UC officials meet, eye online expansion

yamaro@mercedsunstar.comJanuary 16, 2013 

The University of California's Board of Regents on Wednesday discussed the need to take advantage of the latest technology to expand online education in a changing world.

"It's no secret that UC has hit a wall with regard to traditional instructional methods," UC President Mark Yudof said Wednesday during the meeting. "(Gov. Jerry Brown) recognizes the reality of our situation: The finances simply no longer exist to support the old model of instruction in the same ways."

Yudof said he has a number of initiatives he plans to pursue in the coming months, including an incentive program to encourage faculty to create more online courses.

Online education is not new for the UC system. Online courses have been offered through University Extension and UC Online Education, and the system itself already offers several high- demand courses for undergraduate students.

"I view this as an opportunity to serve more Californians," said Yudof during a regents meeting at the UCSF Mission Bay campus in San Francisco.

Brown, who attended the regents meeting Wednesday, recommended that the UC system put more emphasis on online education to help save money and increase education access. He allocated the UC $10 million for online education in his budget proposal.

Expanding access

UC officials will begin to explore ways to expand what is available online, said Shelly Meron, spokeswoman for the UC Office of the President.

Such ways could include expanding access, giving students more flexibility to take courses they need to graduate and increasing their ability to take more courses at different UC campuses through cross- campus enrollment.

Officials say they will explore the possibility of working with the private sector. Representatives from three different organizations that partner with colleges and universities to deliver online instruction gave presentations to the UC Board of Regents.

UC Provost Aimee Dorr will attend future regents meetings to update them on the effort, and Yudof is planning a systemwide spring meeting to see what can be done to further the project.

In 2011, the UC system launched an online instruction pilot project and began offering online courses early last year.

Officials said the main purpose was to find out what works and what doesn't, as well as to determine whether it's possible to provide online courses of the same quality as those taught in the classroom.

J. Michael Thompson, assistant vice chancellor for enrollment management at UC Merced, said the university was the first campus to offer an online course established by UC Online Education and the online instruction project.

UC Merced last spring offered an introductory math course online as part of the UC systemwide pilot project.

The "hybrid" course consisted of online lectures and in-person discussion, Thompson said.

Usually about 600 students would be able to take the course, but last fall more than 700 students were able to enroll, he said. "This allows us to maximize our offerings to students," Thompson said, adding that was a positive step given UC Merced's shortage of space.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who attended Wednesday's meeting, encouraged the UC system to take advantage of technology to pursue online options. "You can't educate this next generation like we were educated," he said.

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or yamaro@mercedsunstar.com.

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