The NCAA’s Division I Board of Directors asked late last month for an examination of online courses and how much student athletes should rely on them – but University of Nebraska Athletic Department officials say the matter isn’t an issue here.
Although athletes enrolling in online courses has become a trend across the country in recent years, senior associate athletic director Dennis Leblanc said the percentage of University of Nebraska–Lincoln student athletes enrolling in online courses isn’t significantly greater than the percentage of non-athlete students, he said.
“The question about how many online courses are appropriate for any student, not just athletes, to take has always been present,” Leblanc said. “If you check UNL course listings, you’ll see that the number of online courses offered at UNL has been steadily increasing. It’s not just at UNL, either. On a national level, practically all college campuses are offering more online options for classes this year than they did last year.”
Leblanc said he doesn’t know of any Nebraska student athletes who rely mostly on online courses.
Marie Barber, executive director for Online & Distance Education,, said UNL’s ultimate goal for all students, is to make sure they take all the classes they need to graduate. The NCAA operates under a similar rule that all student athletes should be making progress toward graduation in their college athletic careers, she said.
“UNL really treats all students the same when it comes to enrolling in classes,” Barber said. “No special categories of students are considered, and the decision on whether those students should enroll in online courses is no more and no less restrictive.
Barber said online courses can provide flexibility for students with busy schedules. But just because a class works better with a student’s schedule doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easier.
“Online courses need to be treated by students just as seriously as any in-person course,” Barber said.
Online courses often have the same level of rigour as in-person courses. The workload in such courses combined with the lack of a faculty member to actively remind students of assignments and coming presentations often means students enrolled in online classes need to be self-motivated.
With that, misunderstandings about course material can be harder to address in online classes.
“In an in-person course, an instructor can look at somebody’s face and clearly tell, ‘OK, I can see there’s something you’re not understanding,’” Barber said. “But with online classes, you don’t have that kind of face-to-face communication. Therefore, the instructor has to be very intentional about including clear instructions, numerous ways and times for communication to occur, a variety of checkpoints to determine progress as well as a way to establish instructor presence.”
For some students, athlete or non-athlete, the one-on-one interactions provided by an in-person class can be more beneficial than flexibility, Leblanc said.
Leblanc said student athletes often meet with both their individual academic advisors and his department to determine what class schedules will work with their training, travel and competition schedules. Because students are able to work on assignments and complete assigned readings on their own time, online courses are often beneficial to student athletes who travel often. However, Leblanc and his department never set out to make student athletes take mostly online courses.
“Whether or not online classes are appropriate for a student, and that includes any student, really depends on who that student is,” Leblanc said. “Different students have different needs.”