Illustration by Caetano Santos
Illustration by Caetano Santos

Ever fall off the class attendance horse and use eCommons to get back on? Thanks to the energy surrounding online education, millions worldwide can use the internet to get on in the first place.

UC Santa Cruz is now one player in a wave of universities offering a selection of classes online — for free. Coursera, a for-profit online education platform listed UCSC alongside 28 new partner schools, doubling the number of schools as the Silicon Valley-based startup approaches its first anniversary.

Chancellor George Blumenthal said offering courses, free of up-front charges, to anybody with an internet connection is in line with the democratization of education that UCSC supports.

Three classes currently under development — C++ programming, The Holocaust and Children Acquiring Literacy Naturally — will be available by this summer, with potential for additional classes to follow. Most, if not all of the class materials will be available online for free.

In a university press release, professor and senior advisor for online courses Ira Pohl said the invitation to join the platform in proximity to world-renowned universities such as Princeton, Duke, Columbia and Brown has shed UCSC in a positive light.

While the Coursera offerings target those unable to attend UCSC and don’t earn one university credit, the UCSC extension already offers hundreds of fee-based online courses, which may be applied towards concurrent enrollment.

Response to Coursera will inform how online education at UCSC evolves. The Baskin School of Engineering in particular is looking to advance the M.A. in Engineering degree through online education.

In their last meeting, the UC Board of Regents, in concert with Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Gov. Jerry Brown, revitalized online education research — citing efficiency as a top priority.

As part of the larger conversation about online education, Student Union Assembly Chair Nwadiuto Amajoyi expressed her hesitancy to accept online education as a beacon of education democratization in her Feb. 15 letter to the San Francisco Chronicle.

“The plan may increase access for students from communities who otherwise wouldn’t be able to have a UC education and may result in more much-needed graduates,” Amajoyi wrote, “but will it be at the expense of a quality education?”

Also published on Feb. 15, professor and chair of the Committee on Educational Policy at UCSC’s Academic Senate Tracy Larrabee’s op-ed commented on the importance of staying realistic about the so-called boom of online classes.

“Sometimes when people talk about online education, the implication is that we are choosing between a small room where an instructor practices the Socratic method and a cold, two-dimensional course with little flexibility and no human contact,” Larrabee wrote. “I [use online education as] a warm, personalized middle ground that has evolved for not only my comfort and efficiency but also for the comfort, flexibility and elucidation of my students.”