GIST Distance Education: Answering the Top 5 Questions for Online Learning

GIST Distance Education GIST online education

Although online learning and distance education has become more common, students still have similar apprehensions about taking online courses. Completing coursework online in a discipline such as geospatial information science can seem daunting, but advances in educational technologies make GIST distance education programs extremely comprehensive and instructional. In this month’s GIST Online Blog, we answer five common questions prospective students have about online learning.

How many hours a week am I expected to devote to coursework?

Students may be surprised at how much work actually goes into completing an online program, but because the education is comparable to an on-campus program, the time commitment is relatively the same. As a general rule of thumb, a three-credit course in the GIST online programs equates to about 9-10 hours per week including course delivery, reading and assignments. Developing good time management skills is crucial for any online course, but is especially applicable to those considering taking multiple courses at once and those that are working part-time or full-time while studying.

How will I interact with other students and the professor?

Because of the online format, students and professors use an array of available online platforms for communication and course delivery. NC State distance education programs are participatory and collaborative, so chat, email, forums and discussion boards are all used as forms of communication. Ninety percent of courses use Moodle as an interface, and WebEx and Blackboard Collaborate are used for real-time conferencing.

Group assignments, facilitated through Moodle Workshop, allow online students to work in groups with on-campus or other online students. Most courses in the GIST distance education programs are asynchronous, meaning online students will access and complete the lectures and assignments by themselves within a period of time that is set by the instructor. Other courses, or some lectures, are delivered synchronously, meaning online students “attend” live lectures that are broadcast as they are being taught, with fellow on-campus students.

Will I still be able to contact the professor with questions?

Online students have the same level of access to professors as on-campus students: email, phone and online office hours. As an online student, you may not meet your professor in person, but it is still important to get to know her, to make sure she knows you and to ask questions if you need help. The professors of online courses care just as much about your success as they do about the success of on-campus students. At NC State, all of our online students also have a chance to meet all of our professors and advisors in person during the on-campus orientation.

How do I access course materials and submit assignments and exams?

Students use the online learning portal to access course materials and submit assignments. Exams can be taken on Moodle, though some exams are project-based, in which case students electronically submit the exam, like other assignments. Some exams are traditional or standardized and have to be proctored. In that case, students located within 50 miles of NC State typically will take the proctored exam on campus, and students located more than 50 miles away can be proctored at satellite locations, such as a local library or other approved place.

How are lectures delivered online?

Online lectures are delivered in several different ways. Some professors use classroom capture to record lectures or record PowerPoint presentations with voiceovers for lectures. Some courses also utilize recorded screencast, in which professors record their screen while demonstrating a technique or concept.

Our students have been very successful in our online courses and programs if they set realistic time commitment expectations; stay focused and motivated in their course and coursework; and utilize all the helpful resources available to them. Your academic advisor, individual professors and program administrators at NC State are dedicated to ensuring that all students, regardless of where they are studying, get the education and support they need to succeed.

Want to hear testimonials from some of our online students about what it’s like to learn online at NC State? Check out our video!

Check back each month to the GIST Online Blog as we take a look at topics in geospatial information and discover new concepts and innovations in the field.