Joining the growing number of other nationally ranked universities that offer online courses, the UC system is beginning to offer online courses to UC students through UC Online Education (UCOE).
In its first year, UCOE enrolled over 1,700 students.
In 2011-12 UC campuses offered over 2,500 online courses, with more than 90,000 enrolled students, according to an online item of discussion at the Tuesday UC Board of Regents meeting.
Other universities, such as Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have also implemented online courses, known as massive open online courses (MOOCs). Although MOOCs are free, they provide no course credit. UCOE differs in that all the courses offer credits to both UC and non-UC students.
UCOE is free for students who are already attending a UC; non-UC students, however, must pay a fee.
“One of the things we hope is that it will be another source of funding to the university,” said Keith Williams, UCOE interim director.
Williams also added that it will be useful for high school students or community college students who are looking for courses they can get credit for.
Some are skeptical of the lack of information about how exactly the system will receive additional funding.
UC Student Regent Jonathan Stein said he sees the merits of implementing online courses, but would like to see an improved plan of how it will help the UC make money.
“We don’t know how online classes for UC students will save us money and we have no idea how potential classes for non-UC students will make us money,” Stein said.
James Carey, professor and director in the department of entomology who will have an online course this spring, explains the UCOE to be “online done right.”
“It is not about putting a camera in front of a podium and saying that’s an online course,” he said.
Carey says that one of the many benefits is that online courses are helpful for non-native English speakers, students with learning disabilities or students who merely want to review the material again. Also, since everything is done online, instructors are able to see how long a student is taking on a particular problem and evaluate how the class is doing.
Currently, there is no easy way for cross-campus enrollment between the different online courses, but UCOE is developing a system that would provide students with this option.
“UC online focus is really on UC students, better access to classes and more flexibility,” said UC media specialist Shelly Meron.
Moreover, Carey explains that the online courses are not only beneficial to students, but that the instructors also have much to gain from online instruction.
“The preparation, the thinking more deeply about how the content is delivered online — how you assess content and so forth, makes you a better instructor,” Carey said.
Carey said he is sure that in the future, online courses will appeal to all students.
“Every student at the University of California, and in the country, is going to experience online courses. This is absolutely the future, there is no question,” he said.
Ten campuses have currently completed plans or are in the process of developing plans for online education.
SASHA COTTERELL can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.