Young, J. (2010) U. of California Considers Online Classes, or Even Degrees Chronicle of Higher Education, May 9
This is a strange article that discusses the reluctance of faculty at the University of California to consider fully online undergraduate programs, although these are seen as one way for the system to cope with severe budget cuts. There are several strange things about this article:
- the idea that moving programs online will save money/increase revenues. Whether or not this happens will depend on many variables, not least the business model that is adopted. However, it appears that this proposal is not part of any coherent strategic plan or overall financial strategy, but comes mainly from one senior professor with the Chancellor’s ear pushing for more online programs
- the idea of starting with first year ‘gateway’ courses such as Calculus 1. This assumes that students will have the independent learning skills needed to succeed at studying fully online. My experience suggests that this is the wrong place to start, and that students need to be gradually introduced to online study – and Calculus in particular is a tough place to start. (However, they might want to take a look at Virginia Tech’s Math Emporium – but it’s not a distance program)
- the suggestion that nothing will happen unless faculty approve and agree. This is like asking everyone on the Titanic to agree on whether the lifeboats should be used as it’s sinking. If U of C is in such a financial hole that it cannot continue with the same model, then a new model becomes essential. I am not arguing that this has to be online education, but if it was decided that it was, then everyone should try to make it work.
- the failure of opponents to online learning to give due weight to research in this area. It appears any academic can believe what they like when it comes to their own teaching. No-one seems to be paying any attention to the conditions under which online learning works best. Do the research, guys.
- and lastly, the reporter, Jeffrey Young, does not do a good job of placing this in the wider context of e-learning and online learning. For instance, a more compelling argument for U of C would be to move gradually into hybrid learning for undergraduate students, with perhaps more online distance learning in the final year, but this is not discussed – it’s either face-to-face teaching or distance, which is a false dichotomy.
- the seems to be a solution (online learning) linked to a problem (no money) without a clear rationale or explanation as to how it’s going to solve the problem.
When I finished reading this article, I wasn’t sure I was living in the same world as the academics and administrators at the University of California. I think they should get out more (or maybe I should). Or maybe it’s just a bad article.