04/05/2013 04:37 pm ET Updated Jun 05, 2013

Free The MOOCS

Karen Kucher, who covers education for the San Diego Union Tribune, reported recently on California Senator Darrell Steinberg's proposed legislation requiring California Universities to accept online courses for college credit. If passed by the legislature, and signed by the Governor, who many believe is an advocate of online education, she notes:

"The legislation would make California the first state in the nation to offer a statewide system of online courses...and help students graduate in a more timely fashion by allowing private online providers to offer basic courses for the state's colleges and universities."

The Chronicle of Higher Education, after surveying teachers experience with MOOCS--massive open online courses--found that "Nearly half of the professors felt their online courses were as rigorous academically as the versions they taught in the classroom," and that the online method resulted in a number of very positive experiences.

There seems little doubt that, as the Steinberg proposal and supporters of the bill made clear, this online explosion of course offerings was the way to reduce the cost of college and make college more accessible to more students.

Allowing students to learn when and where they can is extremely attractive. Not surprisingly, the "cyberschool" approach is fast becoming ordinary and acceptable at high schools and colleges in America, Europe and in other developed nations.

In the California and other state systems there must opportunities to use technology to lower costs, increase efficiency and availability. Whether using such cyber techniques or partnering with the MOCCS or both, universities across the country have tremendous opportunities.

Undergraduate programs, for example, are full of courses that everyone should take in their first two years; and subsequently, courses are duplicated in university after university--depending on the major. These courses can be made available to thousands if not millions of students using online methods at a fraction of the cost.

The idea of logging on when its convenient for many students and asking questions whenever they need to without the formality--and often embarrassment of more traditional classroom settings--also has its appeal. And, according to many experts in the online field, the new media make lectures more accessible and even more entertaining. Social media, e-mail, and texting have displaced personal contact in a way that would have been hard to predict just a few years ago.

"Electronic media have become the standard way of communicating," according to Glenn Hartz a professor of philosophy at Ohio State University..."Assuming that the content is there, the course is now judged largely on how artfully and smoothly the elements meld together into a coherent, pleasing whole."

If we really want to be more accessible, more affordable and more efficient at delivering basic college education to more students, we need to ask how we can collaborate, where we can work together, and determine what we can do that is so unique to our university that it becomes our basic mission.

As Steinberg put it so well:

"The need for this online lifeline for students is critical...thousands of students are struggling to complete their degrees and going deeper in college debt because there simply aren't enough classroom seats available in the courses they need...We need to tear down these barriers...No college student in California should be denied the right to move through their education because they couldn't get a seat for the course they needed."