The California Virtual University
The Academic Senate, along with representatives from the Chancellors Office, University of California, California State University, and other public and private education institutions in California, is part of Governor Pete Wilson's design team for the California Virtual University (CVU). The design team is charged with proposing to the governor a blueprint for serving the needs of California students and employers through emerging technology-enhanced educational programs and distance education. The faculty of California's community colleges and their Academic Senate support efforts designed to expand educational opportunities to all students in our state and nation and to utilize more effectively new technologies (e.g., the Internet). We therefore support Governor Wilson's initiative to create a virtual university. At the same time, California faculty have some concerns about distance education generally and Governor Wilson's initiative in particular, concerns that the Academic Senate will address as a member of the CVU design team.
The idea for a CVU arose from Governor Wilson's decision not to participate in the Western Governor's University, a consortium of colleges and universities throughout our neighboring states. Rather, Governor Wilson chose to showcase California's premiere higher education institutions by creating an alternative program headed by Joe Rodota, the Governor's deputy chief of staff. Unlike the Western Governor's University, which is intended to be an accredited, degree granting institution, the CVU is being promoted as a brokerage house, a clearinghouse of information for prospective students and employers. Interested persons will be able to log-on to the Internet and receive information on those colleges and universities in California that offer distance education classes. A pilot website on the Internet has been created and can now be viewed at http://www.vudesign.ca.gov/Default.htm. The Academic Senate of California Community Colleges is committed to both the success of the CVU as well as its academic and professional integrity. The Senate's Mission and Academic Policy committee, working with President Bill Scroggins and the Technology Committee, has identified several concerns about the CVU. Among our principal concerns are accreditation, articulation, course and program development and delivery, technological infrastructure, student support services, and fees and cost recovery.
Each college or university that offers courses through the CVU will be responsible for granting credit and ensuring academic standards. However, community colleges are subject to numerous regulations, restrictions, and procedures in approving distance education classes, some of which are contrary to the spirit of the CVU. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges, for instance, has different definitions and standards for courses offered at a distance than those offered in a traditional lecture/discussion format. The WASC requires colleges to seek separate approval for distance ed courses. Similarly, Title 5 requires colleges to have a separate review process for their distance education courses. Title 5 also requires community colleges to have significant face-to-face contact between students and faculty in all distance education classes, a requirement that is contrary to the spirit of the CVU. To assist faculty in navigating these complex and contradictory requirements and to develop new offerings, the Academic Senate has adopted guidelines for the curriculum committee approval of technology mediated classes. The Academic Senate also resolved at its Fall 1997 Plenary Session to seek repeal of the face-to-face requirement. The Academic Senate will also press the CVU design team to confront and resolve the many issues surrounding accreditation so that community colleges will not be disadvantaged in the provision of distance education offerings.
For community college students to benefit from a virtual education, they must be able to plan a course of study with some assurance that classes taken through the CVU must be fully accepted by our transfer institutions. At present, community colleges have received no assurances from UC, CSU, or private universities that CVU courses taken at participating campuses will articulate. Indeed, community colleges already have serious, unresolved articulation problems with more traditional instructional delivery methods. Project ASSIST may offer one solution to difficulties faced by our students in making important decisions about course selection in the absence of adequate articulation agreements. While this data base has greatly improved, students have no assurances that ASSIST will be hot-linked to the CVU website and thus enable them to determine whether their proposed program will really be articulated with transfer institutions. Our public and private sister institutions, as well as the CVU design team, need to resolve this issue.
Course and Program Development and Delivery
Few community colleges in California are equipped to deliver courses utilizing this new technology. And relatively few faculty have been trained to prepare classes that effectively utilize this technology. Courses designed and tested for a classroom setting may not easily be delivered at a distance, where the student has a greater independence and burden for self-directed learning. Colleges have provided few incentives and little support to help faculty convert courses for distance delivery. Neither the governor nor the design team nor the Chancellor's Office has identified funding support to promote adequate curriculum and faculty development in these areas.
Most community colleges also lack the physical infrastructure to deliver courses at a distance. The Telecommunications and Technology Infrastructure Initiative is a step in the right direction and the necessary backbone is beginning to appear. But many colleges are not ready to participate fully in the CVU. Hardware for communication lines and servers need to be available to support this effort. Technical support must be adequate to maintain this equipment. We need to be sure that this infrastructure is robust enough on each of our campuses to ensure that they will support the delivery method consistently.
Student Support Services
Counseling, financial aid, library resources, and tutors are essential for most community college students. The CVU design team has yet to resolve the problem of access to such services for students served at a distance. Indeed, technology mediated instruction may be simpler to deliver than technology mediated student services. California community colleges should not have to sacrifice their historic mission as open admission educational institutions in order to participate in the CVU. But unless the unique needs of our diverse student body are recognized and addressed, we may be forced to forgo participation.
Fees and Cost Recovery
Distance education may be a better way to teach some students, but it is not a cheaper way to teach. Particularly if the requirement of effective studentteacher contact is fulfilled, class sizes may have to be smaller for courses delivered at a distance compared with more traditional classroom methods. Faculty across the state are already swapping stories about the avalanche of email received from their traditional students. Certainly, the current structure of FTE funding for community colleges may not allow those institutions to capture fully the additional costs (new technology, faculty development, additional faculty load) associated with technology mediated instruction. The CVU design team has yet to address issues of apportionment and instructor load/compensation, issues that may prove critical to the initiative's success.
These are just a few of the issues that are unresolved as of this writing. Other matters include: what information must be posted on the CVU home page and which must be on the college home page? Who will post this information? Who will keep it current? How will the campus curriculum committee play a role in maintaining the quality and integrity of these offerings? As the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges and its representatives on the design team grapple with these questions, we urge local academic senates to take a proactive and cautious role in their campuses participation in the CVU, until these issues are more fully addressed. We must not compromise the integrity of our programs or colleges in an attempt to meet a politically determined time-line.
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