District unveils improved online classes

A new breed of online classes will soon be available to students district-wide.

Beginning this upcoming spring semester, College of San Mateo will launch two new online classes intended to combine the best aspects of online and face-to-face classes. The classes are listed as Xlonline in the spring class schedule and initially, only Survey of Chemistry and Intro to Health Science will be available as an experiment in improving on the current model of online classes.

Many students struggle with online classes, although they can be convenient for others.

“I don’t recommend it because it’s hard to focus when you’re not physically in class,” student Renee Agular said.

“It can be convenient if you don’t have transportation but I would prefer seeing a teacher rather than online classes,” student Dominic Garcia said.

According to Chemistry Instructor Patrick McKay, there is a place for online classes, but the lack of direct interaction can be a challenge.

“A student isn’t free to ask a question on the spot if they do not understand the concepts,” McKay said. “A teacher isn’t able to gauge how well their class is learning/retaining the subject matter when they’re talking to a camera. There are opportunities for students to ask questions outside of the lectures, but I don’t think that makes for the best learning.”

CSM Professor of Chemistry Yin Mei Lawrence, who will be teaching the survey of chemistry class, collaborated with Professor of Biology Tania Beliz, who will be teaching the health science class, to design a method of online teaching more effective and accessible than what online classes currently offer. Both were already interested in online teaching and sought to improve the experience for students, which led them to design and offer the Xlonline classes in their respective fields. The classes will be available for up to 100 students throughout the district and are intended to avoid some of the challenges frequently faced by online students.

“We plan to take the best of online classes and the best of classroom teaching,” Lawrence said. “We know what works and what doesn’t.”

She noted that some of the ways she intends to accomplish this goal are by training student tutors, who will be available free of charge to any student in the class, by making more interesting and engaging videos than online teachers typically offer, and by clearly laying out learning objectives to students, as well as putting time and effort into ensuring that students are understanding the course.

“The bad part about online classes is that students sometimes fall off the radar,” Lawrence said. “The teachers won’t let that happen and we’ll monitor students’ progress.”