Newest, oldest UC campuses team up in technology venture

10 October 2001 | A new technology venture between University of California campuses in Berkeley and Merced is gearing up this year to make the content of Berkeley lower-division computer science courses available online for the first time. The effort is expected to help Merced graduate its first computer science class only two years after the 10th UC campus is slated to open in the San Joaquin Valley, and is one of Berkeley’s most ambitious efforts in educational technology.

The project is being developed by CITRIS, the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society , a partnership of four UC campuses — Merced, Davis and Santa Cruz, with Berkeley taking the lead. The center received its initial state funding this summer from Gov. Gray Davis and the state Legislature.

As interest in distance learning heats up, course offerings at Berkeley’s highly rated computer science department like those of other top universities increasingly have become a target of attention. But until now the department has held off in favor of more proven forms of teaching.

“All this time when people have approached us, we’ve said no,” said Michael Clancy, senior lecturer in computer science at Berkeley. “We didn’t see how even Berkeley’s self-paced courses could just be moved over and plopped down somewhere else, without the infrastructure of graduate students as teaching assistants, experienced instructors, tailoring to suit students, and so forth. We just didn’t think it would work, or be fair to students who had to take the courses. And we didn’t have any way to do the research to see what it would take to make it possible.”

This changed with the governor’s funding of the UC technology-in-the-interest-of-society initiative. The funding will allow Berkeley, the UC system’s oldest campus, and Merced, its newest, to team up and research best practices in online teaching and course creation, while at the same time producing courses that will serve the needs of the San Joaquin Valley community as Merced gears up for instruction.

What has quickly become apparent, say project leaders, is that when it comes to instruction one size does not fit all.

Rather than outright transfer of courses from one campus to another, the group has decided to create new technology that makes it easier to design the right course for Merced out of Berkeley’s core content. In addition to the computer science content, Merced will receive a “course environment” with all the necessary rationale for course design as well as working alternatives to the Berkeley approach. Down the line, such course technology could allow other institutions to tailor a variety of courses based on the Berkeley/Merced model.

“The courses we’re providing are just a tip of the iceberg,” Clancy said. “What we’re really bringing to bear are years and years of Berkeley’s experience teaching computer science. The value added is the rationale behind how the courses are constructed.”

Karen Merritt, director of academic planning for Merced, said that by the time Merced opens in 2004 to serve 1,000 students, these students will expect the opportunity to mix regular classes with technology opportunities.


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