• August 31, 2015

U. of California Considers Online Classes, or Even Degrees

Proposal for virtual courses challenges beliefs about what an elite university is—and isn't

Online education is booming, but not at elite universities—at least not when it comes to courses for credit.

Leaders at the University of California want to break that mold. This fall they hope to put $5-million to $6-million into a pilot project that could clear the way for the system to offer online undergraduate degrees and push distance learning further into the mainstream.

The vision is UC's most ambitious—and controversial—effort to reshape itself after cuts in public financial support have left the esteemed system in crisis.

Supporters of the plan believe online degrees will make money, expand the number of California students who can enroll, and re-establish the system's reputation as an innovator.

"Somebody is going to figure out how to deliver online education for credit and for degrees in the quality sector—i.e., in the elite sector," said Christopher Edley Jr., dean at Berkeley's law school and the plan's most prominent advocate. "I think it ought to be us—not MIT, not Columbia, not Caltech, certainly not Stanford."

But UC's ambitions face a series of obstacles. The system has been slow to adopt online instruction despite its deep connections to Silicon Valley. Professors hold unusually tight control over the curriculum, and many consider online education a poor substitute for direct classroom contact. As a result, courses could take years to gain approval.

The University of California's decision to begin its effort with a pilot research project has also raised eyebrows. The goal is to determine whether online courses can be delivered at selective-research-university standards.

Yet plenty of universities have offered online options for years, and more than 4.6 million students were taking at least one online course during the fall-2008 term, notes A. Frank Mayadas, a senior adviser at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation who is considered one of the fathers of online learning.

"It's like doing experiments to see if the car is really better than the horse in 1925, when everyone else is out there driving cars," he said.

If the project stumbles, it could dilute UC's brand and worsen already testy relations between professors and the system's president, Mark G. Yudof.

As the system studies whether it can offer quality classes online, the bigger question might be this: Is California's flagship university system innovative enough to pull online off?

Going Big

The proposal comes at a key moment for the University of California system, which is in the midst of a wrenching internal discussion about how best to adapt to reduced state support over the long term. Measures to weather its immediate financial crisis, such as reduced enrollment, furloughs for staff and faculty members, and sharply rising tuition, are seen as either temporary or unsustainable.

Administrators hope the online plan will ultimately expand revenue and access for students at the same time. But the plan starts with a relatively modest experiment that aims to create online versions of roughly 25 high-demand lower-level "gateway courses." A preliminary list includes such staples as Calculus 1 and Freshman Composition.

UC hopes to put out a request for proposals in the fall, says Daniel Greenstein, vice provost for academic planning, programs, and coordination. Professors will compete for grants to build the classes, deliver them to students, and participate in evaluating them. Courses might be taught as soon as 2011. So, for a current undergraduate, that could mean the option to choose between online and face-to-face versions of, say, Psychology 1.

The university plans to spend about $250,000 on each course. It hopes to raise the money from external sources like foundations or major donors. Nobody will be required to participate—"that's death," Mr. Greenstein said—and faculty committees at each campus will need to approve each course.

Building a collection of online classes could help alleviate bottlenecks and speed up students' paths to graduation. But supporters hope to use the pilot program to persuade faculty members to back a far-reaching expansion of online instruction that would offer associate degrees entirely online, and, ultimately, a bachelor's degree.

Mr. Edley believes demand for degrees would be "basically unlimited." In a wide-ranging speech at Berkeley last month, Mr. Edley, who is also a top adviser to Mr. Yudof, described how thousands of new students would bring new money to the system and support the hiring of faculty members. In the long term, he said, online degrees could accomplish something bigger: the democratization of access to elite education.

"In a way it's kind of radical—it's kind of destabilizing the mechanisms by which we produce the elite in our society," he told a packed room of staff and faculty members. "If suddenly you're letting a lot of people get access to elite credentials, it's going to be interesting."

'Pie in the Sky'

But even as Mr. Edley spoke, several audience members whispered their disapproval. His eagerness to reshape the university is seen by many faculty members as either naïve or dangerous.

Mr. Edley acknowledges that he gets under people's skin: "I'm not good at doing the faculty politics thing. ... So much of what I'm trying to do they get in the way of."

Suzanne Guerlac, a professor of French at Berkeley, found Mr. Edley's talk "infuriating." Offering full online degrees would undermine the quality of undergraduate instruction, she said, by reducing the opportunity for students to learn directly from research faculty members.

"It's access to what?" asked Ms. Guerlac. "It's not access to UC, and that's got to be made clear."

Kristie A. Boering, an associate professor of chemistry who chairs Berkeley's course-approval committee, said she supported the pilot project. But she rejected arguments from Mr. Edley and others that faculty members are moving too slowly. Claims that online courses could reap profits or match the quality of existing lecture courses must be carefully weighed, she said.

"Anybody who has at least a college degree is going to say, Let's look at the facts. Let's be a little skeptical here," she said. "Because that's a little pie-in-the-sky."

Existing research into the strength of online programs cannot simply be applied to UC, she added, objecting to an oft-cited 2009 U.S. Education Department analysis that reported that "on average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction."

"I'm sorry: I've read that report. It's statistically fuzzy, and there's only something like four courses from a research university," she said. "I don't think that's relevant for us."

But there's also strong enthusiasm among some professors in the system, including those who have taught its existing online classes. One potential benefit is that having online classes could enable the system to use its resources more effectively, freeing up time for faculty research, said Keith R. Williams, a senior lecturer in exercise biology at the Davis campus and chair of the UC Academic Senate's committee on educational policy, who stressed that he was speaking as a faculty member, not on behalf of the Senate. "We're supportive, from the faculty perspective, of looking into this in a more detailed way," he said.

A National Context

While the University of California plans and looks, other public universities have already acted. At the University of Central Florida, for example, more than half of the 53,500 students already take at least one online course each year. Pennsylvania State University, the University of Texas, and the University of Massachusetts all enroll large numbers of online students.

UC itself enrolls tens of thousands of students online each year, but its campuses have mostly limited those courses to graduate and extension programs that fully enrolled undergraduates do not typically take for credit. "Pretty pathetic," is how Mr. Mayadas described California's online efforts. "The UC system has been a zilch."

But the system's proposed focus on for-credit courses for undergraduates actually stands out when compared with other leading institutions like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Yale University. Both have attracted attention for making their course materials available free online, but neither institution offers credit to people who study those materials.

Mr. Mayadas praised UC's online move as a positive step that will "put some heat on the other top universities to re-evaluate what they have or have not done."

Over all, the "quality sector" in higher education has failed "to take its responsibility seriously to expand itself to meet the national need," Mr. Greenstein said, dismissing elites' online offerings as "eye candy."

In what he called a "first-mover problem," elite public universities have resisted following a trend associated with community colleges and for-profit institutions.

"A move online could be seen as an admission that you're moving downscale," he said. "Nobody wants to move downscale in this viciously competitive environment."

But the class of universities moving online is creeping increasingly upscale. In April, Cornell University's online subsidiary—a for-profit venture that began about a decade ago and offers noncredit certificates aimed at professional development—announced that for the first time one of its programs would come with Cornell credits that could be applied to other degrees.

That came as the University of Southern California announced it would create a virtual version of its highly ranked master's program in social work. And Jack Welch, former chief executive of General Electric, hopes to spruce up the for-profit sector with a new online M.B.A. program at Chancellor University.

But these are all niche graduate programs. UC faces a potentially harder challenge in gaining approval for core undergraduate courses.

Even Mr. Edley isn't sure the project can be pulled off.

"What I fear," he said, "is that the coalition of the willing among frontline faculty who would like to pursue this idea will be stopped dead in their tracks by the bureaucracy."


1. arrive2__net - May 10, 2010 at 06:49 pm

If the effort to broaden the appeal and reach of UC through online programs can't be achieved through existing channels they may want to consider establishing a special branch, campus or subsidiary that would be somewhat isolated from the conventional venue. These kinds of models have been applied elsewhere with success. It is funny too see UC people claiming to be above the research findings. Such claims are usually not associated with organizations that are seeking to be among the best in their fields. Maybe UC's role in the future will be diminished by an institutionalized unwillingness to try new venues, or maybe they will be able to keep up a face-to-face only niche at the undergraduate level. It seems to me that the elite, face-to-face niche is always likely to be there, but will it as big as the ambitions of California, and of UC. Whose vision of the future of UC will ultimately win?

Bernard Schuster

2. wilson44691 - May 11, 2010 at 05:58 am

Two delicious quotations here which speak volumes:

"Professors hold unusually tight control over the curriculum."

"Mr. Edley acknowledges that he gets under people's skin: 'I'm not good at doing the faculty politics thing. ... So much of what I'm trying to do they get in the way of.'"

I'm glad I'm not teaching there.

3. ednak - May 11, 2010 at 06:24 am

Univ of California. It can be done...however comma...it can also be a terrifying and mind-numbing disaster. Read this post before assembling your online university:

Founder, ednak

4. nacrandell - May 11, 2010 at 06:58 am

Slippery slope:

1 - Online education does not need to be based on campus, and

2 - Online program can reduce quality perception of school's degree.

5. sgriffith2353 - May 11, 2010 at 07:00 am

Much of this sound like the classic resource rigidity that hobbles much organizational change. At a time when this nation needs to innovate and make high quality education available to more students, it is disturbing to see an institution of the caliber of UC resist disruptive innovation in education. This would be a great opportunity for UC to demonstrate how a high quality education can be delivered through the online mode rather than to hang on to traditional methods. The first institution of quality that can demonstrate they can do it will have a significant competitive advantage in both cost and tuition. The days of many high school students going off to a distant campus may be numbered, at least for those who are not members of the privileged classes. The costs are becoming unsustainable and the assets tied up in dormitories that sit idle for months at a time are a drag on the education system.

6. hepolicy - May 11, 2010 at 07:10 am

Surprised to see such strong enthusiasm from someone (formerly?) connected to the Sloan Foundation. There are several kinds of online courses, with tremendous variance in quality. The University of California seems to be envisioning courses in which there is no contact with a "live" professor. For such courses, UC is right to take a gradual approach that ensures quality is maintained or even enhanced.

UC deserves praise for the thoughtful leadership it has brought to bear on this topic and numerous others connected to collaboration via new technology.

7. amcneece - May 11, 2010 at 07:50 am

In my experience (30 years as a professor, 5 years as a dean) teaching an online course is more labor intensive than teaching a traditional "face to face" classroom course. Talking with each one of approximately 20 faculty who taught online courses in my college, they all agreed that it was "more work." The benefit to the university? It was cheaper - since faculty were paid less for online teaching than for classroom instruction. The UC faculty would be well advised to go slow on this.

8. blue_state_academic - May 11, 2010 at 08:02 am

Oh great -- just one more way to push students at risk of dropping out of the university out.

9. lscoltri - May 11, 2010 at 08:07 am

I have taught online for ten years at a state university. An institution that regards the availability of an online learning platform as a pedagogical option and as a vehicle to allow professors and students to maintain more continuous contact will improve the quality of learning. (I have more contact with my students in online classes than in face to face classes.) Institutions that support intensive student-professor contact (e.g., by paying professors what is demanded by the situation) will have a great chance of providing high quality.

However, an institution that forgets that learning is a journey made by a teacher and learner together will gut its quality as a teaching institution. amcneece has it exactly right - online professors should be supported monetarily with higher salaries than f2f counterparts. Viewing online learning as a money saver is certain to produce disastrous results.

Additionally, we need to remember that some topics can be taught online, and some can't. Without synchronous interaction and close physical proximity, some subjects can't be taught well (let's see ... I teach negotiation and mediation, that's two; acting is probably another; conversational foreign language another, for starters).

For those who recommend high-level technological work-arounds such as videoconferencing, we must remember that some students do not have the financial resources to prepare for them, and that the learning curve required to get students to be proficient in the technology is typically too steep to be workable. Remember that students also struggle with the substantive material in our courses and, in my experience, the added challenge of struggling with technology can often result in failure.

10. don_heller - May 11, 2010 at 08:26 am

All of the discussions about efforts like Jack Welch U., Cornell's post-bacc certificates, and even the Penn State World Campus have little relevance to a decision to put on-line introductory courses for what is a largely a traditional population of 18 year-olds first time college students. Issues of pedagogy and student engagement are entirely different for this population than they are for working adults, or students working on postgraduate studies. Do not conflate the two.

11. htinberg - May 11, 2010 at 09:07 am

Is this reason enough for UC to pursue this path?

By the way, for those who watched Frontline's broadcast "College, Inc.," note that as the "quality sector" turns to online distribution of courses, it may very well take the next step and outsource such online offerings, especially, the "gateway" courses. What happens to "quality" in that scenario?

Howard Tinberg
Professor of English
Bristol Community College
Fall River, MA

12. behaha - May 11, 2010 at 09:35 am

This plans sounds a bit like the railroads carrying the materials used to build the interstate highways: a money-maker in the short-term, but one that eventually destroys its maker.

13. mpressley - May 11, 2010 at 09:51 am

I've been teaching online for about 5 years now. The online courses are different than my on-campus courses. Because of large enrollment in the online courses (typically 60 or so), there's not much interaction. That could be changed by limiting the classes to around 25 and providing additional training and equipment -- difficult in today's economic situation. In the meantime, I believe by having weekly quizzes, and exams that choose questions randomly from the test bank (creating a different exam for each student), the students generally do "learn" more and perform better on exams (than the traditional lecture-memorize-fill out the op-scan sheet style of "teaching"). What my online students don't get is the bulk of the extra material (not in the book) that I bring to the classroom meetings. Also, since I teach in an engaged manner (socratic, participative style) in the classroom, the onliners miss out on that.
We know from educational research that the students retain much more of what they learn for a longer period of time when the engaged method is used. However, my observation is that this is not the common style of learning in the majority of classes in the majority of universities. So if the objective is to increase enrollment and reduce costs using the traditional method of teaching, online is the way to go. If the objective is to improve the quality of education, then faculty need to engage their students more - in the classroom or online. And I'm not sure that you can do that and reduce costs using the online method. At least not with research faculty.
As an aside, my on-campus courses receive far above average student evaluations. My online courses typically receive fairly average evaluations. I might add that neither of the instruments that measure the instructional/instructor quality are valid or reliable.
Also, educational research has shown us that around 60% of the students like engaged learning. The remainder prefer to simply sit and listen. This is another complicating factor in this whole scenario.
You probably think I'm a prof in the school of education. Not so. I'm a prof in the college of business. However, unlike most university profs, I've had a couple of courses in educational theory and practice -- and I research and write in pedagogy.

14. trendisnotdestiny - May 11, 2010 at 09:56 am

It is during times of crisis where certain crucial institutional threads are cut and new ones are woven into the fabric, usually without much discussion and mostly without dissent...

Privatized education via online learning is the new thread; how wonderous it is and it is where things are going.... never stopping to think through this marketing garbage that this fits the larger economic model of fewer liabilities to teachers long term (Cutting costs), curriculum control pushing the neoliberal agenda through academe historic resistance, and creating a whole new market for proprietary specialized online classes marketed to young people as the thing that will help you prepare for the real world jobs out there.....

Ivan Illich's work here is important; the de-skilling of the profession, re-making the threads to gut the public and sell the private... People who are advocating for this type of education are the stakeholders of the status quo or seek to gain from this trend (never fully caring or realizing that their pursuit of profit intrudes in the actual lives of others like coal miners, oil refinery workers, adjuncts, and immigrants.

These threads just cannot be replaced as be expected to hold things together; unless they are engineered to fail and be rebuilt again...

15. mmccross - May 11, 2010 at 09:57 am

The University of Illinois and the University of Texas are elite institutions, in my opinion, and both have had lots of on-line course offerings (including degree programs, such as the MLS at the U of I) for many years. Let's be honest, if UC adopts on-line as the way to go for introductory classes it will be to save money, not to play a leadership role in the development of on-line education.

16. norton95 - May 11, 2010 at 10:07 am

behaha - are you being tongue in cheek? You make it sound like building the interstate system was a bad idea simply because it vastly reduced the need for the railroads. Building the interstate system serves/served many more purposes than putting people to work.

I would hope that no academician would want to be compared to the railroad system that was outdone by a newer and improved transportation system. Using such an example would support the case for online education not negate it.

17. 7738373863 - May 11, 2010 at 10:23 am

A good deal of the resistance at UC--and let's remember,in talking about Berkeley, we are talking about one campus in a ten-campus system--stems from three factors:

1. lack of clarity and transparency at this point as to the role of the UC Extension, which already offers online instruction as an integral part of its curricula;

2. less than full knowledge on the part of most of the faculty about the modalities and delivery systems available and possible--i.e., an inaccurate identification of online instruction as keyboarding in response to cannned material put up on a blinking screen;

3. the perception of considerable additional work required for not much value added--if any is--to the product and/or the brand.

Add to these factors the fear of change in a system already besieged by hefty budget cuts and a lack of trust between the campuses and the central administration, and it is no wonder that tempers are flaring and factions are forming.

Before moving to online instruction, administrators at Berkeley have to convince members of the faculty that online instruction is in their best interests. Yes indeed, the faculty does control the curriculum, as it ought to, except in the case of an emergency such as widespread financial exigency. So if the administration cannot demonstrate to the faculty--by means of expos, symposia, or the like--that it is possible by using some form of online instruction for a superior professor (NOT a contingent faculty member) to deliver a superior course, then the administration ought to back off.

18. ajsilber - May 11, 2010 at 10:39 am

The University of California has it head in the clouds. It is offensive to think that online courses may lack the quality of its campus. I have been a Professor, teaching online for many years and will challenge anyone from this school to take one of my classes and say it is not up to the standards of UC. In addition, they are insane to spend $250,000 to develop an online course. If the infrastructure is in place then the cost factor is a Professor, review Committee and support staff.

Al Silberstein

19. dlwong1 - May 11, 2010 at 10:47 am

The U.C. system should check out the National Center for Academic Transformation work on redesigning courses. They've worked with research one universities as well as with state and community colleges for a number of years and I don't think they spent $250K person course.


David L. Wong

20. 7738373863 - May 11, 2010 at 10:51 am

Last I looked, Al (@ajsilber), Touro University International was _not_ up to the standards of UC. Besides, different brands require different implementation strategies.

21. roro1618 - May 11, 2010 at 10:53 am

I find it amazing that in this day and age, universities are still wondering "should we offer courses online"?? Of course, duh. They are not better or worse, inherently, than face to face, they are just different in some ways. Having taught online at the graduate level for a couple of years, in addition to F2F, I have observed:
1. I get paid more for teaching online because those courses are more labor intensive than F2F
2. I enjoy both teaching methods, albeit in different ways.

Professors who refuse to use technology at all are not helping their students

22. intered - May 11, 2010 at 11:07 am

Steady as she goes UC professorial resistance movement.

Keep temporizing. Continue ignoring the last 50 years of learning and pedagogical sciences. Same with the measurement sciences. Keep right on teaching the way those folks whose pictures hang on your walls taught. Cling to those agrarian calendars (most of your students farm, right?). Don't let anyone accuse the UC system of being innovative.

You do understand, don't you, that no one is standing behind you. Your troglodytic posturing is accomplishing little other than furthering the development and growth of innovators and hastening the demise of the club of Mandarins.

To Mr. Tinburg and others who took Frontline's piece at face value: http://www.intered.com/higheredbriefing/2010/5/6/behind-the-frontline.html

23. intered - May 11, 2010 at 11:15 am

High quality online courses (i.e., exploit modern learning and evaluation sciences to achieve superior outcomes, transferability, and learner satisfaction) can generally be developed for $5,000 or less. The costs start out a little higher as developmental infrastructure is refined and and then falls below this value as the number of courses moves past a dozen or so. Standard development time, including validation cycle: 45 days plus cycle time. If the UC guys manage to make this cost more than $10,000 per course, they are charlatans.

24. mchag12 - May 11, 2010 at 11:31 am

If Mr. Edley, for Cornell for that matter, think that on-line courses are going go give students access to elite degrees,they are in world with different color skies. It will simply diminish the quality and worth of the degree. And if any of them think that parents are going to fork over 40-50,000 at private elite universities so that their children can sit at a computer and listen to a course virtually, they are very, very deluded. All that is happening here is that UC is destroying itself. An elite education is not about listening to lectures, and the idea that it is boggles the mind. This is what is happening in states where the university systems have been destroyed, or are well on their way, like Florida, and one can only hope that students, professors and the citizens of California see this for what it is.

25. staceysimmons - May 11, 2010 at 11:41 am

I have led the effort to expand course offerings into innovative ways in Louisiana, and when DONE RIGHT- and not in the same passive fashion as most CLASSROOMS, online learning can be superior- it can also be radically inferior when done wrong. It is simply different. I still have horses, but I wouldn't ride one to work. Public baths were once a good idea too-- before you had water and drainage systems to and from your house.

26. marvai - May 11, 2010 at 11:54 am

I so agree with the post above. If instructors are openminded and eager to learn a bit online study can be challenging and engaging and, yes, superior in many ways to onsite learning. There are standards that assure that good content will be at least as engaging. But, of course, introduced to those standards and see models of good online teaching.

Marjorie vai

27. pwherry - May 11, 2010 at 12:05 pm

Setting aside for the moment the question of whether online is a good way for UC to grow, they are going about it in the worst possible way. Huge vision, top down, spending lots of money in hopes of making lots of money--those have been, over the last decade, predictors of failure more often than success. I have worked in online education for close to 15 years, some of it at leading public institutions (one mentioned in previous comments here as successful and another cited above as high quality). $250K per course is way, way beyond the point of diminishing returns for course development costs. The low 5-figures is the beginning of the stratosphere . . . unless the finished product is totally canned with extremely high production values. And even then, is that product going to be successful? I believe that a good online course can actually be more engaging for an undergraduate than a course in a 700-seat lecture hall but it may not take a quarter of a million per course to do that.

UC would be better served to create a policy environment that allows for undergrad credit courses to be taught online and to invest enough to make those courses sustainable (development is only the beginning of the cost equation) and then let things develop more organically than try to make a big splash with millions of dollars (Illinois is an instructive example). If they are looking for cost-savings, they might start by asking how online tools can add BOTH efficiency and effectiveness to existing gateway courses rather than assuming that totally online courses are the only solution. And maybe roll the effort out at campuses other than Berkeley to work the kinks out.

Face it: UC is on the trailing edge in the online world. In this budget climate, they can't afford to lose even $5-6 million (I know, that's chump change in their overall budget, but still). Not to mention the opportunity cost of all the person-hours such a project will consume. What other ends could be served by those dollars and human resources? What will UC NOT be able to do because of the resources tied up in this mega project? I believe online courses can, in the long run, be positive for UC both financially and in terms of reputation. But this high dollar/high visibility approach is misguided. There are cheaper and easier ways to get to the same result, but they require patience, learning from the successes AND failures of others, and letting people with relevant experience play a major role.

28. intered - May 11, 2010 at 12:24 pm

'mchag12' typifies the awareness of many online-o-phobes when he says, "An elite education is not about listening to lectures, and the idea that it is boggles the mind."

First, we must set aside the 1910 notion that the proper developmental model for higher education is "elite education." 'mchag12' fails to appreciate the profound changes that have taken place in what there is to mean by higher education. The once small market occupied by the smart and the rich now consists of dozens of separate markets of varying degrees of commonality, each operating to different goals with different inputs. There are still "elite" markets but UC does not serve any more than its share of them and, together, they are the smallest of the extant market types.

The erroneous notion that online education consists of listening to lectures (presumably reading them as well) is as understandable as it is misinformed. So much online education today consists of shoehorning the pedagogically inferior "lecture/notes/MC-test" model of common to the traditional classroom into the Procrustean bed of a virtual environment. This model is inferior on ground and it is inferior online.

We need not focus on 2010 to see superior online higher education. In the early 2000's a consortium of business school including Chicago, London School of Economics, Columbia, and Stanford collaborated with leading instructional design and pedagogical experts (some of them clearly of genius stature) to create an online MBA the courses of which were vastly superior to most on-ground courses offered anywhere. Indeed, one would be fortunate in any top business school to have a single course as rich, interactive, intellectually demanding, and informed by world-class experts as was virtually every course in this online curriculum. While modern learning sciences played a major role in making this curriculum superior, it was also so because of the engineered collaboration of so many different schools. Collaboration is a skill in short supply among many in the professoriate. They would prefer to hold their curriculum -- such as it is -- close to the vest, away from scrutiny and evaluation, which would often find it inferior. This particular consortium didn't go very far but the failure was not remotely connected to the quality of the curriculum. Since that time, a few other best-in-class online programs have replaced it.

Let's be clear. If UC drops this ball, no one should allow them to use "quality" as a shibboleth. Such claims are without foundation or proof. The real reasons are fear of change, stubborn self-interest, and arrogance. This will be unfortunate because UC has the potential to contribute to the advancement of quality and use in online education. -- Robert W Tucker

29. amnirov - May 11, 2010 at 01:32 pm

The antediluvian bug eyed monsters opposing this will retire soon enough. They will be quickly forgotten and their idiotic works undone. Power to UC for truly coming up with a venture to bring the elite experience to everyone.

30. louisie - May 11, 2010 at 01:35 pm

@hepolicy - Sloan has spent a big chunk of change in the past few years supporting and encouraging HE development online - one of their latest big pushes has been their "Emerging Technologies for Online Learning" programs. Not at all surprising to me.

What about the Univ. of Illinois' huge failure to jumpstart its online univeristy (Illinois Global Campus or something like that?)? I don't remember all of the details but I think they lost several millions on a failed online-university program. Josh Keller and Marc Parry should search the CHE's archives - I believe someone wrote something up about it in the last 2 years.

31. history_grrrl - May 11, 2010 at 02:10 pm

Leaving aside for the moment the pedagogical advantages or disadvantages of online courses (though I realize this is a matter of utmost importance), I fail to understand how online courses are supposed to save money. If I teach online instead of in-person courses, I will certainly expect to be paid at least what I am currently paid to teach only in-person courses -- and perhaps more since, it seems to me, much more work will be involved. Where are the savings? Or is it simply that the university can rake in more tuition dollars without having to provide housing, classroom space, student services, or other resources to online students?

It's clear that, during a budget crisis, the proponents of online teaching present their preferences as a financial solution, but I haven't heard them explain precisely how this solves a university's financial problems. I'd like to hear that explanation.

32. sages - May 11, 2010 at 02:19 pm

@intered: Have you actually seen the online courses you talk about? What is the basis for "...the courses of which were vastly superior to most on-ground courses offered anywhere?" I suspect this may be just parroting of the glossy brochures these schools produced (I remember having read some of this exact language in the Economist where LSE advertised...).

33. amy_l - May 11, 2010 at 02:35 pm

I am also unclear on where the cost savings are supposed to come from. I teach writing-intensive courses, and the only way to maintain the quality of the teaching is to continue to provide detailed feedback on each individual's essays. Thus, there's an upper limit on how many students can be enrolled in a class, whether it's taught online or in person. So if the enrollment will be the same (ideally 25 students for a writing-intensive class), and the professor's salary will be the same, where's the savings? Yeah, we don't need a room with a/c or heating. But surely the infrastructure required for delivering online classes is plenty expensive. Am I missing something?

34. chad1 - May 11, 2010 at 02:54 pm

The University of Illinois "Global Campus" initiative was a massive failure because immediate past president Joe White, who was effectively fired for allowing excessive political influence in admissions decisions, failed to obtain faculty buy-in. When he proceeded without support, an enraged faculty refused to design or offer sufficient numbers of classes. Over $10 million was wasted, and over 100 highly-qualified persons hired to provide day-to-day management and servicing of the program were terminated. The existing on line programs at Illinois are primarily the work of the faculty at the small Springfield campus -- and even there a majority of faculty members look down their noses at colleagues who teach classes that way. Faculty at the Urbana and Chicago campuses are distinctly unenthusiastic. The reported comments of the UC President and faculty activists do not give me confidence that UC will experience a different result. This is unfortunate, because the educational product can be outstanding. The stillborn Illinois Global Campus had all the markings of a great educational offering. It failed solely because White had a tin ear when it came to listening to internal political advisors. The failure was so severe that if White had not been fired for the admissions scandal, he may have been required to leave because of the Global Campus result.

35. 22286593 - May 11, 2010 at 03:13 pm

Well, it looks like it's time for Chris Edley to go back to Harvard Law School--unless we read that Harvard Law School has also decided to make its first year law school curriculum online.

As Edley's former student Barack Obama would say, "LISTEN," the academic content for these classes are already online, and it has been available in books for centuries. The idea of good higher education is that students learn through structured inter-personal exchange and interaction. If everyone can obtain elite education simply through being exposed to information, why everyone right this minute should have Ph.D.s in whatever field of their choosing--after all, World Wide Web has been in existence for over a decade!

36. intered - May 11, 2010 at 03:14 pm


Yes, I reviewed most of these courses in great detail. As one small example, I recall a "hands on" slider manipulating price elasticity relations and, depending on the user inputs, queuing specific questions about the relations. As some point in the experimentation, an icon appeared to invite observing a world class economist's thoughts on the relations among the variables. The "talking head" part was unnecessary but not intrusive. The next step was then to socialize these constructs with one's horizontal learning team, including requirements to gather and analyze converging and diverging examples, and brief the other learning teams on the findings and generalizations. All of this was evaluated for process (vertical and horizontal) and outcome Keep in mind, that this was one small segment (one container) in one workshop.

On balance, I have seen most of what online higher education has to offer and this was clearly among the best. That said, there is no reason, short of the cloistered way we insist on working, that this could not be replicated and surpassed today. Only the Mandarin culture is holding us back.

I missed your "LSE" reference.

37. pjacobelli - May 11, 2010 at 03:14 pm

Wow. I think I am feeling a little dizzy. After reading both the article and many of the comments one might easily be forgiven if one thought that we didn't have fifteen years worth of writings on the subject to refer to when making these sorts of decisions.

I am also struck by the price-tag. An earlier poster thought that a price of $5-$10K per course was all that was needed. I think closer to $10K is about right - maybe another $5K each if you want to juice it up with some custom multimedia. If UC plans to spend $5-6M on a pilot then please, please, please tell me where this vendors can sign up.

38. 11272784 - May 11, 2010 at 04:00 pm

It's reinforcing to know that the mighty U of CA system thinks it's more elite than Stanford. Everyone should have a lot of self-confidence.

It'a also reinforcing to see them coming around to the conclusion that online education might work. We've been doing distance ed since 1967, and online since 1998. This may be some indication that their faculty are ready to trade in their typewriters for these newfangled things called computers.

Why, in 10 or 20 years they might even have a degree online - after the current faculty members retire and some who understand online education take their places.

39. 11272784 - May 11, 2010 at 04:02 pm

FYI...We've never spent ofer $10,000 to develop an online course, and we've eveloped many of them for $5,000 per course. if you have an instructional design team on campus and faculty will use them, you shouldn't have to spend the kind of money they're talking about.

40. ausgezeichnet - May 11, 2010 at 04:33 pm

First off, online learning takes place everyday at every UC campus. There is virtually no UC professor who does not use online learning tools. The proposal is not whether to go online, but whether to create a standardized "brand name" package that can be sold at large, to replace the unique, dialogic exchanges of the seminar and small lecture class. Whether standardization and quality go together remains an open question.

Second, of course faculty retain a tight control over their syllabi. At cutting edge institutions there is cutting edge teaching. That teaching is creative, it involves virtually unique and often exceptionally innovative ways of combining texts, documents, images, formulae and putting them into transmissible form. Any professor with any integrity is going to put her stamp on the material and it's not just a case of filling in blanks. If you think there isn't a difference between the course offerings at top UC campuses and the run-of-the-mill competition, just compare their listings and look at the faculty profiles. Edley's proposal would replace that high-quality and unique pedagogy with interchangable generic brands. Who would be the losers?

Third, it's very strange that the UC faculty, who have created one of the unmitigated success stories of public education through their creativity, brilliance and commitment to teaching and research are suddenly being cast as troglodytes because they are urging care, consultation, and thoughtfulness in the face of an admininstration that has consistently expressed little more than contempt for their expertise and commmitment. UCOP loves it when faculty win famous prizes, but can't be bothered to check in with them and listen when a new gadget comes along. It's quite remarkable, though not unexpected.

Fourth, here's a multiple choice test. On the one hand, we have a world-class faculty that has stayed at UC despite, for most professors, opportunities and offers to teach elsewhere (and despite subpar salaries) and that has demonstrated exceptional commmitment to the quality of the institution--including taking time from our own work to try to work with the Administration, speak with the Legislature, etc. over the past year. On the other hand, we have a top-down president and his deputies, who have mismanaged the funding process, resisted transparency, and are now openly contemptuous of the traditions of faculty consultation and dialogue that have made UC the envy of the world. Which side do you think has the best interest of the students in mind?

41. roro1618 - May 11, 2010 at 05:01 pm

In my institution, professors develop their own online courses and, if it's an overload, receive extra compensation for doing so. Second, the "talking head" concept of online education is so 1990's. I teach my classes with a mixture of Live Classroom (with classes archived so students can review the content later), as well as asynchronously. Again, these dinosaurs who still cling to their chalkboard and typewriters amaze me. I guess we should not have cars either, and stayed with the horse and buggy.

42. wmartin46 - May 11, 2010 at 05:46 pm

Good discussion on this topic ..

A couple folks suggested that "equipment" might be an issue and/or that interactivity with students was a problem. Instant Messenger can help. And .. Skype has just announced that it is in Beta for Video Conferencing software:


Various articles about this service suggests that they may want to charge for it at some time .. but it's free at the moment.

I have used the Skype VoIP conference call capability with a couple of friends in China and there was a distracting hum on the line frequently. It couldn't hurt to experiment with this software and see how it works.

Even if Skype is not the right package, there are a growing number on the market now. No reason not to utilize this software if you can.

43. anonscribe - May 11, 2010 at 06:26 pm

@ausgezeichnet - you seem like the only reasonable person in this discussion.

online courses are new, so they must be better! or not. what's up with all the technophiles blindly placing all their faith in exclusive online instruction saving the world of higher education? people seem to be locked into the absurd notion that we're choosing between fancy, high-tech online courses and ox cart lecture courses where an 80 year-old mumbles something off a piece of paper for three hours. ridiculous.

I teach composition at a UC (save the snarky grammar comments...strangely enough, I don't proofread my comment posts on websites). Every single day, I have the computer projector and Doc Cam on in my classroom. At a moment's notice, and in response to student questions or mood, I may throw up a YouTube video explaining something they're having trouble with, a clip from Frontline, a library database so they can see how to research, a visual breakdown of the parts of an essay, etc. And, everything I look up in class--with a bunch of other stuff--is on my Blackboard site for them to access at any point. They email me, I grade assignments online, I require blog posts and discussion posts, etc.

By holding classes online, a student doesn't GAIN all these multimedia and internet elements. They already have those in most undergrad courses at a UC. All they do is LOSE the ability to bring their paper up to me after class or in office hours, where I go over it with them line-by-line, explaining mechanical problems, pointing out structural improvements, or suggesting new lines of thought. The also lose the ability to socialize in an emotionally fulfilling way with their fellow students and the bright faculty they have the pleasure to know for a few years (and whom they do generally come to know as upperclassmen).

Further, if I have to hold office hours through webcam, record lectures and upload them, etc., then at what point is it just flipping easier for everyone involved to attend multimedia/online-enhanced campus courses instead of trying to turn a liberal arts education into Grand Theft Auto - The Yale Years?

At best, this provides a second-best option for students unable, for often unfortunate reasons, to attend a college campus.

44. intered - May 11, 2010 at 07:03 pm

The classroom processes some of you attribute to yourself make you positive outliers among those who teach on ground or online. While it is encouraging to hear, you may be more rare than you think. Suggestion: put yourself in a position to review a random selection of a few dozen online only courses (suitable filtered for FERPA, etc.). Come back and tell us what you see and then let's have this discussion. I have done this more-or-less continuously since 1989 as part of guidance provided to universities. You will see how common it is that instructors paste in the same comment with respect to every student's paper and leave student inquiries unanswered or answered too late to be of help. You will see the absence of structured authentic activity (horizontal or vertical). You will see the near-exclusive reliance on activities that consist of "read this, write that" and other flaccid or irresponsible behaviors for which individuals were compensated as "professors." These are the mainstream occurrences that masquerade as online teaching across the nation. Yes, many online instructors bring to the online environment what you have created in your on ground environment, but the aggregate numbers appear to be small and there are no requirements to do so or metrics or oversight to see that the few requirements that are in place (e.g., respond to students within 24 hours) are adhered to. Another form of evidence for these generalizations, in addition to two decade's of observation, can be found in the development calendars of the platform providers. Their sequence of module development for the past 15 years shows little demand for the advanced pedagogical features the online environment is capable of delivering. Even now, they have difficulty selling features beyond the basics. Instruction by PowerPoint still dominates the practice.

Anonscribe, while I do not disagree with much of what you say, your comment: "All they do is LOSE the ability to bring their paper up to me after class or in office hours, where I go over it with them line-by-line, explaining mechanical problems, pointing out structural improvements, or suggesting new lines of thought. The also lose the ability to socialize in an emotionally fulfilling way with their fellow students and the bright faculty they have the pleasure to know . . . " only shows how limited is your perspective on the potential of online instruction. If you have the opportunity to see someone teach well online, you will retract these claims.

45. pedelson - May 11, 2010 at 09:42 pm

My recommendations to UC:

1. start small
2. look at what others have done with respect to online courses in the various content areas under discussion
3. view online learning as another option for students- not as a replacement for existing methods
4. don't expect to "make money"
5. think incentives for faculty

Good luck.

46. neoconned - May 12, 2010 at 01:43 am

funny. let's bring the 'elite experience' to everyone. and then we can give everyone a million dollars and we'll all be millionaires and we'll all be rich ... right?
of course the online degrees will be easy to spot because they'll be holograms, while the in-class ones will be printed on paper....

47. fergbutt - May 12, 2010 at 04:18 am

Not much here about how UC found itself in crisis: A state budget run amuck with social welfare and undocumented workers. California is the nation's best example of how socialism can make America as unsuccessful as European nations teetering on the brink. But, hey, let's bring on the VAT, which solved England's problems years ago.

48. mbelvadi - May 12, 2010 at 07:24 am

I have two concerns about online courses, and they both relate to the difference between what supposedly a course requires of its students when looked at from the outside (eg someone analyzing the syllabus or even online course materials) and what happens in reality when the course "runs".
The first is student cheating. This is a really hard thing to study because of course the students do everything they can to hide it, including from researchers, but is there any really solid research into whether the rate of cheating (plagiarism, inappropriate collaboration on online exams etc.) is higher online than face-to-face? I would expect it would be natural for many people to find it easier to cheat in a class where you never have to look the prof in the eye. I think there's a lot of research about lying and fraud generally in the psych literature that would support this expectation.
The second is faculty watering down of standards post-syllabus creation, like when it comes time to grade work submitted. Again relating to the psych lit regarding how we behave when we actually face someone, I would think faculty would find strong if subtle pressure to grade a bit easier, because frankly, is it worth fighting with a grade-grubber whom you've never met, who looks to turn it into a protracted battle that, being conducted asynchronously, will take up far more of your time than a face-to-face discussion would do, and force you to create what might be an uncomfortable digital "paper trail" defending your grading standards?

The only measure I can imagine being valid to determine if either of these phenomena are taking place is external standardized testing, like GRE scores, to measure ultimate learning outcomes, but such comparisons would have to be done very carefully across institutions. Is there any such research?

49. miriamr38 - May 12, 2010 at 10:17 am

I've taught writing classes face-to-face and online, so let me address some of the concerns found in this discussion.
In regard to student access, I was able to give more specific, detailed comments on student writing. These comments guided their revisions, which I expected to be submitted. Thus, I was able to provide more individualized instruction to overcome their writing weaknesses!

In online classes, I am able to check for plagiarism in less than a minute, simply by cutting a suspect passage and pasting it into google, resulting in instant recognition of copying because most of student content is based on material readily available from online sources! "Turn it in" and other plagiarism "detective" software is also available.

In addition, I spoke personally with students on the phone at their convenience as well as my own. Phone conferences allowed me further personal contact in contrast to the very few students who showed up during my regularly scheduled office hours.

Let's not forget the non-teaching hours I spent outside of the classroom-driving 45 minutes to and from the college, and creating and copying handouts.

When the courses are designed and technically usable, it is my preferred method of teaching writing!

50. intered - May 12, 2010 at 10:55 am


You raise standard old, sometimes legitimate, issues in education, K-16 and beyond. Aside from the syntactical denotations, none of your assertions apply uniquely or even especially to online education, with one exception.

The implication of your phrase, "grade-grubber whom you've never met . . ." suggests that you believe the online environment is less personal and that there are fewer and less meaningful affective connections in online space than in the physical classroom. The only thing you convey in this belief is that you have absolutely no experience in online education. Hopefully, you will not now anonymously regale us with your "experiences." Those who have material experience in online education know better. In 1989, I observed strength of the interpersonal affective connections and strong intra-group commitments of the first eight online graduates of one university. The graduates had convened, physically, for the first time for a special graduation ceremony. None of them had ever seen each other. These students, and their instructors, demonstrated great personal and professional knowledge of each other and displayed strong emotional bonds, all of which was in excess of what one ordinarily sees in a physical classroom where it is not uncommon to pass through with no knowledge about one's fellow students. There were many tears. There were deep discussions pertaining to family, academic, and work issues. There were no barriers between students and instructors in these discussions. Read the literature 'mbelvadi', if you are inclined to inform yourself, affective learning and connections tend to be stronger in online education.

Nothing personal 'mbelvadi' but, as others have said here, it is difficult to believe that we are having this discussion in 2010. One year after the DoEd issued the most recent report suggesting that, if anything, online education tends to achieve superior learning outcomes. Is it not your professional responsibility to read the research that has been accumulating for the last two decades?

These kinds of discussions are further evidence that higher education places dead last in the metrics of innovation. We diffuse innovation at rates slower than the funeral industry.

51. patyson - May 12, 2010 at 02:28 pm

The quality of learning depends on the professor and the tools that he/she utilizes to teach a course. Both my husband and I recently completed online degrees (one at a state university, the other at a private, not-for-profit university) and I can say that the faculty at my institution were much more engaging, henceforth, more effective than those at my husband's institution. More web-based tools were used throughout my program and my classes were smaller allowing for a great deal of interaction amongst students and the professor. Most of his courses I would consider basic "correspondence courses" that remind me of the online driving school course I took last week (pointless).
If schools are going to offer online programs, they must invest heavily in training and preparing the professors to offer a solid educational experience at a distance utilizing the numerous technological tools that are available today. I am not sure how much that would cost, but 250k per course seems a little steep...

52. unemployedacademic - May 12, 2010 at 05:04 pm

Peole like Robert Tucker of InterEd frequently tout recent advancess in pedagogy, especially when they involve expensive technology. (Tucker takes his sales pitch to an extreme by attacking academics for being "mandarins" who resist progress.) Yet, I have never seen these pedagogy pundits address what seem to me to be the core problems with their wares:

1) Tucker and others frequently compare online pedagogy and its results to large-lecture formats. This seems to me to be a straw-man argument. Why should faculties pour their energies into developing online courses rather than fighting for a simple reduction in all class sizes so that intense, meaningful discussion can take place in all classes? As far as I know, human neurophysiology has not undergone a radical change in several millenia. Is there any reason to think that online courses do more than mitigate some of the damage from the inequitable distribution of resources in our society?

2) It is the radical capitalists who run our society and institutions of higher ed, not the professoriate, who have clamored for larger class sizes. How will Tucker and the proponents of online education guarantee that trustees and administrators will not demand that instructors teach the same, large numbers of students in online classes, which, by most accounts, require more work? In other words, how will they ensure that the bosses do not speed up the line?

3) What is the moral case for externalizing the cost of the educational infrastructure to the students (they have to learn somewhere), who are already suffering under tremendous financial burdens as a result of previous rounds of privatization?

4) Why should faculty become complicit in supporting the unreasonable expectation that the average student should be able to work a full-time job (which increasingly requires more than 40 hours per week to keep) or several part-time jobs and also study in the wee hours? Is it pedagogically more effective to direct our energies toward making the Horatio Alger ideal the average experience of being a student, or toward fighting for higher wages and reduced working hours so that full-time students can focus on being students?

5) Can Tucker, et al. guarantee that the radical capitalists who currently run institutions of higher ed will not exploit the brands that the minority of tenured and tenure-track faculty create by 'offshoring' online instruction to India or similar places where there is a smart, educated population willing to work on the cheap? To be clear, I am not only concerned with the fate of the faculty stakeholders. I am also concerned with the ill effects inherent in this sort of bait-and-switch. If universities want to trumpet the quality of their foreign-based faculty, that is one thing. Using the tenured and tenure-track faculty as a facade to hide a different faculty (as many institutions already do with their contingent workforce) is something else.

6) Do the gains Tucker and others attribute to newer pedagogical methods consist of better results in short-term, easily quantifiable tests, or have they been seen in sophisticated, decades-long studies?

53. intered - May 12, 2010 at 05:54 pm

To correct an erroneous assumption on the part of 'unemployedacademic' with respect to my post:

I offered my thoughts as a passionate advocate for progress in higher education. InterEd (nor I personally or as an employee) neither touts nor offers any technology in any form. In fact, we make it quite clear that we accept no considerations from technology vendors or from any other kind of vendor. 'unemployedacademic' would benefit from learning to read more carefully.

A few other points, keyed to 'unemployedacademic's' outline:

1. Most studies show the sweet spot of convergence for online classroom size to be around 15 students, exceptions of course.

6. The accretion of scientific understanding, followed by its application and feedback to further advance scientific understanding, means that the juries are always "out" in these matters. However, there is good evidence that conservatively sound learning and measurement sciences have been largely ignored by a large proportion of the professoriate in favor of the 100 year old "listen to me talk, read this, take this (invalid) test" model. There is very good evidence suggesting that the transferability of learning outcomes achieved via authentic activities and authentic assessments is much higher than with traditional (100 year old) teaching methods. There is growing data suggesting that online learning outcomes are equivalent or superior to on ground learning outcomes, CP. (See the Department of Education's latest report.)

Three of the other four points are more irrational ranting about "radical capitalists" than answerable questions. Point #3 grossly misunderstands the financial and economic issues beyond what can be responded to here.

54. trendisnotdestiny - May 13, 2010 at 04:21 pm

Unemployed academic--- thank you for the information and voice you brought to this discussion... it was high time

55. trendisnotdestiny - May 13, 2010 at 04:34 pm

Intered: Sweet spot of convergence????

Robert --- I feel like I have heard this before this with Ed Yingling and the credit card industry now this is higher education.

15 or 30 students (it doesn't matter how it starts or the snapshot of your sweet spot) what matters resides in the actual lived experiences of people and their development... the market will not make our students any better educated just as high frequency trading by large banking firms does not make our economy any more stable (however each makes representational claims otherwise)... This is where win-win becomes win-maybe and eventually overtime win-lose.... So your advocacy is one of a stakeholder; by owning this then your claims are less authentic..

Growing data claims of online learning.... hmmmm funded and research by who??? Any stakeholders like yourself or are we selling neutrality while pushing a privatized agenda all the while claiming that 'radicalized capitalists' arguments grossly exaggerate the political discussion....

56. intered - May 13, 2010 at 05:58 pm

The online programs we have worked with have averaged 12-16 for more than a decade. The trend was downward from higher numbers before that. Gradually, operational experts who gained deep expertise, came to see that academic, operational and other types of problems increased disproportionately as class size increased. Those who have expertise in these areas understand this and have for some time. There are exceptions, one of the most notable being Harvard where I attended an online "class" with more than 2,000 other students. I was told that if I paid an extra fee a TA would grade my work. The laws of the universe are not operative there.

Separately, your philosophical position that stakeholder positions enjoy diminish authenticity is brittle and will not withstand a variety of tests of adequacy.

57. trendisnotdestiny - May 13, 2010 at 06:28 pm

typo: "by not owning this".... brittle yes but reconcilable

Robert, you use the world expert or expertise 3 times in a sentence. I am not making representation claims, these are my interpretations. As you can my typo confuses, but I would listen to your position with much more intensity if you were able to embrace your stakeholding position and discuss openly how you stand to benefit before spewing an agenda of experts... As we all know, those in power legitimize who are experts and who are the ill-informed. (See Arnie Duncan)... While I readily admit to not being an expert in any way this does give you license to diminish my ability to understand.

In fact, when combining this penchant to assert your insider expert knowledges with your unwillingess to address how this actually affects people in their lives, it makes me that the only failed tests of inadequacy involve engaging people where they are located in this discussion....

It seems we are missing each other. Sweet spot of convergence: how does this relate to people and their lived experiences? Not markets, but real people struggling with this economy....

58. ctcboard - May 14, 2010 at 12:24 am

An Open Blog Post to the University of California System and the Chronicle: http://blog.elearning.sbctc.edu/2010/05/uc-considers-online-classes-or-even.html

59. christopherdean - May 14, 2010 at 12:28 am

Interesting that I, a person who has taught online, gets to find out that the courses I teach in Writing are going to "go online" from the Chronicle, rather than UC administrators themselves. This is sadly typical of how the UC works--coming up with grand ideas and implementing them regardless of the reality on the ground.

The reality on the ground is that the UC, like most university systems, is being cut to the bone, and, as our students see classes disappear, watch tuition go up 30% in one year, and witness their teachers furloughed or laid off, the UC powers that be are offering up $250,000 grants for the creation of online courses. In my program we have given up phones, but the office of the UC President thinks it is wise to throw money at creating online courses right at this very moment.

There is an enormous disconnect between what administrators at the Office of the President see as important and what students, faculty, and staff at the UCs see as important. Of course it plays out here in online instruction.

The sad part is that I actually have taught an online writing course for the UC and for UC credit; I even enjoyed the experience quite a bit. I taught two classes (an online and a face-to-face class) twice. As a teacher, my experience was that I invested 2xs as much time working in my online course, particularly since it was a writing course in which I could only communicate via writing to my students. My students seemed to like the experience, and they seemed to do well affectively and academically.

I will say this however, there is no way that going online will save the UC money in the way that they think it will. At my UC we have a computer system and IT professionals that are stretched to the breaking point. It will require money to make sure that our computer backbone doesn't break. It will also require oodles of money to support teachers and students who will have to learn how to learn and teach online.

Finally, I wonder why the UC thinks it is well-positioned to lead in this area. As someone pointed out earlier, the UC has done little in the area of online instruction to date. The UC is late to the party, and, as far as the UC Office of the President is concerned, I'm not sure that they could--given a GPS, clear directions, and guide--find the party anyway.

60. ljmonahan - May 16, 2010 at 06:15 pm

The article starts by saying "Leaders at the UC..." I can't blame people for believing that this is something UC stands for, given that the Chronicle reported it as such. It's simply not true. The proposal that has been put forward and is being considered by campuses at this moment is simply a proposal, and not a particularly popular one at that.

The putative "leaders" backing this grand proposal are never named, and this is certainly not a done deal as the article implies. Why is there widespread resistance to on-line teaching at UC (pesky faculty, if only we didn't have to deal with them, always killing pedagogical innovation and research at research institutions... if only the administrators who never teach could make all the decisions! Wouldn't life be grand!?)? Edley's comment says it all -- his plan is to remove more pesky faculty obstacles from his Dreamproject of turning UC into the University of Phoenix. How many of you would like to claim that's where you got your credentials!? The fact is that many faculty -- myself included -- are very enthusiastic about expanding classroom teaching to include on-line materials and instruction. The key word is *expanding* teaching opportunities rather than *eliminating* teaching positions. Because there are endless variations among disciplines, students, and learning techniques, the one-size-fits all approach is completely stupid. You don't need an online course to figure that out. What this system-wide pilot project fails to mention is that none of the UC campuses are connected by standard instructional on-line services, and that the cost and time involved transforming the system to adequately handle such a plan is prohibitively expensive in the land of budget deficits and meager government support. Furthermore, with the exception of some MBA programs, exclusive on-line instruction is not cost-effective nor is it particularly outstanding in terms of its pedagogical results, compared with classroom teaching. Mr. Edley has seen the reports from special committee devoted to investigating this question and yet he seems unable to absorb the contents. I'm not sure why anyone who thinks that "throughput" is an appropriate operating word for pedagogical policy (it's a favorite among "UC leaders!") should be granted any legitimacy in the Chronicle. Universities are not sausage factories! I, for one, would like to hear the names of those "UC Leaders" who are pretending that this is a done deal. It is not by accident that nobody is willing to take responsibility for this "breaking news" to the press. Adminstrators -- particularly those who have never taught anything but courses in professional schools -- think they know best how to teach hundreds of undergraduate students every year. So much for the value one places on expertise and intelligence -- these types *always* kill "innovation," don't they? Why bother sending students to university at all, if that's the case!?

The Chronicle should have done a lot more investigating before it started replicating sound bites from unnamed leaders who have no clue about implementing technology or teaching undergraduates. What happened to journalism?

61. earthscienceprof - May 19, 2010 at 03:07 pm

I am a retired UCSB prof. I taught a large (100-600) student oceanography class for about 25 years. I spend the last 6 years of my career developing online technology for my students. By effectively using the technology, I could assign auto-graded homework problems, and peer reviewed writing assignments that used Earth data. I did lecture, and was a passable, but not charismatic lecturer. Students learned the most from the writing activities and I could see that in exam performance.

The size of the class meant that it had many similarities to a "distance learning" class. There was little student interaction during lectures, but lab sections, taught by TA's had rich interactions between the TA and students, and was very supportive of student learning.

Here are some recommendations an items that I learned, or suspect are true, based on my experience:
1) Unless the lecturer is truly inspiring, a video lecture might be as effective. Most faculty who lecture to large classes find that attendance can drop to as low as 50% as the quarter drags on. Apparently these students aren't finding the lecture worth attending.
2) Early focus on online classes should be in the large, general education classes, but these should not replace an option for students to take a live class. This will attract some of the better students into the major.
3) Lab sections are a problem, but online bulletin boards, live chat, and peer graded online assignments can be very effective. They can also consume large amounts of faculty time.
4) Making a quality online class will be much more difficult and time-consuming than most teachers think. Experts with online experience, and technology expertise will probably be needed. Student learning goals need to be explicit and detailed.
5) Partnering with faculty from a school of education, where the evaluation of student learning is a focus, is important.
6) Rewards for faculty for creating online classes need to be addressed. Creating a quality online class will take away from their normal research.
7) Collaborations and sharing between faculty (including between campuses) to create online courses, could be very productive. Education specialists need to be involved.

Those are my ideas.

62. joncrispin - May 25, 2010 at 12:59 pm

I find it odd that several of the positions on here revolve around the notion that faculty must be convinced this is in THEIR best interest. Who is the consumer or customer here? Shouldn't the question be what's in the best interest for the student as it relates to the institutions stated mission?


63. trendisnotdestiny - May 25, 2010 at 05:45 pm


First, the consumer-customer model is a business dyad not an educational one (even though we all would like to be more expert than student in most things)... truth be told, education is a lifelong process not some content to be delivered by an educational sales agent into the student as receptacle...

Second, what is in the best interests of students is up for debate and is usually the mouthpiece of those who have most power to make decisions... but watch for the dissonance between real lived experiences and what you are sold....

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