Debate over students in online or hybrid courses joining Honors Program


Photo credit: MCT Campus

Leslie Lopez, Staff Writer

Imagine a stack of dominoes lined up vertically, one against the other. Knock the first domino down and a chain reaction is created, knocking down each domino next in line, one after the other. Now picture the first domino represents San Diego Mesa College, the second represents San Diego City College, the third San Diego Miramar College and following them, all the California community colleges, and finally the big universities. All falling down and paving a path for students enrolled in online and hybrid courses, to have an equal opportunity in joining  the Honors Program.

As students prepare to enter upper division courses at the university level, many students reach out to their colleges to join Honors, a program that offers beneficial opportunities and guidance for those who wish to challenge themselves. But what happens when the student who works full time, is raising a family and cannot attend a face to face class, has an interest in joining the Honors program? The student will be denied from joining.

According to the District Dean for the Honors Program, Shelly L. Hess, a rule was put in place that states “District Honors Program policy prohibits honors in online or short- term courses.” The Mesa Press inquired the dean by email and phone but was declined to respond. So it begs the question: why can’t these students join the Honors Program?

A key person in this matter is the current Honors Coordinator at San Diego Mesa College, Professor Pegah Motaleb,  who has tried voicing out her opinion to the members of the District Honors Committee in order to overthrow this rule. Motaleb states she has “only tried to open up the conversation” and has suggested to gather information from faculty who teach online courses, hear from experts who can help instruct “how online classes can be offered as Honors” and has also suggested to survey and poll students to better understand what they are looking for in the Honors program. Motaleb was told by the District Honors committee that there will be a specific date in which this topic will be discussed and settled, but this date is still to be determined.

Motaleb, who has taught three online classes, believes students of hybrid and online classes are equally as hardworking as those in a face to face class. Motaleb states these students “read all the instructions of the assignments, watch all the videos, engage in weekly discussion posts and even use technology in a unique way.” adding that they “are constantly writing, so they cite and reference unique material. The participation rate is actually higher in an online class because their contribution is more visible.” She also acknowledges that all Mesa students work hard, whether they are enrolled in an online, face to face or hybrid course.

Motaleb ultimately believes “students in all of these classes just want to succeed.” And states “I am here to open up educational opportunities for the students, including the mother who can’t afford childcare, and is raising her kids at home, and getting an education at the same time online. I am here for the father who has to support his family by working during the day time and taking classes online to make a better future. I am here for the son who is helping his low-income family with child care and going to school. I am here for the veteran who is taking classes overseas while he is serving our country.” Motaleb promises to ask more questions and find answers in order to convince her colleagues, across the district to “bring equity and opportunities” to all students.

Although this rule is in place and the Honors committee has not yet determined a specific date in which this matter will be discussed, Spanish Instructor and previous Honors coordinator, Professor Alison Primoza  believes there can be online courses that can offer students “honors like experience.” Primoza then explained a risk students with honors contracts in hybrid or online classes, may face if they wish to transfer to another institution. For the most part, many of the transfer partners would most likely deny online coursework which could potentially harm a students chance of transfering. Primoza further on elaborated that this idea of online courses not meeting Honors criteria, such as students gaining a sense of community, hands on [experience], creativity, research and more, goes beyond the hands of the San Diego Community College District.

English instructor, Professor Robert Pickford took a stance on this matter when he had a student who was turned down from turning their English hybrid course, into an honors course due to this rule. Pickford sent out an email to the entire Mesa faculty stating he would no longer receive any student in Honors, so long as this rule is in place. Pickford believes this rule is a form of unfairness to students of hybrid and online classes since these courses have “the same instructor, same assignments and teaching methods” as those in a face-to-face classroom. He also believes, as Martin Luther King Jr stated once in his letter from Birmingham Jail, “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

Honors students, Rene Murillo and Nina Gleissler, acknowledge that the Honors Program challenges students academically but are not in agreement with this rule. Murillo, believes such a rule can affect student success and states “I think the rule hinders students potential and can potentially fail the students who don’t have the luxury of coming to campus for non hybrid and in face to face classes.” When asked if he would be interested in enrolling in a hybrid or online honors course, Murillo responded “I wouldn’t mind having an online or hybrid course as an honors, I’m a very busy person, it would give me an adjusted time window through the week.” For Gleissler, she believes Mesa college should live up to their philosophy of equity and offer the option of Honors to all students, no matter the students circumstances.  When asked if removing this rule would be an innovative step towards future learning, she stated “I do believe an innovative learning style can be obtained, which can be beneficial for future college students… all students should have the opportunity to be challenged academically, to grow as a student and learner, participate in Mesa’s events on campus, and serve the community.”