NEWS: UCLA Weds Classes and the Web

Science  22 May 1998:
Vol. 280, Issue 5367, pp. 1163b
DOI: 10.1126/science.280.5367.1163b

Last summer, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), began building a cyber-empire, setting up Web sites for each of some 3000 undergraduate courses the school offers. Although the strategy has encountered heated opposition on and off campus, now several science professors say the Web bonanza is improving education.

University techies help faculty set up the sites, which range from bare-bones affairs offering only syllabi to pages packed with class notes, discussions, outside links, and videos. Some students have wondered whether a new student fee for this and other computer support is worth it, according to a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. But perhaps the strongest criticism has come from historian David Noble of York University in Toronto, who caused a stir last winter by arguing in the online journal First Monday ( that UCLA's ulterior motive is to package courses so it can cut faculty, leading to a “commoditization of instruction.”

The university vehemently denies that charge. “We have absolutely no commercial goal,” says College of Letters and Sciences Provost Brian Copenhaver. Developmental neurobiologist Patricia Phelps adds that she's used her course sites to link to online tools she'd been developing, such as anatomy quizzes and animations of embryo development. For her, the sites are “one more added convenience.”

For better or for worse, class Web pages are on the upswing. Hundreds of universities are snapping up software to make the sites, says Murray Goldberg of WebCT, one software provider.

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