University of California Launches Online Courses Pilot

Going online to get a college degree has been championed as a cost-effective way to educate the masses – now, the online classroom is coming to the vaunted UC system, making it the nation's first top-tier university to offer undergraduate credit for cyberstudies, writes Lisa M. Krieger at

The University of California hopes to ease the path to a diploma for students who are increasingly forced to wait for a place at the university, especially in high-demand "gateway courses," such as chemistry, calculus and composition.

This summer, UC Berkeley tested its first pilot course: Chemistry 1A.

The course is a Web-based degree program that offers real credits, toward real degrees, using interactive software, online lab demonstrations, chat rooms, discussion boards — and faculty "office hours" as late as 11:30 p.m.

"It is a UC educational experience, leveraging our faculty," said Mara Hancock, director of educational technologies at UC Berkeley.

The UC regents voted to support the online program last summer, to much controversy.

Some faculty members and instructors worried that an online degree program could compromise the quality of undergraduate education and hurt UC's reputation, writes Krieger.

UC Berkeley doctoral student Shane Boyle told the regents the plan was:

"just the beginning of a frightening trajectory that will undoubtedly end in the complete implosion of public higher education."

The UC Berkeley Faculty Association said:

"the danger is not only degraded education, but a centralized academic policy that undermines faculty control of standards and curriculum."

But UC Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law Dean Christopher Edley, who is leading the effort, persuaded the regents to try the approach.

"We can't treat UC as a precious little box," he said. "Demand is growing."

The news comes in wake of a rocky few years for the University of California, culminating in the ‘budget crisis' at UC Berkeley in 2009. And with online education's growing reputation as being cheap and effective, it is a venture that many universities seem to be pursuing.

Every UC campus except UC San Francisco will sponsor a class. About 70 faculty members proposed ideas; 30 were selected. They are now under development and will be open to all UC students across the system in 2012, writes Krieger.

In addition to the massive lower-level introductory courses — Spanish from UC Davis, physics from UC Irvine, politics at UCLA — there will be experiments in upper-level, high-demand classes such as "Art, Science and Technology," and "Terrorism and War."

Matthew Tabor

Matthew Tabor

Matthew is a prolific, independent voice in the national education debate. He is a tireless advocate for high academic standards from pre-K through graduate school, fiscal sense and personal responsibility. He values parents’ and families’ rights and believes in accountability for teachers, administrators, politicians and all taxpayer-funded education entities. With a unique background that includes work in higher education, executive recruiting, professional sport and government, Matthew has consulted on new media and communication strategies for a broad range of clients. He writes the blog “Education for the Aughts” at , has contributed to National Journal’s ‘Expert’ blog for Education , and interacts with the education community on Twitter and Google+.
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