Davis Faculty Association

Cyber-higher-ed

by Charles P. Nash

For a variety of reasons—political, economic, demographic and intellectual—educational technology is impacting higher education at an accelerating rate.  In this short article, about all  that can be accomplished is a  momentary snapshot of things that might  interest/impact the UC faculty. We invite further discussion at  our Forum  on April 16.

It is not news to you that on a proportional basis, state funding for  higher education has been decreasing nationwide nor   that in the next decade student demand in California is projected to  increase substantially.  Given the difficulty in getting our Legislators  even to permit the electorate to consider an educational facilities bond  issue, let alone pass one, it could be very tempting to offer more and  more education via cyberspace rather than build the physical facilities that otherwise would be required to accommodate our needs.

The Western Governors University, a move in exactly this direction, is said to be just about ready for test-firing.  WGU has been spawned by a  consortium of 16 states and the Territory of Guam—everything west of the  Rockies omitting California, along with North Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma  and Texas.

It plans to open on April 1, with about 125 courses listed in its on-line catalog.  It will begin by offering AA degrees in general studies and in  electronic manufacturing technologies.  The first students will likely pay fees to the institutions that are providing the actual coursework, at costs ranging from $75-$400 per course.  The issues WGU face are ones that would seem to apply to all such off-campus ventures: curriculum,  assessment of student performance, advising/mentoring, and perhaps most importantly, accreditation.  A very good article discussing WGU appeared  in the Winter, 1998 issue of “Crosstalk,”  published by the Higher Education  Policy Institute.  It concludes with the observation that “What ever happens, WGU has advanced the discussion about non-traditional forms of higher education by ten years.” (To learn more about the WGU you could contact the  HEPI by e-mail at center@highereducation.org and ask for a copy of the  Winter, 1998 “Crosstalk.”)

Governor Wilson chose not to have this state participate in the WGU, and instead, issued an executive order in April of 1997 establishing the  California Virtual University.  At the moment, the CVU exists as a Web site (www.california.edu) which lists the online offerings of every accredited college and university in the state.  UC lists more than 350 extension  courses offered by the 9 campuses, but no “traditional” courses from any of the campuses.  In contrast, CSU and the Community Colleges list  hundreds of them.  The Governor’s 1998-99 UC budget proposal contains  a $1M item for the development of courses for the CVU.  It also provides  $4M for instructional technology, $32M for instructional computing, and  $3M to begin the creation of the California Digital Library.

A status report on the tenth campus, UC Merced, described it as  “a residential campus model, which will be the hub of the teaching, research, and public service activities and the home of faculty, students, and staff. This hub will, however, have the potential to provide educational programming throughout the Valley through a judicious combination of technologically-assisted instruction and on-site learning.” There are rumblings that a California Research Network plan is to lay fiber optic cable connecting the UC campuses, Cal Tech, and Stanford.

In the Fall quarter of 1997 the College of Letters and Science at UCLA began to implement its Instructional Enhancement Initiative.  At a cost  of $2.4M funded by course materials fees for College courses of either $2.50/unit in the humanities and social sciences or $3.50/unit in the  life and physical sciences, this initiative when fully developed will support UCLA’s  undergraduates with: (a) a web site for every  undergraduate course in the College; (b) communications links for every web site leading to Virtual Office Hours or other devices to supplement face-to-face contact between students and instructors; and (c) improved computer labs.

Last fall, instructors were required at a minimum to post on the UCLA  Web site the catalog description for their courses, the time and place  of lectures, and the course syllabus or outline.  Many instructors went well beyond these minimum requirements, posting their reading assignments, lecture notes, old exams, etc.  This information is  readily available to anyone with an Internet connection, and a fair number   of UCLA’s faculty are receiving queries about the intimate  details of their courses from all over the world.

A realization that absent sophisticated safeguards anything posted on  the web is up for grabs and gratis, is beginning to generate concern  about the intellectual property rights that individuals might have vis-a-vis material promulgated in this manner.  As we understand it, attempts to resolve copyright issues have been tabled or delayed at UC because they are both complex and controversial.  In the past,  copyright–the ownership of the expression of one’s ideas–has always  been understood to reside with the individual faculty member, not the  university.  The university does, however, own the patent rights to  patentable discoveries made using university facilities and/or resources,  with any resulting revenues being shared between the institution and the  creator(s) according to published policies.

With cyberinstruction, there is real money to be made out there—but by whom?  Duke University offers an $85,000 MBA program (the Fuqua School  of Business’s Global MBA) comprising 15 required on-line courses, a 2-3  week residency in Europe, South America or Asia, and one semester’s  residence in Durham, NC. The University of Phoenix offers a $20,000 MBA  program with no residency requirement at all.

Closer to home, UCLA Extension has a 32-page contractual agreement with  The Home Education Network (THEN) which makes THEN the owner of all right, title and interest, including without limitation the copyright, in and to all recordings of UNEX classes produced by or for THEN.

To the after-the-fact dismay of many of them, UCLA’s UNEX instructors  are required to grant UNEX the sole, exclusive and irrevocable right  under copyright and otherwise to make, produce and copyright (by any  means whatever, present or future) recordings of all UNEX classes taught  by said instructors, including those transmitted by live simulcast or  other electronic means.  They are also required to grant UNEX the unlimited right to vary, alter, modify, add to or delete from, and  rearrange the content of the resulting recordings.

The Agreement also states that: “The parties contemplate that the relationship with THEN may extend to other University of California campuses.  THEN agrees that the participation of other…campuses as well as other academic units in this project will be coordinated by UNEX….An appropriate share of the revenues otherwise payable to UNEX for any UC courses shall be distributed proportionately to the participating University of California Campus or other academic unit of UCLA.”

Finally, many of our readers are generally aware of the agreement currently  being negotiated between the CSU system and four corporations—GTE, Fujita,  Hughes Electronics and Microsoft—that would lead to the formation of a for-profit corporation to create and administer the technology  infrastructure for the entire 23-campus CSU system for a 10 year period.   This was once on a fast-track, due for consideration by the CSU  governing board in January, but expressions of concern from many quarters  has led to its postponement until May at the earliest.

In the latest version we have seen, the agreement stipulates that in  return for $300M up-front money, the corporation would have the exclusive  right to supply hardware, software and networking products to students,  faculty, staff and alumni of all the campuses in the system.  The projected  revenues are $3.8 billion over the lifetime of the agreement, with projected profits of $241M to be shared among the private and public sector partners.   We plan to track this proposal from CSU as closely as we can because our  two systems often serve as models for the conduct of public higher education  throughout the nation.

We welcome any questions or comments you might have.

This entry was posted on Monday, April 27th, 1998 at 11:36 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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