Francisco Hernandez wears two hats at the University of California. First, he is Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs at UC Santa Cruz. In that job, he oversees much of the campus footprint and all of the student-facing issues. Second, he is Executive Director of the UCCP, the UC’s online high school and middle school operation, which also services teachers and administrators.
Q. How does it feel to prepare students virtually for college through UCCP and to, then, receive and manage their experience at UC Santa Cruz, a physical campus? How does one relate to the other?
A. It has been very rewarding to see students year after year given an opportunity to consider the UC who might not otherwise have considered a highly competitive university. When a high school student takes a rigorous online high school course and succeeds, there is a lot of learning going on about college, not just the discipline. When these students go to college, they are better prepared and more excited about learning.
Q. UCCP came into existence in 1998 in response to a legal challenge that said California had both equity and access issues in getting high quality college prep courses in the State’s rural and some urban schools. How has UCCP succeeded on the access and equity front and what is left to do?
A. We have succeeded by reaching students who would otherwise not have access to a college-prep curriculum. Our program has shown that students throughout California and especially in remote rural areas or in impacted urban areas can have access to high quality education in their schools or homes. Through our online services we can provide the learning pathways to help students achieve in a challenging environment. Now we are also focusing on helping with remediation issues in math and other subjects. We are finding that online education can help greatly in addressing the critical issues of access and equity. Our next challenge is to get statewide recognition of the merit of online learning and having that recognition translate into additional support for these efforts.
Q. What is unique or valuable about having a university system involved in preparing high school online courses and teaching teachers to teach them online?
A. Think about how most curriculum is produced. It comes from teachers who know their subjects instructionally, but may not have deep discipline knowledge. Likewise, they may have teaching styles that work, but not be pedagogical experts. Finally, they have to rely on basic textbooks and materials and very limited high-end interactive content. UCCP works to do all three. Our course development team relies on true university-level discipline experts and on university level pedagogical designers. Then we partner with the best school teachers and high school curriculum developers to create exciting, engaging curriculum. Finally, we use professional developers for the online experience, many of whom are from a UC campus.
Q. Most state-level virtual schools are service agencies, not schools of record, handing out diplomas. I understand that UCCP has a charter school project with several county offices of education that would make it a school of record?
A. There are only a very few publicly-funded virtual schools that offer a diploma. The Clarke County School District that serves Loas Vegas, NV is one. What we are going to provide first is an online high school with learning components for non-school based students. We will start with those who are hospitalized, home-bound or are independent learners. We hope this grows into a safety net for the State, to service students and give them a path to the university no matter what their circumstance. We also want to offer a virtual high school experience to students who miss instructional time because they move from school to school, for example students in our foster care system or migrant students. We want to expand to offer services so that other charter schools can offer a complete college-prep curriculum.
Q. Now you have a yet another “hat” as the Chairman of the North American Council for Online Learning? How does NACOL further the goals of virtual education?
A. I am the chair this year of the North American Council for Online Learning, NACOL. We are the voice for virtual education at the state, county, national level. The idea is for the benefits of online education to be studied and the word spread about the effectiveness of this form of educational delivery. Our hope is that we will be able to affect education on the ground as well as providing options for non-traditional learners. We are part evangelists for online learning and part online resources for those interested in online schools.
Q. Finally, gazing into your crystal ball and looking five years down the road, what will we see in terms of High School – College Collaboration online, the growth of online in traditional land-based schools, and what will be out on the edges of students learning differently?
A. I think we will increasingly see more high-school and university collaborations. It makes sense if we are trying to get high school students into colleges and universities for the universities to have a role in preparing them before the get to the college campus. Universities will use the technologies to reach their students years before that day of college admissions. We will use the technology to connect colleges to those who have not been connected in the past. Universities will partner with schools, community-based organizations and others to get educational resources in front of many more communities of learners. Online learning will facilitate dual enrollments through a single technology solution. Out on the edges, I would expect there will be students putting their education path together themselves from multiple sources and asking states or districts to approve it. I also see that more states will create full online resource centers for teaching and learning that can be accessed by school personnel but also by the students, their parents and others involved in the education of our youth.