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First online-only undergraduate courses coming to U. of I.'s Urbana campus

Jan Dennis, Business & Law Editor

Bielski Boris
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Photo by L. Brian Stauffer
Monica Bielski Boris, a labor studies professor, is helping get the first fully online courses for undergraduates on the Urbana campus next spring, seeking to train a new generation of labor leaders for a rapidly changing workplace that has become more global and high-tech.


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The University of Illinois will launch its first fully online courses for undergraduates on the Urbana campus next spring, seeking to train a new generation of labor leaders for a rapidly changing workplace that has become more global and high-tech.

Faculty members say offering the labor studies courses by computer rather than in classrooms will ultimately help the university connect with workers around the world who are already on the job, as well as with traditional students.

“I think in the long run it has the potential to serve the million-plus organized workers in the state who might want to further their education, and it has the potential to serve union leaders around the world, so it’s really quite exciting in that regard,” said Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld, the dean of the university’s Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations.

More than 100 students have registered for the three new courses, which will give undergraduates on the Urbana campus their first taste of fully online studies, said Monica Bielski Boris, a labor studies professor who is helping get the new program under way.

Online-only courses are available in campus graduate programs, and most professors include at least some use of the Internet in both graduate and undergraduate courses, said Charles Evans, the university’s assistant vice president for academic affairs.

“This is only the start of many,” Evans said of the new online courses for undergraduates. “You can do so many things online now that are probably better than what could be done face-to-face.”

Fully online courses for undergraduates and graduate students are offered at the U. of I.’s Chicago and Springfield campuses, Evans said.

Other fully online courses will be available beginning next spring through the university’s new Global Campus, a fully online initiative that seeks to extend the university’s reach beyond its traditional campuses.

Officials hope next spring’s undergraduate labor studies courses are the first step toward creating a bachelor’s degree program in global labor studies that students could complete exclusively online.

“We definitely want it to be something that not only serves students here on campus, but also serves labor leaders and others who have work lives and family lives that are pretty full,” Bielski Boris said.

Workers enrolled in the online classes will help younger, traditional students as well as gaining knowledge to take back to their jobs, she said.

“Students who have been in the workforce with unions or social movements really add a lot because they have seen the labor laws we’re talking about in action. It’s something that changes almost on a daily basis, so having a diverse group of students with lots of experience is very important.”

The proposed bachelor’s degree program is still being developed by the Institute for Labor and Industrial Relations, then faces reviews on campus and by the Illinois Board of Higher Education. If approved, officials say the program could begin in fall 2009.

Bielski Boris said the program would help deal with challenges facing the global workforce, such as the loss of manufacturing jobs and shift to more of a service economy in the U.S. and the dramatic growth of new industries in developing nations.

“While many programs in the field of labor studies are actually cutting back on programming, our belief is that labor issues are more important in the 21st century than ever before,” Cutcher-Gershenfeld said.

Editor’s note: Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld can be reached at 217-333-1454;
                        Charles Evans at 217-333-2211;
                        Monica Bielski Boris at 217-333-1486;