Uncertain path lies ahead for UC online education

Courtesy of Associated Press
Courtesy of Associated Press

It may be possible to obtain about one-tenth of a UC degree through online courses across the university system over the next five years, according a press release by UCOP. The UC anticipates the expansion of its web-based platform, the UC Online Education (UCOE) initiative, with the possible development of a systemwide online catalog. Continuing discussions about online education will occur in spring 2013 during a UC-wide summit, at the behest of UC President Mark Yudof.

Contributing to trending public interest in online education, Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed 2013-2014 state budget dedicates $10 million to new technologies and online education across the UC and Cal State system.

Current challenges include streamlining cross-campus enrollment and individual courses that are unique to a campus. UCOE retains an overarching cloud of uncertainty in its future, due to scattered discussions over a loose business model and fluctuating applicant base.

“The finances simply no longer exist to support instruction the way we’ve done it. The challenge is to be strong and thrive with the new fiscal and pedagogical realities,” Yudof stated during the January regents meeting.

The regents expect to expand “bottleneck” enrollment for students in lower division and general education courses, but may target core curriculum classes as future endeavors. The UC proposes the development of 158 online classes by 2018.

During the first year of UCOE in 2012, nearly 1,700 UC students enrolled in online courses, with only one non-UC participated. There are a total of 27 UCOE courses are offered at select UC campuses. The web-based concept is still taking root at UCR, yet the campus expects the addition of three online courses by spring or summer 2013.

UC student regent Jonathan Stein questioned the foggy future of UCOE, based on its lack of a strategic marketing plan, yet noted innovativeness in the concept itself. “We don’t know how online classes for UC students will save us money and we have no idea how potential classes for non-UC students will make us money,” Stein said.

UC online courses are free to enrolled university students, as it is already included in tuition fees. General applicants must pay on a per-unit basis, in which UCOE handles all non-UC registration.

UCR online courses are based on the availability of faculty for a designated quarter, yet none were offered in the winter quarter. Since the 1990s, the campus has experienced exponential and unpredictable increase in student enrollment, outpacing the expansion of faculty departments.

During fall 2012, “Dance: Cultures and Contexts” (Dance 7V) was the only online class available at UCR. Receiving approval from the UC Academic Senate in 2012, UCR was able to register three computer science courses, CS 121, CS 12 and CS 10V. Both CS 121 and CS 12 are not yet offered on campus, but CS 10V will be available for student enrollment in spring 2013.

The registration for UCR’s online courses is made through GROWL using the same procedures to enroll in on-campus ones. The schedule of classes places a virtual indicator “V” after every online course title.

Live chat sessions, document sharing and interactive whiteboards are a few of the many innovative applications that UC Online will be using. As an extra components to UC education, the stray from a traditional learning environment offers the chance to explore virtual academia.

Dr. Frank Vahid, UCR professor of computer science and engineering, played a critical role in developing and defining online interactive content for his department. He also helped garner approval from the academic senate for most of UCR’s upcoming online curriculum in the spring quarter.

Vahid was asked his thoughts about online education and the possible impact of a faculty-student academic environment. “I and many of my colleagues feel very strongly that there’s no substitute for the in-person interactions that occur between a professor and students. But I [do] feel that these online courses can provide a great option for students in some cases,” he said.

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