The University of California is calling on interested faculty to take part in a two-year, intensive examination of whether online undergraduate instruction can be offered on its campuses at a UC-quality level.

In a November 1 letter, the UC Office of the President announced that as many as 25 for-credit courses will be taught in the Online Pilot Project, with the first courses expected to be offered by January 2012. Faculty from all 10 UC campuses are invited to submit letters of intent by Dec. 13 detailing what course they propose to develop and teach.

At every juncture of the project, the faculty will be centrally involved. Initially, an interdisciplinary committee will review faculty letters of intent and make recommendations to the UC Office of the President on which proposals should move forward to the planning phase. In this phase, faculty will give crucial input on the development of course design principles, the online learning environment and the project’s evaluation framework. The challenge for these participants will include trying to identify what are key ingredients of “UC quality” and what measurements should be used to gauge how much students learn in a course.

At the end of the planning phase, a request for full proposals will be issued in March 2011 to continue to the implementation phase of the project, and the deadline for submission will be April 2011. In the implementation phase, faculty and project staff will work closely to develop, deliver and evaluate the online courses.

It is expected all the courses — from a wide array of disciplines — will have been taught at least once before the project ends in December 2012. The project is an outgrowth of work by the UC Commission on the Future, which has explored ways the university can best serve California while at the same time maintaining access, quality and affordability in an era of reduced resources. In addition, an Academic Senate committee on online education recommended that the university look into online instruction’s potential at the undergraduate level.

At UC, some online instruction is already available: About 1,200 fully online courses were offered through the UC Extension programs in 2009-10, and numerous undergraduate and graduate courses were also offered. While the vast majority of the extension courses offer transferrable credit, few have UC credit. This pilot project seeks to use existing faculty expertise as a base from which to launch an examination of whether UC-credit, online undergraduate courses can be offered across the board in a wide array of disciplines at a level worthy of a highly selective research university such as UC.

This study of undergraduate online instruction comes at a time when the university, hemmed in by budget reductions, is faced with rising enrollment pressures and limited capital funds for facility expansion.

If the pilot project is successful, online instruction could be expanded in the future. Any expansion of online offerings would require approval from the existing faculty-led course review process.

Those wishing more information can view the project’s website.


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