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A FastPass Summer: Are the online summer classes worth your time?

This summer marked the first year of Eastern University’s new summer learning program called FastPass. Through FastPass, students are able to take two online summer courses each year they are enrolled as an undergraduate student. Both classes are free of charge. Students only need to pay for their books and the overall summer semester cost of enrollment, saving them hundreds of dollars.

This financial aspect proved effective in getting students to enroll in summer classes. According to data gathered by the Center of Teaching, Learning & Technology, 686 students participated in summer classes this year, taking a grand total of 3,229 credits. This is a drastic jump from the 277 students taking a total of 1,277 credits who enrolled in summer courses the previous year.

FastPass provides a cost-effective way to take classes and has more than doubled the amount of students enrolling during the summer, but does it work? Is it beneficial to students on an educational level? All of the classes are online and in seven week semesters, opposed to traditional 15 week semesters, which can often prove challenging for students.

Christine Carey, a sophomore who took Modern Western Civilization during the summer, felt the divide between FastPass and a typical class format.

“It wasn’t my first online class, so I knew that it wasn’t going to be the same as an in-class thing, but I definitely think you learn more when you’re in person,” Carey said. “It was the kind of class you’d want to have in class discussions for.” Discussions for FastPass classes are held through the discussion forums on Brightspace to make up for not being able to discuss topics openly with other students and the professor in person.

Abigail Fell-Dewalt, a senior who took Introductory Biology over the summer, had a different view of the way class discussions were facilitated.

“You definitely did still get some of the classroom experience even though you weren’t seeing each other face-to-face, however that option was always there. You could go on Zoom, and you could ask people questions and meet people there,” Fell-Dewalt said.

The digital nature of FastPass offers difficulty when it comes to student engagement and discussions.

“You can’t replicate students’ engagement in the classroom,” Sarah Todd, director of the Center for Career Development and the instructor for the Young Adult Literature course offered during the summer, said.

“You have to be intentional about creating an online community,” Todd said.

Todd also mentioned how she noticed some challenges s early on in teaching the course.

“Some students hear ‘online class’ or ‘summer class’ and it creates an expectation that there will be less work or that it will be generally easier, but that’s not how these courses are designed,” Todd said.

Professors who taught summer courses had to go through a four week training course in order to make the Brightspace pages for each class user-friendly and provide what Todd called a level of “technological comfort.” However, condensing 15 weeks of learning material into seven weeks is no easy undertaking for professors or students.

“[The shorter semester] didn’t give me as much time to process information, but that’s what a fast track is, and that’s what you’re to expect,” Fell-Dewalt said.

Despite the setbacks that taking online summer courses can provide, students and faculty alike ultimately agreed that the FastPass program as a whole has been beneficial to students not only by saving them money, but by making scheduling traditional semesters easier. “Some kids have classes that they want to take that only happen one semester every two years. FastPass will allow them to take other courses that they need over the summer rather than taking the place of that course they really want to take,” said Carey.

“Students have busy lives. FastPass can allow them to take one less class during the semester when they play sports, have internships, and are dealing with familial problems,” said Todd. “It allows for the realities of life, creating more timeline possibilities and more balance.”

For more information about FastPass visit: www. eastern.edu/fastpass.

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