University of California to Expand Online Courses

The University of California (UC)  has announced new initiatives to expand online course offerings. At a UC Board of Regents meeting, provost Aimee Dorr presented the the initiatives which run through the university’s Innovative Learning Technology Initiative (ILTI) include creation of a pilot cross-campus enrollment webpage, funding for the development of 30 proposed new undergraduate online courses and ongoing formation of an approval process for cross-campus course credit.

The system will enable students to enroll in courses at other UC campuses. New courses are in the development stage and will be offered through the UC online education program next year.

The ILTI, launched in early 2013 under then-UC President Mark Yudof, garnered $10 million in state funding from Governor Jerry Brown in July and aims to foster research and development of the university’s online education capabilities.

Brown has been a strong supporter of online education but has asked the university to look over the structure of current online courses. Currently these are a mixture of recorded lectures, online texts and live video with graduate student instructors.

Brown said to the regents,  “You say you need human touch —I say, maybe you don’t need it. The barrier here is the human software, the human thought that we’re putting into the technology.”

Dorr disagrees, saying that students are “less happy and less engaged” when taking courses with no human interaction. He says students in mixed courses are “better learners.”

Panayiotis Papadopoulos, a campus professor of mechanical engineering and vice chair of the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate, and Phillip Stark, professor and chair of statistics, both feel that online education should be a supplement to in-person learning, not a replacement. Stark says “The right way to think about online classes is that they’re the evolution of the textbook, not the evolution of the class.” Papadopoulos does acknowledge that students in his online course outperformed his on-campus class in final exams.

Sophia Liu, a UC Berkeley sophomore took a class through Berkeley Summer Sessions last year, said she prefers on-campus classes. She does think online courses are a good option for those who want to graduate early or for those who need to catch up on requirements.

“On campus, there are a lot of resources,” Liu said. “Online, it’s harder to find the support you need.”

The ILTI intends to establish 150 online and hybrid courses by 2016.  Officials have been meeting regularly to facilitate the process.