UCLA geography professor Michael Shin’s online class “Introduction to Geographic Information Systems” draws hundreds of students, who are majoring in many different fields, yet eager to learn about geospatial data without having to leave the comfort of their computers.

“I LOVED this course, one of my favorites at UCLA,” one student commented.

Soon, students from other UC campuses will have an opportunity to share that experience. Starting winter quarter, students at seven UC campuses — UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Irvine, UCLA, UC Merced, UC Riverside and UC Santa Cruz — will be able to enroll in online courses offered at campuses other than their own. Shin’s class will be among the courses in spring quarter, when students at UC San Diego and UC Santa Barbara may be added to the list of participating campuses. Also being offered this spring is UCLA political science professor Susanne Lohmann’s online class, “Diversity, Disagreement and Democracy.”

UCLA faculty, who have participated in UCOP’s Online Pilot Project since its launch three years ago, have been helping to pave the way for the university’s digital future by developing high quality online courses that uphold UC’s first-rate academic standards.

UCOP’s cross-campus enrollment program for online classes gives students more options for enrolling in high-demand courses that fill quickly and have long waitlists. All of the classes are taught by UC faculty and are covered under students' regular tuition. They carry the same number of UC credits as face-to-face equivalent classes.

The pilot project marks the first step toward making it easier for UC campuses to share data and instructional costs in a way that fosters cross-campus enrollment. The program’s new website simplifies the previously complex and time-consuming cross-enrollment process.

"For the first time, students can easily find out about online courses being offered on their own campus and other campuses, making it easier for them to enroll in the classes they need and meet their academic goals," said Aime Dorr, UC provost and executive vice president for academic affairs.

Shin, who directs the UCLA geography department’s program in geospatial information systems and technology, noted that “a lot of students across UC have never had exposure to geography,” since only UCLA, UC Santa Barbara and UC Berkeley have geography departments.  “Many students know about GIS (geographic information systems), but that doesn’t mean that learning about it is equally available to students at all campuses. This course fills a gap for those interested in learning about geography, maps and mapping technology.”

The class incorporates mini-lectures, links to dozens of online resources, challenging interactive exercises and highly engaging discussion forums.

The cross-campus enrollment program is part of a UCOP effort, the Innovative Learning Technology Initiative, launched earlier this year to expand the number of credit-bearing online courses available to UC undergraduates. The initiative is being funded by $10 million allocated by the state so that UC can expand access to high-demand classes and help undergraduates graduate in a timely manner.

In addition to providing wider access to existing online classes, the initiative will also fund course development. Program officials have selected an initial group of 18 courses from proposals submitted by faculty systemwide; both Shin and Lohmann are recipients of this funding. Currently being evaluated is a second round of proposals for online courses in high-demand subjects with submissions from highly sought-after faculty or from innovative collaborations between campuses.

Said Dorr, "This initiative lets us take advantage of the most innovative things happening in online education on the UC campuses and make them more broadly accessible to students across the system.”

Shin plans to use his funding to fine-tune several components of his course, which is designed to be accessible to students with varying backgrounds and resources. “Not all students have a computer or a laptop,” Shin said, adding that one UCLA student took the entire class using a laptop checked out from the UCLA Library. The class also incorporates open-source software that is free to all users.

University officials hope to use the cross-campus enrollment program as an opportunity to address broader policy and logistical questions about how best to share student data across campus technology platforms and to allocate instructional costs.

"This process will show us where the issues are and how to begin addressing them, so that we can make cross-campus enrollment available on a larger scale," said William Jacob, chair of the UC systemwide Academic Senate.