Cal State Online: Students’ needs must come first, Academic Senate Chair cautions

The CSU’s embrace of online education came under scrutiny last week in light of an update given during the CSU Trustees’ meeting on CSU’s Cal State Online program.

There are 118 fully online degree programs in the CSU, with another 76 hybrid degree programs. Enrollment growth within Cal State Online doubled in the last two years, Gerry Hanley, assistant vice chancellor of Academic Technology Services, enthusiastically said. CSU administrators also claim that Cal State Online increases the speed to degree completion, while offering more “efficiencies and affordability.”

Professor Steven Filling, chair of the Academic Senate, provided a more cautionary perspective. Filling, who has taught blended courses at CSU Stanislaus, told trustees that it’s important to consider that the “pride of the CSU has always been its ability to deal with the great diversity of students and backgrounds and find a way to help them succeed.”

“Above all else, we don’t want to lose that. The most honest thing I can say is that we are learning. My 25,000 colleagues and I are doing everything we can to figure this out, subject to one dictum—our students come first,” he said. “…What we know from the research is interaction matters. It’s the interaction with faculty that matters even more than which textbook you use.”

Trustee Peter Taylor asked “which campuses are doing well and which are laggards,” and recommended setting individual goals for campuses in promoting Cal State Online. Taylor also urged the system to increase efficiency by embracing a single platform for the delivery of online courses.

But online instruction, Filling warned, carries some risks for undergraduate students, especially underrepresented minorities. The fact is that faculty are adopting online education when it fits their students. It doesn’t make sense to treat online education as if ordering a meal at McDonald’s.

“My colleagues are ‘on’ online education. They are the front line for the rest of the country on how to do online education. No matter what Arizona State says, California is the place where it starts,” Filling said. “They’re on it, they’ve been on it, they will continue to be on it, but on it subject to our prime directive—our students come first. We will not hurt them.”

  • To watch the report on Cal State Online, click here. Select “Day 2 – May 20, 2015 – Part 1.” The report begins around 00:04:00.
  • To watch the Academic Senate report, click here. Select “Day 2 – May 20, 2015 – Part 2.” The report begins around 01:04:40.