Bitcoins, blogs and basic economics – oh my. These are just a few of the new topics social sciences faculty and lecturers will be covering in online classes this summer and the up-coming academic year.

“Social sciences was already leading the pack in offering online and technology enhanced courses,” says Bill Maurer, social sciences dean. “But you can’t sit still in a rapidly changing educational environment. Now it’s time to start recognizing the trailblazers, to build on the lessons they’ve learned and start innovating in how we teach online and with digital technology.”

Last month, social sciences lecturer Joanne Christopherson was named the 2013 recipient of the national R1edu award for online instructors, an honor that recognizes her as an innovator in the distance learning effort. The UCI alumnus regularly teaches three to four courses each year online, a delivery format she says allows her to get to know her students better than if they were sitting 20 feet away in a large lecture hall.
In the fall, she was one of four faculty who piloted a massive open online course (MOOC) based on "The Walking Dead" series. Enrollments topped 65,000 students and caught the attention of media around the globe. The group was mentioned more than 1,000 times in news stories and three of the four-person teaching crew, along with the course director, got to fly to the Big Apple to take part in a New York Times-sponsored conference on online education.

“Online, students are more willing to open up, whether it’s through shared pictures of family vacations or discussions that don’t require them to talk in front of their peers,” she says. “They can also take the course while they’re studying abroad or living in another country and bring those experiences to the rest of the class.”

To spark a similar interest in online instruction among others within the school, Maurer recently launched the Social Sciences Teaching and Technology Innovation Award which provides funds for winning course proposals aimed at online or hybrid classroom/online delivery. The awards will help faculty build out their online/hybrid course to increase access to UCI’s high quality educational expertise.

Inaugural recipients include:

  • William Branch, Professor, Economics: Intro to Microeconomics and Intro to Macroeconomics
  • Louis DeSipio, Professor, Chicano/Latino Studies and Political Science: Intro to Chicano/Latino Studies
  • Pam Kelley, Lecturer, Social Sciences: Public Law and Civil Rights
  • Bojan Petrovic, Lecturer, Social Sciences: Global Governance
  • Al Valdez, Lecturer, Social Sciences (honorable mention): Using Digital Social Technology and Why

And, not one to just sit back and watch, Maurer himself is joining in. Working with Don Patterson, informatics associate professor in the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences, the two are teaching an online course on bitcoin and the future of money during summer session.

“This is about meeting our students where they are and providing the highest quality educational experience we can, while broadening access to other students who are looking to UC Irvine for exciting, challenging online classes,” says Maurer.

On April 4, the school will hold a reception honoring Christopherson and the inaugural online innovation award winners. For further details or to RSVP, contact Lina Hernandez, or 949.824.6802.

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