UC Berkeley faculty petition against online education bill

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More than 1,600 people have signed an online petition expressing “deep concerns” about a California State Senate bill requiring the state’s schools to award credit for approved online courses.

SB 520, authored by Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, would require the UC, CSU and community college systems to award credit to students who pass online courses, like those offered by Coursera and Udacity. The petition, sponsored by the UC Berkeley Faculty Association, expresses concern that the bill will fail to accomplish its objectives of increasing accessibility to higher education and reducing the high costs of education.

“This bill will lower academic standards (particularly in key skills such as writing, math, and basic analysis), augment the educational divide along socioeconomic lines, and diminish the ability for underrepresented minorities to excel in higher education,” the petition reads.

Steinberg could not be reached for comment on the petition.

The Berkeley Faculty Association started the petition late March and sent a copy of the petition to Steinberg last week.

“Last fall, 80 percent of the state’s 112 community college campuses reported waitlists for classes,” Steinberg said in a statement. “On average, that equates to about 7,000 enrolled students forced onto a waitlist at each campus. The need for this online lifeline for students is critical.”

But Philip Stark, a signatory of the petition and a UC Berkeley professor of statistics, disagrees.

“I have taught hybrid courses, large for-credit online courses, and a (massively open online course) with about 52,000 students,” Stark said in a comment on the petition. “It is quite difficult to approach the pedagogical quality of a good face-to-face course with an online course. If there are to be UC-quality online courses, they likely will come from UC and from its peer institutions, not from just any commercial provider.”

Other faculty groups, like the UC Academic Senate, have also published statements against SB 520. On March 15, the Academic Senate signed an open letter to its members expressing concern that the bill was written without consulting faculty.

Jacob Brown is the lead higher education reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @jacobebrown.