eTech@UCI Funds Expanding Technology and Upsets Campus

Although educational technology has been free to UCI students in past years, a new Instructional Technology Course Materials and Service Fee (CMSF) will be implemented as a component of the UCI Educational Technology Initiative (eTech@UCI) starting in winter quarter of 2012.

“Nobody likes fees,” acknowledges OIT Director of Academic Outreach, Dr. Stephen Franklin, but commenting on the budget cut he confesses, “We saw the thing in April and we knew we were going to be in trouble.”

When approved by Chancellor Michael Drake, CMSF will cost $4 per unit for all undergraduate lecture courses. To be capped at 15 units, it will cost no more than $60 a quarter for an individual student.  This nonrefundable fee, effective winter quarter of 2012, will be paid separately from tuition in the third week of classes, once course selections are made final. The fee is expected to bring in a total annual revenue just under $3 million.

“Obviously, it’s a little bit sprung on students,” ASUCI President, Vikram Nayudu admits.

“If it were able to start next year that would be nice, but if you need everything to be sustained for this year, then it needs to start now.”

But CMSF is meant to do more than just maintain current technologies, such as the EEE learning management platform, smart classrooms, instructional computing labs and wireless networking. If it is passed, the Educational Technology Initiative Advisory Committee (ETAIC) will consider funding technological expansions including expanded wireless coverage, more power outlets around campus, “virtual computing labs” that will allow students to access specialized licensed software from their personal computers, course-casting, white-board capture, mobile access to EEE and several other potential initiatives.

“The generations of students that are coming in now expect that kind of technology, and what’s more, have adapted their own learning styles to the availability of those things. What is necessary is to be continually pushing forward and developing,” said Professor Paul Dourish of the Department of Informatics.

But even with these technological advances in mind, some students express their disapproval at facing yet another fee.

“I’m pretty angry,” said Amber Frantzich, a fourth-year English major, who works full time over the summer and part time during the school year to pay for tuition. “I just feel like it’s not worth it. And I don’t want to have to spend $60 a quarter for something I barely use.”

Realizing that students are already frustrated with the increasing cost of tuition, Dr. Stephen Franklin urges students not to think of the eTech Initiative as just another fee that they grudgingly pay and then wonder where the money ends up.

“Look, we could do stuff that is obvious and big, but would that be the right stuff?” Franklin said when asked how soon technological improvements will go into effect.

According to Dr. Franklin, the money will not be spent all at once. Instead, administrators of the new  fee will make advancements in accordance with student and faculty feedback.

“Students are our partners,” Franklin stated. “Nobody has a magic plan that says we’re going to spend it here and here. The student participation has to be in terms of helping define and direct, not just where these funds go, but more generally what type of educational environment we can build with it.”

For this reason, student opinions and suggestions towards the eTech Initiative are highly encouraged. A survey will be emailed to students shortly to assess where they would like to see advancements. Also, students could always express their thoughts towards the initiative at etech.uci.edu.

Dr. Stephen Franklin concluded, “The time is now for students to say, ‘This is how I want it spent.’ ”