UC-Level Classes to be Offered Online in January

In April, a 10-member review committee composed of nine UC faculty members and UC Office of the President (UCOP) Provost Lawrence Pitts selected 29 out of 70 UC faculty proposed classes. The 29 selected course proposals are now in the implementation phase of the OIPP.

The courses are designed to be interactive rather than podcast and text-based and will utilize various online chat features to maintain interaction between teaching assistants and students.

“A lot of the faculty is testing the effectiveness of different approaches to online teaching,” said Vice Provost of Academic Planning, Programs and Coordination Daniel Greenstein.

According to the program’s website, the online classes will be available for registration alongside regular classes. The program is being referred to as a ‘research project.’ Its initial stage — starting from its inception in January until around June 2013 — will serve as a research tool to gauge its success. If faculty members, students and administrators determine the program to be a success, it may be made available to more undergraduates and potentially to community college students and high school students.

A course catalog for the online program has not been released yet. According to the program’s website, only some of the 29 classes will be available across campuses.

Vice Chair of the UC Academic Senate Robert Anderson says that while the Academic Senate supports the 29 faculty members who are developing the courses, there have been concerns about the intended scope of the project.

The Academic Senate originally received a proposal in 2010 for an eleventh UC cyber campus that would be entirely electronic. That plan has been scaled down due to funding and planning issues.

“We have had concerns about the planning that has gone in to this,” Anderson said.

The cost of the classes has yet to be finalized. UC students taking online courses will receive the same amount of financial aid as if they were taking regular courses. No financial aid is planned for non-UC students at this time.

The Academic Senate backed the proposal for the program based on the claim that the program would raise $30 million from private funds. However, the program has only raised $780,000 — courtesy of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation — at which point the UCOP offered the project an interest-free $6.9 million loan.  

“I’m not sure that we should be in the business of offering online courses to large numbers of non-UC students,” Anderson said. “It’s something that needs to be thought through carefully.”
UC intends to repay the loan by reserving online classes for non-UC students and international students, Greenstein said.

According to “UC seeks outside students to pay for cyber courses,” published Sept. 12 in the San Francisco Chronicle, Greenstein visited UC study centers in Beijing and Shanghai to recruit Chinese students. According to “UC investing millions in new cyber program,” published Sept. 12 in the San Francisco Chronicle, Greenstein is also in talks with Fidelis, a San Francisco organization that offers online courses for military personnel.

UC Berkeley political science professor and co-chair of the Berkeley Faculty Association Wendy Brown is not sure about the projected success or the intentions of the online education program.  Brown disagrees with UC Berkeley Dean of Law Christopher Edley’s (the program’s leading proponent) argument that the project will bring money into campuses.

“So far, high quality online education programs have gone bankrupt,” Brown said, pointing to examples of Columbia University and the University of Illinois, where failures in online education have been attributed to high attrition rates.

Brown is concerned that the UC program won’t be able to compete with the affordability of online courses offered at community colleges.

“I’m not against online education or the use of technology,” Brown said. “[But Edley] is taking a different approach, a new innovative method. This is why they weren’t able to get private funding for the project.”

Private companies have not shown interest in financially supporting the program, Anderson said.

“The foundations expressed interest in other types of online education such as courses for remedial high school education and GED completion,” Anderson said. “There was much less interest in funding large universities.”

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