Last week, I received an email from a reader regarding the online mathematics program at the University of Illinois in Springfield. I wasn’t familiar with the program and have started taking a closer look. One of the questions that was asked by that reader was what sort of things should he be looking for in an online mathematics degree. To my knowledge the are very few fully online bachelor’s degrees IN MATHEMATICS available at this point. However, with technology advancing at its current rate, the barriers to such a program will be virtually gone in the next few years.

So what exactly are the barriers to an online mathematics degree? I have a few ideas but I’m interested in what other folks are thinking, so I am scoping out the blogosphere and reading as many articles as I can get my hands on. If you have any recommendations, I’d love to hear them.

Even as an online mathematics instructor, I still believe that the majority (vast majority, in fact) are better off in a face-to-face setting than online. Now, the only course I teach is a College Algebra course that is required for all bachelor’s degrees at Wayland. None of my online students are math majors or will become math majors. I’m not discouraging them, but they are all attending our external campuses where we don’t offer the full program in mathematics, for lack of demand, primarily. So these students range from a few students straight out of high school to the majority of which are adult learners returning to school. About half of the students I have are truly motivated enough to do the self-teaching necessary to learn the material through the online medium, but the communication barrier still looms as the largest hurdle to success for almost all of the students.

To answer the reader’s question, “What should I be looking for in [an online mathematics program]?”, I replied the following:

While many Universities have moved to put several undergraduate courses online such as College Algebra, Pre-Calculus and Calculus. There is much less available in terms of the upper level courses that involve abstract mathematics and proof techniques.

Most of all, abstract mathematics needs a high level of communication and interaction during the learning process. Conveying ideas in those courses are very challenging using the online medium. I think the courses need to have both asynchronous elements and synchronous elements, meaning that there will be times you work on your own time schedule and others that you interact with your class or your professor with immediate feedback. That’s probably the biggest thing. You also need the benefit of interacting with fellow students in the program. A cohort of learners is extremely important during the process or mastering abstract-level mathematics.

What else would be important for mathematics degree to be completely online or is it even possible?