California’s example is typical of other states as higher education cautiously embraces online instruction. 

California Gov. Jerry Brown and state university officials say it’s inevitable: Targeting a tech-savvy generation, they are paving the way for more students to pass courses and obtain degrees without ever going to class.

Given budget constraints, they say boosting online instruction is the only way to accommodate more students without expanding campuses and making higher education even more expensive.

“There’s not a luxury of sitting in the present trajectory, unless you don’t mind paying ever-increasing tuition,” Brown told the University of California Board of Regents last month.

Distance learning has been around for decades, typically as a means of offering extension and enrichment courses, but the new wave goes far beyond recorded classroom lectures. Online instruction can incorporate face-to-face interaction via Skype, as well as chat rooms, blogs, discussion forums, electronic tutoring, instructional games, and push-button audio or video.

Students can use online instruction to tackle studies at any hour, from any location. Colleges can use it to unclog bottlenecks that keep students from obtaining vital courses they need to earn degrees on a timely basis.

But the landscape is dotted with obstacles, including course development costs and concerns about academic rigor, faculty acceptance and adequate student assistance.

Faculty representatives at colleges in California, as elsewhere, say they do not necessarily oppose online instruction. If it must be done, they say, care should be taken to maintain faculty control over content, preserve teaching jobs, and ensure that students have an adequate opportunity to obtain individual assistance.

(Next page: California’s example)

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