Computer Mouse sitting atop books
Online classes allow Summer Session students to schedule learning around other activities. Enrollment is expected to grow to 2,400 this year. Michelle S. Kim / University Communications

Summer school isn’t what it used to be.

Instead of confining themselves to classrooms, some 1,400 students took advantage of online classes offered last summer through the UC Irvine Distance Learning Center, and those numbers are expected to grow when Summer Session begins June 20. The program provides flexible instruction time that students can schedule around summer jobs and recreation. It’s just one of the many online class offerings that make UCI a leader as the University of California looks at increasing such undergraduate degree programs. UCI DLC serves more than 6,000 Continuing Education in addition to those in Summer Session, and it serves the largest undergraduate online enrollment in the UC system, generating more than $5 million annually.

“UC Irvine is a recognized pioneer of online education,” says Gary Matkin, dean of Continuing Education, Distance Learning and Summer Session. “Not only has it afforded UCI the opportunity to provide greater access and convenience to our students, it has fostered a process for continuous improvement.”

UCI DLC began in 2001 with a grant to develop, in partnership with the School of Social Ecology, the first fully online degree: a master’s degree in criminology, law & society. Henry Pontell, professor in the department, helped create the program that provides accessibility to students who might otherwise be unable to earn an advanced degree.

“We have had dozens of working professionals, criminal-justice practitioners, and traditional students graduate with M.A.S. degrees who have been promoted in their jobs, gone on to new ones, and been accepted into doctoral programs,” Pontell says. “For example, I keep in touch with one student who is currently completing his doctorate at Oxford.”

Summer Session made its online debut in 2008 with one class developed by physics & astronomy professor Michael Dennin. That lone course has mushroomed to 29 scheduled for this summer. By comparison, UCLA offers 12 distance learning summer courses and Berkeley offers eight.

“Summer Session traditionally is market-driven because it is an optional quarter,” says Molly Schneider, Summer Session associate dean. “Students have many priorities competing for their time, including work and internship schedules. Many actually leave the area. Online summer courses allow them to make progress toward their degrees without giving up other important opportunities.”

UCI DLC is committed to developing more courses, as well as participating in the current UC Online Pilot, which will examine how students learn and what technological tools aid them most. This unique research will provide much needed data, using a common learning environment for all courses and reaching across disciplines to the diverse student population at UC’s nine undergraduate campuses. Twenty-nine faculty-approved courses have been scheduled for the project – at least six from UCI.

Such leadership grows from strong partnerships with UCI’s Academic Senate committees, key faculty leaders, and the efforts of University Extension, UCI DLC, Summer Session, Electronic Education Environment, and the Teaching, Learning & Technology Center, says Jia Frydenberg, UCI DLC associate dean.

“Our staff is dedicated to working directly with faculty to create and deliver online courses that meet the unique needs of their students,” she says. “We’ve been fortunate to collaborate successfully with several units on campus to develop and deliver online programs and courses.”