Cal State moving to offer online science labs
California State University is moving aggressively to offer web-based science labs, a systemwide virtual campus and online advising as remedies for “bottlenecks” that impede student progress and graduation rates, officials said Tuesday. Some of these efforts will be ready to roll out this fall.
The detailed strategies were presented in a meeting of the Cal State Board of Trustees in Long Beach as a response to Gov. Jerry Brown’s call for the Cal State and University of California systems to improve student performance in exchange for long-term funding increases.
Brown’s 2013-14 budget provides $125 million in new funding each for the two systems, including $10 million each to boost online learning and develop other technologies to help students attain degrees faster.
Cal State Chancellor Timothy P. White has also committed an additional $7.2 million to support the system’s Graduation Initiative, launched in 2009 with a goal of improving the six-year graduation rate for freshmen by 8%.
White said that campuses will adopt solutions depending on their needs. He also acknowledged concerns of some faculty and others that online education is not suited for all students or courses.
“It’s a very exciting time, but not without controversy,” White said. “We have to be nuanced when thinking about innovations ... You may have a bottleneck at campus X but not the same issues at campus Y. So when we set out systemwide initiatives, we have to recognize the [differences] across campuses.”
Currently, Cal State graduates just over 50% of its students in six years. By 2015, that rate is expected to increase to 54%. Many schools and the federal government use the six-year rate. The governor wants both UC and Cal State to focus more on four-year rates, which he has said should be “the norm.”
But there are a number of obstacles, including limited facilities with well-equipped labs that slow down students majoring in the sciences, math, engineering and technology.
If a campus provided more labs online, officials said, additional sections could be added to increase capacity.
Cal State already has an online lab program which uses 3-D technology and simulations that replicate a physical laboratory as much as possible. Those courses will be ramped up beginning this fall and will include more faculty training.
Another bottleneck is created when students, because of geographic limitations, are unable to enroll in a course that isn’t offered at their home campus. Cal State is working to make 24 high-demand courses available online for any student at its 23 campuses.
The list of systemwide courses would be available in the summer and is expected to grow. Campuses offering the courses would get extra funding to meet demand for new sections.
Officials are also working to redesign some courses with new instructional approaches, reducing the need for students to repeat them without compromising academic standards. About one-third of current courses are estimated to be composed of repeat students hoping for a grade of C or better to complete requirements for their major.
Examples of the high-demand, low-success courses include general education biology and chemistry, college algebra and statistics, micro and macro economics, psychology and American government/politics.
Cal State will also boost online advising, tutoring and collaboration with other online providers that would be available for students 24/7.
Campuses will submit proposals for redesigned courses that could be expanded and offered to students systemwide for review this summer.
Collaboration will be instrumental to the success of the new strategies, said trustee Bernadette Cheyne, who represents faculty.
“I appreciated how many times I heard the word faculty when talking about these new initiatives being pursued,” Cheyne said. “Especially with the tight timeline, I hope faculty will remain at the heart of new policies.”
Concerns about the online push have been raised by some professors who fear that faculty will not be consulted, that positions and departments will be dismantled and that the educational experience for students in subjects such as the humanities will suffer.
The online proposals do not require a vote of the trustees. On Tuesday, a committee discussed the matter; the full board is set to hear a report on Wednesday.
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