Asimov, N. (2010) UC regents endorse test of online instruction San Francisco Chronicle, July 15

The University of California Board of Regents have agreed to the university developing a fully online undergraduate degree program, and endorsed a pilot program to test it. One regent said: ‘UC has the brainpower – and the motives – to develop the nation’s first highly selective, Web-based degree program for undergraduates. The university expects to raise $6 million in private donations so faculty can begin designing dozens of rigorous online classes this fall.

UC already has 1,250 courses online which  Christopher Edley,UC Berkeley Law School Dean and leader of the plan, called a ‘starting point’ for a more sophisticated “high-touch” approach that will give students easier access to instructors and classmates. “It’s not where you stick a couple of camcorders in the lecture hall,” Edley said. “We’re talking about high production values. Discussions in desktop video conferencing. Chat rooms and discussion boards. We’d use social-networking software that I’d say our students are already addicted to.”

Comment Why do I have concerns about this? Surely it’s a great idea for a high-status public university system such as the University of California to offer a full undergraduate program fully online. (I am assuming that this will be in addition to the regular campus-based classroom programs).

However, do I detect a note of hubris here, an attempt to re-invent the wheel? I’m all for institutions looking at new designs for online learning, and there is plenty of scope to move away from learning management systems to web 2.0 tools, for instance. My fear though from the very brief information available from press interviews with Edley is that there is a danger that design will be based on replicating classroom teaching at a distance (discussions in desktop video-conferencing) rather than re-designing from scratch, but using now well established design principles for online learning.

In particular, to what extent will UC use asynchronous learning? Do they have a business plan (other than raising endowment money)? Are they hiring instructional designers and web/media support staff? How will they provide academic and administrative support to online learners? Will this be extra load for faculty or part of regular load? Will faculty receive appropriate training for designing and teaching online courses? Do they have a detailed plan? How will this be managed? And will it be geared mainly to traditional freshmen student straight from high school, or will it be focused more on lifelong learners? Only when these questions are answered will it be possible to judge whether this is a good idea or a desperate, ill-informed attempt to deal with a crushing budget deficit (or maybe both).


  1. You ask a lot of good questions here. I find it encouraging that a big name like the University of California would endorse the new wave of online learning. However, I agree with your comment: How will they provide academic and administrative support to online learners?

    I recently wrote an article, albeit brief, detailing what the best online universities have to offer for their students. It is informed from a student standpoint, but answers roughly, what the administrators at UC should be asking.

    Have a good day!


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