July 15, 2010
The University of California Board of Regents met on Wednesday July 14th and one of the topics discussed was a proposal by UC Berkeley Law School Dean Christopher Edley. The proposal involved developing a pilot program to test the merits of online education in the UC System. As reported in the San Francisco Chronicle, several regents felt that the "UC [System] has the brainpower - and the motives - to develop the nation's first highly selective, Web-based degree program for undergraduates." The initial pilot would involve 25 to 40 of the universities most popular courses including calculus, chemistry, physics and English. If successful, the program could eventually lead to universities in the UC System offering fully-accredited online bachelor's degrees.
While the overall reaction to the proposal was positive, there were several regents that expressed concerns about the UC System offering online education. The majority of the concern revolved around the quality of education and diminishing the UC name. As online education continues to grow in popularity, issues of quality are often at the forefront of discussions. The UC Berkeley Daily Californian reported that Regent George Marcus labeled the proposal as "fad-ish" and wanted to make sure the pilot is closely watched to ensure that decisions are based on data. He also added, "We have to absolutely do a research project, like we would if you were given a grant, to determine the learning process and the experience and what will be omitted by using this methodology."
As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, to address these criticisms, Dean Edley ensured the UC Regents: "It's not where you stick a couple of camcorders in the lecture hall. . . we're talking about high production values. Discussions in desktop video conferencing. Chat rooms and discussion boards. We'd use social-networking software that I'd say our students are already addicted to." In addition, the UC system is already using 1250 online classes in its extension program, some of which can earn students UC credit. Dean Edley was quoted in a report by CBS Broadcasting asking the question: "Can we create a different experience that still gives us a quality of which we can be proud?"
CBS Broadcasting reports, the pilot program is endorsed by the UC Academic Senate, which represents the faculty of the UC System, as long as it is funded by external sources and does not involve redirecting available funds. As the State of California experiences an unprecedented budget shortfall and the UC System works to bridge a $4.7 billion budget cap, financial resources to fund the pilot project are limited. To solve this issue, Dean Edley is looking to raise $6 million from private funding and will then ask faculty to submit proposals for online versions of the courses they teach.
In the long term, online education could help reduced the UC System's dependency on financial support from the State of California. As reported by both the Daily Californian and CBS Broadcasting, the project would cost an initial investment of $20 million, but it would allow the UC System to add 25,000 students and could generate an additional $180 million in revenue. In comparison, to build out the infrastructure to serve 11,000 students in the traditional campus setting would cost about $1.8 billion. Although, opponents of the program are concerned that decisions could be biased by financial reasons over the quality of education.
With UC Regents on both sides of the proposal, it is clear everyone wants to ensure that the UC continues to provide the highest education possible. Regent Sherry Lansing sees online education as an obvious next step in the future of higher education: "Kids learn differently. I watch children in schools today, and the computer is just part of their life. . . in many ways, it's second nature to them" quoted the UCLA Daily Bruin. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Regent Lansing also added, "We have the opportunity to show everyone else how to do it. . . this should be one of our highest priorities. We cannot wait."
One intriguing outcome of the new system would be the ability to expand inter-university programs and classes. This would potentially allow students to take classes from multiple campuses, similar to the UC Berkeley / UC San Francisco joint Bioengineering program.
In response to skeptical instructors, Regent Eddie Island also had this message: "lead this effort. Embrace it. It will be seen in the future as critical."
Compiled by CityTownInfo.com Staff
"Online Courses May Be Next for UC," dailycal.org, July 15, 2010, Javier Panzard
"UC Board of Regents approves online-only program, next year's student regent at meeting in San Francisco," dailybruin.com, July 15, 2010, Sarah Jo
"UC Developing Online Undergraduate Degree Program," cbs5.com, July 15, 2010
"UC regents endorse test of online instruction," sfgate.com, July 15, 2010, Nanette Asimov