UC Berkeley is offering its first course taught entirely over the Internet this year.
“Gems and Gem Materials” is an undergraduate course that is offered by the earth and planetary science department. It targets non-science majors who want to satisfy their physical science requirement.
Taught by professor Jill Banfield, the course will post all of its materials – from quizzes to texts to video presentations – on the web.
The site, located http://socrates.berkeley.edu/~eps2/, is open to everyone.
Banfield and her teaching assistant will be available to meet face to face with students during office hours, and students must show up in person to take the midterm and final examinations, but most of the interaction will take place through e-mail.
While the UC Berkeley Extension school already offers online courses, and some classes at UC Berkeley incorporate the Internet into studies, this is the first course to completely abandon the confines of a building.
Physics professor Robert Jacobson, who reviewed the course materials as part of the academic senate panel that approved the course's test run, says that the course could be just the tip of the iceberg for cyber-education at UC Berkeley but adds that there are still many lessons to be learned.
“Changing the way we teach is a progression, we have to learn what works best and what doesn't,” Jacobsen said. “I think this has started the snowball rolling.”
Statistics professor Philip Stark, who is assistant in education technology for the university's Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Affairs, said that the university supports using technology when appropriate, but added that technology will never fully replace the classroom.
The favored method, he said, is as part as a “hybrid” approach that incorporates technology to supplement lectures and other personal interactions between professors and students.
“Neither the administration nor the faculty think that a UC Berkeley undergraduate education should consist of sitting in front of a computer in lieu of face-to-face contact with an instructor,” Stark said.
“As I see it, Berkeley is a research university, and this course is an experiment – it's research into teaching – to see how well the approach works.”