, of an educational experience that fits into
their busy schedules.
education has always been promoted as a low-cost solution to
many problems faced by higher education. Eventually,
institutions get around to counting money. We are now
reaching that stage and these institutions are discovering that
distance education is not, at this point, as profitable as they
anticipated (see the Chronicle of Higher Education article
who have experienced success in web-based education will be
quick to point out that a focus on profitability diverts
attention from the effectiveness of web-based course
delivery. Web-based courses have the potential to be at
least as effective as traditional courses. In addition,
web-based courses meet distance needs that have always been
active, especially in sparsely populated areas that cannot
support traditional institutions.
educators that have integrated web content into their courses
report high levels of satisfaction, both with the process and
the result. This effort requires a significant commitment
in terms of time and energy. Hopefully this page, and the
links provided, will make this process more efficient.
have strong feelings about retaining academic freedom. Web-based
education provides another battle ground regarding this issue.
In many cases the educator feels liberated by an educational
setting that offers an unprecedented level of control over
course content. However, this freedom can be eliminated if
online educators do not make informed arguments about the future
of this method of course delivery. In effect, knowledge of the
issues surrounding online education are important for all
educators, even those who do not plan to teach online.
courses can be very time consuming, in the design stage as well
as during the times in which the course is active. As with
any skill, the process gets easier with experience. Course
materials can start out very simply, perhaps just a course
outline. The simple process of posting a course outline
will illustrate the potential of online content. For
example, lets assume your course outline discusses a required
term paper. As with a traditional course outline, you tell
the students that you expect their papers to follow APA style.
An online syllabus can include links to pages that describe APA
style, formatting and organizational options for term papers,
and examples of good papers from past classes. The richness of
the online syllabus makes it easier for students to learn on
their own, buying valuable time for more productive teaching and
course content, when used a supplement to traditional material,
can lead to increased flexibility in the classroom. For
example, the process of administering and grading exams can be
very mechanical. Class time spent on exams is not
particularly productive. If exams are placed online this
time can be used for class activities that lead to additional
learning experiences. In effect, the mechanization of
certain course elements allows the educator to focus on
productive and rewarding class experiences. When used in
this way "distance" technology has the potential to lead to a
more personal and student centered classroom experience.
is one of the most attractive features of web-based courses.
This flexibility extends to course design, content selection,
and the use of time. Students place a high value on the
opportunity to participate in a class during times that fit
their schedule. Faculty have busy schedules and they also
benefit from this flexibility.
web-based education for everyone? No, of course not.
Is this method of delivery equally effective in all
contexts? Again, no. However, for a growing number
of administrators, educators, and students, web-based education
makes a lot of sense. Distance education has a past that
has not always included successful innovation. The
internet offers an opportunity to resolve many of the problems
associated with previous efforts to educate at a distance.
As such, the future of web-based education appears to be quite
bright. Through the careful efforts of educators, that
potential may be reached.