With a $748,000 grant awarded to the UC system, UC Davis will be offering as many as six new online courses by Winter 2012.
The Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) program gave UC the grant on April 7, allowing the university to further develop its UC Online Instruction Pilot Program (OIPP). The grant was provided through the NGLC by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlitt Foundation.
“This project could really benefit UC Davis students in a number of ways. There’s a convenience factor in this,” said UC spokesperson Do Quyen Tran-Taylor. “Right now students are saying that there are difficulties getting classes, or some of the classes are larger than they’d like or expect them to be. This project might be a way of alleviating some of those concerns that students have.”
With online instruction there are more options to take classes anytime, anywhere. The higher availability of courses has the potential to shorten the amount of time to obtain a degree, Tran-Taylor said, especially for courses that are normally only offered during specific quarters.
Along with the $748,000 in grant funding, UC is also seeking an internal loan and external funding to pay for the expenses of the project. On average, each course is expected to cost $75,000, although the exact cost of each online class is highly variable.
All nine undergraduate UC campuses should expect to see more online courses over the 2011-2012 academic year. And although UC Davis shouldn’t expect to see its first courses until Winter 2012, there is the possibility that one or two could be available by Fall 2011.
Keith Williams, senior lecturer at UC Davis’ department of neurobiology, physiology and behavior, was essential in launching the OIPP in 2010. The OIPP isn’t necessarily designed to save money, Williams said. It’s designed to help students earn their degrees more efficiently by providing them with the classes they need to graduate.
“We put an emphasis on instructor presence in the courses,” Williams said. “It’s not like you go and sign-in for an online course and it’s just a series of things you do on the web and then never get interaction with the instructor at all. It’s designed to keep students involved.”
If the OIPP is successful, the number of online courses available will increase. If additional funding becomes available there could be a request for additional course proposals from professors for the 2012-2013 academic year, which could bring the total number of classes up to as high as 50, said Kirk Alexander, program manager of Academic Technology Services, in an e-mail interview.
The classes that will be offered at UC Davis are all lower division courses. Professor Robert Blake is developing online Elementary Spanish courses Spanish 2V and 3V; Professor Arnold Bloom is working on Science and Society 25: Global Climate Change: Convergence of Biological, Geophysical and Social Sciences; Professor Carey James is developing Science and Society 7: Terrorism and War; Professor Roger McDonald is designing Neubiology, Physiology and Behavior 15: The Physiology of Aging; Professor Andrew Waldron is developing Mathematics 22A: Linear Algebra and Carl Whithaus is collaborating with UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara to develop University Writing Program 1: Expository Writing.
“OIPP is an exciting and timely project,” said Whithaus in an e-mail interview. “The $748,000 grant from the Gates Foundation is providing support for developing innovative ways of delivering high quality writing instruction. Working across campuses, the consortium of UCD, UCI and UCSB writing programs demonstrates what I see as a strength of the UCs cross campus collaboration in teaching as well as in research.”
Bloom’s Global Climate Change will be available in both online and face-to-face versions. Both courses will use the same textbook and website, make use of exams, quizzes and assignments and require virtual tours of green industries.
However, the online version will feature five 20-minute video segments each week. The face-to-face version will feature two 50-minute lectures per week. Students in the face-to-face version will be able to access the 20-minute videos as a supplement to the 50-minute lectures.
Each version of the course will feature mandatory discussions. The in-class course will have normal in-person discussions, while the online courses will feature “webinar” discussions this will require students to have high-speed Internet connections and a computer with a webcam and microphone.
Students in both versions of the class will take exams in-person at certified testing facilities.
“These courses will provide information on how students learn most readily and what technological tools aid them the most in their learning process,” Bloom said in an e-mail interview. “They will generate much needed data contrasting online and face-to-face learning. Clearly some learning exercises may work better face-to-face than online and vice-versa, and we will modify the two versions of the course to accommodate the strengths of their learning environment.”
Waldron’s Linear Algebra course is a collaboration with graduate student teaching assistants and other professors and will not be a fully online course. Instead, it will feature the use of online tools specifically online lecture notes in place of a course textbook and online homework assignments to improve students’ learning.
“I think this is a fabulous and potentially transformative project,” he said in an e-mail interview.
For more information about OIPP, visit groups.ischool.berkeley.edu/onlineeducation/home.
TRISHA PERKINS can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.