At my college, there has been a push to add additional sections of many online courses due to increasing demand. There are many reasons for this new push for online classes, including  recent changes in our placement test scores. Now more students are placing into Beginning Algebra than into Intermediate Algebra. Although generally in a time in which college enrollments are typically declining, the additional classes would be welcome, this new push for online courses has raised many concerns:

How should online courses be assigned to faculty?

Before every semester, faculty select their classes. Sometimes it is not possible to please every faculty member. Suppose a faculty member desired to teach three online courses but was only assigned to teach two online classes. Should that faculty member automatically be offered any additional online sections added to the schedule after selections have occurred? Should this trump seniority in this case? Should the instructor be allowed to change their schedule to accommodate another online class even though they have already made their selections? Should this class be given to a faculty member newly trained to teach a course, but has yet to teach online?

How do online classes affect the enrollment of on-campus courses?

My department offers several on-campus classes that meet only once a week on either Friday mornings, Friday evenings, or Saturday mornings. In recent years, there has been a significant decline in enrollment in these classes. A likely reason for this decline is the new push for online courses. Many students in our online courses would not take college classes if it meant having to come to campus on a regular basis. These are the students who would likely have taken our one day a week classes to minimize the number of times a week they would have to come to campus. 

Our adjunct faculty teach many of these classes. From the faculty perspective, if we cancel these classes due to low enrollment, it means fewer course assignments for our adjunct faculty. There is little opportunity for adjunct faculty to teach online courses due to high interest from our full-time faculty.

If you build it, they won’t necessarily come.

There is an assumption that if we offer additional sections of online courses,  students will enroll. However, many students wish to take a class with a specific instructor. My college has found that if one class has a full waitlist, and another section opens, not all of the students will register for the newly created section.

So, what is the best way to address these issues? I’m confident there is no silver bullet. The scheduling problem will always be one that will never be successfully solved. However, I hope that as we examine issues like this, we always keep the students’ best interests in mind.