The Senate Source

June 2013

Online Learning Technology Initiative Taps Faculty Expertise

A new systemwide initiative seeks to tap existing UC faculty expertise to develop an array of credit-bearing online and hybrid courses over the next three years, using an anticipated $10 million in annual funding set aside in the Governor’s UC budget for new online learning technologies.

The Academic Senate and the UC Administration have been working together since the January release of the Governor’s budget to develop the UC Innovative Learning Technology Initiative (ILTI). Earlier this spring, UCOP received 120 Letters of Intent from faculty interested in developing online courses with the funding. In mid-April, two systemwide working meetings brought over 200 faculty, administrators, and students together to discuss goals for and concerns about online teaching and learning, and infrastructure needs. These discussions informed next steps toward a formal RFP for courses to be developed as part of the project. Senate Vice Chair Bill Jacob chaired the northern meeting session in Oakland and Senate Chair Powell and Provost Aimée Dorr chaired a southern session in Irvine. A third meeting on May 4 synthesized information gathered in April and discussed next steps for an RFP that will be issued to faculty in June.

Vice Chair Jacob says the Initiative has been structured as a faculty-led effort to ensure that the courses benefit UC matriculated students, primarily undergraduates. Although the Governor’s budget language specifies that the courses are to be offered to UC students, the Senate is concerned that funding could be diverted to implement the proposed SB 520, which would require UC, CSU and the Community Colleges to offer courses to students across all segments and to enter into partnership with for-profit private online providers.

“The Initiative demonstrates UC’s strong interest in using the funding in accordance with the Governor’s plan but ensuring the Senate retains full control of the process,” said Jacob. “The Senate will play a critical role in the evaluation of the proposals, in the ongoing assurances of course quality, and in developing a robust mechanism for approving the courses for prerequisite and general education credit.”

Some of the online/hybrid courses will be newly created for the ILTI. Others will come from revising existing undergraduate online courses so that they meet ILTI criteria. The Initiative will also address new infrastructure that can facilitate cross-campus enrollment by UC students and a systemwide database that will list campus-based online courses that have been approved for systemwide enrollment. Assuming funding materializes, the first call for ILTI proposals will be released in mid-June.

Senate Chair Powell views the ILTI as a clear alternative to SB 520. “The program will deliver quality online instruction, in many different forms, to our matriculated students,” he said. “The faculty have a much better sense about what high quality courses are and what our students need than legislators who are getting their information from lobbyists and private sector providers of MOOCs that do not have quality as their first priority.”

UCOP submitted an outline for the use of funding to the Department of Finance and governor’s office in early May. The LAO and the Assembly and Senate budget committees will also review the documents as they discuss enabling legislation and the final budget.

“It is unclear at this time the extent to which the legislature or the Governor’s office may try to influence the program,” says Jacob. “But too much intervention or any pressure to engage the for-profit sector could turn the ILTI plans upside-down and collapse the project. The Senate hopes for a successful outcome, but is willing to recommend that UC walk away if legislation passes that would diminish faculty control of curriculum and instruction.”