UC Program Offers More Flexibility With Online Courses

A soon to debut online program linking far-flung UC campuses is set to provide more flexibility in education access to students. It’s a blessing to many students, and especially those who have tight schedules, as the UC Riverside program encourages UC students to tap into faculty brainpower and curricula across the UC system while also exploring emerging online education.

For a university system blasted for being too slow in adopting online courses and too Balkanized among its nine undergraduate campuses to significantly share teachers and classes, the new “cross campus enrollment” would be welcome. Some online classes, mainly geared to their own students and most frequently in summer, are already offered by individual UC campuses.

As officials conceded, students from various campuses faced bureaucratic and technological hassles in the past. Significant paperwork was involved in just finding out what online classes were offered across the UC system, and approval was required to enroll which discouraged participation. The new program aims to streamline the process with a central online catalog of courses and much easier registration and departmental approvals available online. Additionally, administrators hope the system eventually will detail which courses fulfill requirements for various majors and minors at all the campuses.

“We’re trying to take the burden off the student and put it on technology,” explained Mary Gilly, vice-chairwoman of UC’s systemwide faculty senate, which had helped shape the new program.

Gilly predicted the Internet-based courses will be useful for students stymied by filled classrooms or inconvenient schedules at their home campuses and for those interested in a specialized class taught only at one or two other campuses – although she does not expect a stampede of students into cross-campus online classes.

“I can see it being a real asset throughout the UC,” said Gilly, a UC Irvine marketing professor.

According to Larry Gordon of the Los Angeles Times, with just 11 pre-existing courses from four campuses for the upcoming winter quarter (spring semester for the Berkeley and Merced campuses, which use a semester calendar), the program is starting small. UC Davis will offer elementary Spanish and climate change; UC Irvine, pre-calculus, astronomy and psychology; UC Berkeley psychology, probability, statistics and an art department exploration of “American Cybercultures”; UC Riverside, two computer science classes and one surveying the history and culture of dance. Administrators said that more classes would be added and created over time.

A staggering $10 million pool for online education and technology that the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown authorized this year is financing the program. Brown had slammed UC for not moving faster to adopt some online education, which he sees as a way to lower costs and improve access to overcrowded gateway courses. However, UC now is starting to create its own catalog of shared online classes after some initial faculty resistance over quality issues and suspicion of commercial vendors.

Universities and companies that offer massive open online courses (MOOCs) can potentially enroll thousands, but usually not for college credit. The UC for-credit classes in contrast cap enrollments at between 30 and 40, and most require a weekly real-time discussion session online with a teaching assistant or professor via chat rooms or Skype, in addition to lectures and videos that students view at their convenience. Most final exams will be proctored in real classrooms, either on campuses or at test centers around the state to ensure honesty.