By Nanette Asimov
The University of California is testing a new system that for the first time will let undergraduates register for online courses at any UC campus without putting pen to paper.
“Until the pilot began, the only available process (for cross-campus enrollment) involved print forms and approvals and manual entry of information into campus records systems,” according to a progress report on UC’s online education that was scheduled to be presented to the regents Wednesday at their meeting in San Francisco.
UC officials hope the simpler system will inspire new interest in online courses among students and faculty — something the university has hoped to do for years.
During the recession, UC envisioned high-end cybercourses as moneymakers, hoping the paying public also would leap to participate. But UC unveiled the program just as other elite universities began offering such courses for free, and the idea faded fast.
More recently, at the urging of Gov. Jerry Brown, UC has eyed online courses as a way to ease logjams in popular, overcrowded courses. Brown especially likes the possibility that online courses could save UC — and the state — money on overhead.
Now, facilitating cross-campus registration is a step in that direction. If, for example, students are shut out of Psychology 101 on one campus, they could enroll in an equivalent online course through whichever campus offers it — a cheaper option than offering another course section on one campus.
“This will make it easier for everyone so a given campus won’t have to have four course sections running simultaneously,” said Provost Aimeé Dorr, who will update the regents.
The pilot program is expected to include 21 online courses developed by UC faculty. Just 11 are ready to go. UC isn’t saying how many students have signed up yet because registration isn’t officially closed yet.
While students say they approve of simplifying the process for cross-campus enrollment, many have concerns about ramping up online instruction at UC, said Kareem Aref, a junior at UC Riverside and president of the systemwide UC Student Association.
“I haven’t taken an online course, but I’ve spoken with many students who have, and they give them mixed reviews,” Aref said. “The worry is that we’re going to replace class discussions with an out-of-class, online experience — and that’s not the UC experience. We place a high level of value in being able to interact with professors and fellow students, and that can’t be replicated with just an online class and a book.
“I could be taking an (online) class at Berkeley, but in reality I’m essentially taking a class alone.”
— Reach Nanette Asimov at firstname.lastname@example.org