The California State University system, the largest public university system in the nation, will soon realize its long planned vision of a centralized online hub for delivering online courses. Cal State Online will meet its vision in January when it begins offering classes from a campus wide hub.
Although all 23 campuses in the Cal State system have offered distance classes for years, they were not were offered in a centralized way. While numerous other public university systems nationally, such as Penn State World Campus or UMass Online, have been relatively quick to create a unified virtual course and program delivery, Cal State has been slow to synchronize their offerings in a centralized manner.
Cal State selected Pearson eCollege recently as its partner in providing online course and program delivery for distance learning services. Pearson’s eCollege capabilities and established success in online learning seems a perfect fit for CSU Online vision. CSU Online is the centralized support structure for all facets of online program delivery for the entire CSU system.
The Great Divide
Yet not everyone at Cal State is happy with the centralized online effort` announcement. Two years ago, when the CSU system began exploring the area of a hub delivery system called Cal State Online, the state’s public university had already been assaulted by severe budget cuts and facing a continuing threat of financial setbacks — which have come to be realized. The CSU system’s faculty members union, The California Faculty Association was not too happy with the new online delivery plan. The feeling was that working with for-profit partners would weaken the Cal State public education mission, as centralizing online programs would be in competition with the system campuses.
The solution, as proposed by CSU system leaders, was that an advisory board consisting of faculty members, administrators, and students working together would ensure rather than undermine the university’s key missions. Faculty members remained unconvinced however, even when back in March Cal State officials disclosed additional details about the effort and introduced a new executive director.
A mistrust and lack of confidence based on past mismanagement of their administration, led faculty to feel that such an extensive undertaking – system wide program delivery via a centralized hub – could not be carried out without harming the institution. Campus online programs had been developed through faculty decision-making efforts. There have been further assurances to skeptics through statements, for example by Jim Postma, professor of chemistry at CSU Chico, who as former chair of the system wide Academic Senate and a member of Cal State Online’s advisory board, said he believed he and other professors on the board worked together to model the effort in ways aimed at protecting the interests of both professors and the campuses. Safeguarding the integrity of all Cal State Online programs is a priority, and will be designed and approved on CSU campuses. Postma said “we ensure that we’re not going to create programs that won’t be connected to a faculty and to the quality-control mechanisms we have in place.”
Do What It Takes
Any fear of working with a for-profit partner needed to be calmed. To this end faculty members pushed to get assurances that Pearson, as provider, would pledge to protect the academic liberties of professors and instructors by not forcing use of Pearson’s own content.
More faculty appear to have been persuaded to some degree, at least for now. There is a more pervasive feeling among faculty that the “let’s help students aspect of this is totally genuine…,” according to Teri Yamada, professor of Asian Studies at CSU Long Beach, who was commenting on the executive director of Cal State Online.
While not everyone is sold on the centralized marketing aspect of Cal State Online, considering that most programs were already up and running, most faculty agree that they will see where it is headed. The skepticism is understandable, but for now Cal State Online and faculty need to make sure that as the new system begins, what they deliver is of high quality and hopefully an improvement that benefits student learning.
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