Students highlight online summer courses as opportunity to get ahead

Posted on: April 15, 2013 | By: Casey Brown | Filed under: Online Instruction, Teaching & Learning

With the summer quickly approaching, it is hard to decide what to do to fill you summer free time. You could 3016972220_ca923a56cb_bapply for internships, just get a summer job close to home or take summer courses. If you choose to follow the academic route, Elon’s summer courses are split into two sessions and classes are offered both here on campus and online. To find out more about online learning, I talked to a few students about their experiences. Here is what they had to say.

How it works

Online courses at Elon are typically facilitated through Moodle, including most classroom . assignments, activities and interactions. Sophomore Sam Murray, who took Psychology in the Schools (PSY 210) last year, can elaborate.

“Each week there was a new module for us to work through,” Murray said. “Modules consisted of reading assignments, class forum posts, and a final assignment. All assignments were submitted on Moodle and the forums were also run on Moodle.”

Students preview what it’s like to take a summer course at Elon.

The benefits of an online classroom

For participants of online courses, there are a number of advantages to gaining credits over the summer with the more advantageous being the collection of additional credits. For senior Kaiti McGill, taking the extra credits over the summer opened opportunities for her experience abroad.

“I wanted to get a few courses out of the way since I knew I was going abroad for a semester,” McGill said. “I didn’t want my choice of location to depend on what classes I still had to get out of the way before graduation.”

Flexibility is another benefit of online classes. For many online courses, there is not a specific time students have to be online working. As long as students complete the work by specific deadlines, they are free to work as they please. For senior Katie Petnuch, this was a great way to balance work and fun during the summer.

“I was working on my own time. If I wanted to have ‘class’ at 10 pm then I could,” she said. “I was able to work and still partake in summer activities and vacations even though I was taking a class, just as long as I set time aside to do my work.”

Murray agreed that flexibility was key for a student with a busy summer calendar. Murray balanced her class with a full-time job, so the freedom to work whenever she could was best for her situation

“I really enjoyed taking a class online because I could do the work on my own time (often late at night after work) and still be successful,” Murray said.

The struggles of a virtual classroom

However, taking online courses means relying heavily on the Internet to complete your work. Unlike at school, where computer labs are easily accessible in the case of an emergency, not every student has easy access to technology. Therefore, he or she has to be prepared for technological failures should a problem arise. To compensate for a spotty Internet connection, Murray worked ahead of schedule.

“Relying on the Internet and technology is always risky,” Murray said. “Because I knew Internet was spotty at my house, I made sure that I did assignments ahead of time and if they couldn’t upload at my house I gave myself ample time to get to the library in my town. You also have to make sure you save your assignments as you do them because we all know how temperamental computers can be.”

For McGill, the virtual classroom made communicating with the professor difficult.  McGill emphasized that the lack of face-to-face contact could lead to crossed wires in the professor-student dynamic.

“Misunderstandings were harder to figure out via email,” said McGill. “Communication tends to have a better tone in person as a rule, so the human element and enjoying class for the people wasn’t possible.”

Petnuch said her biggest struggle involved her online sessions timing out, which led to the loss of her work and some frustration on her part.

“I would say in some ways it definitely hindered my learning,” Petnuch said. “For example when Blackboard or Moodle would time out and I would lose all my work or everything that I had done on a test. It did help that we were able to look certain things up on the Internet for help, but I think it is always easier to use a professor in person as an easier resource. “

The ideal online student

Murray, Petnuch, and McGill all benefited from the online courses they took, but they agree that this approach to learning is not for everyone. Petnuch stressed the need for diligence and hard work if you choose to learn online.

“You absolutely have to learn time management and motivation,” Petnuch said. “You have to be on top of your work or else you will get too behind and then the class is over because it only lasts for a month.  You have to be very diligent and independent and get your work done as the professor suggests. “

McGill echoed this sentiment, saying that online courses are not for the unorganized, unmotivated student.

“Organization and commitment to learning the content are key,” McGill said. “If someone lacks incentive or time management skills, online classes are most definitely NOT for them!”


If you’re interested in learning more about online courses through Moodle, contact Teaching and Learning Technologies at 336.278.5006 or

Image by Flickr user ecastro / CC BY-SA 2.0

Casey Brown

Casey Brown is the Writing Intern for Technology with Elon University's Teaching and Learning Technologies Department.

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