TURLOCK — Between her job at Victoria's Secret and pitching for the California State University, Stanislaus, softball team, Stacy Hains doesn't have a lot of time during the day or evening to attend classes.
The senior education major found that taking some of her courses online solved her time crunch.
"There's a lot of versatility of when I have time to sit down and do my work," Hains said. "I can go on at 11 o'clock at night."
Demand from students such as Hains has driven rapid growth in the university's online classes in the four years since CSU, Stanislaus, started offering them.
In the fall, 1,400 students took 42 online classes. In spring, the university will offer 61 online or hybrid (with online and traditional components) classes, said Brian Duggan, director of learning services at CSU, Stanislaus.
"The growth is really stunning," he said. "We haven't advertised these classes. Students are finding these offerings in the course catalog and choosing to take them."
Duggan and his staff work with faculty to convert classes to an online format.
"It's not just a matter of putting lectures on video," he said. Other tools include chat rooms, videos posted on sharing sites and interactive activities.
"The trick for us is to help the faculty member figure out what's right for them," Duggan said.
Online classes aren't for everybody, or for every subject, he said. But for people with time constraints, or who live in outlying areas, online classes offer access to the university they otherwise wouldn't get.
Duggan said faculty members are not forced to teach online classes.
But John Sarraillé, a computer science professor and local California Faculty Association president, said there is some pressure.
"A lot of this goes back to money," he said. "It's always in there somewhere."
Accommodate more students
Online classes can accommodate more students because they don't have to fit into a classroom. The university, which has cut classes and faculty because of the faltering state budget, implemented them too quickly, some instructors believe.
"They're unfolding in the wrong way," Sarraillé said. "In my department, we had to take a course we were teaching and in a big rush change the way it was configured.
"A small subset of people cobbled something together."
Sarraillé said he's not against online classes, but that the university should go through regular channels, which include consideration by curriculum committees, before putting them together.
Duggan said he encountered some early skepticism from faculty, but that it has largely fallen away.
"Now what we're finding is there are faculty who are choosing to do this without necessarily coming to me. They're finding their own resources," he said. "The way I interpret that, it's sort of spreading like a grass fire."
CSUS President Hamid Shirvani said online classes are one way the university can remain accessible to students despite the budget cutbacks.
"The online education sector is growing at a phenomenal rate nationally, and CSU, Stanislaus, must help meet that demand from students in order to better serve their education needs," Shirvani said.
Though some universities offer complete degrees online, CSUS doesn't. Yet.
"We're seeing some movement that way," Duggan said.
At this point, he's satisfied that online classes are meeting a need for students. "They're finding it to be an integral part of their move toward graduation."
That includes Hains, who expects to graduate in the spring. Though she still takes traditional classes, she appreciates the flexibility of having both.
"I feel like it's easier to get ahold of (online professors) sometimes," she said. "They're always checking their e-mail. And if I have a question about material, I'm more than welcome to come in and talk to them."
Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2343.