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DCE Magazine

  • Gary W. Matkin, Ph.D

Summer 2022

Gary W. Matkin, Ph.D.: A Lifelong Pioneer of Higher and Continuing Education

DCE Building Groundbreaking Ceremony, 2015
Dean Matkin and family (wife Maya and son Ethan), 2016
Dean Matkin and Scholars from the UCI-Tibet Initiative, 2019

On June 30th I will retire, 49 years to the day that I began my career at the University of California in continuing education. I have been exceedingly lucky in my journey through this nearly half century, first for being associated with two great UC institutions, Berkeley and Irvine, and second because my career spanned the beginning of the second revolution in higher education.

The first revolution took place almost eight centuries ago, in 1440 with the invention of the printing press. For the first time in history there was an efficient way to capture the wisdom of the past and pass it down to future generations — each adding to the store of knowledge.

The second revolution began in the early 1990s with the adoption of internet technology and digitization by higher education. Today, this technology has been integrated in higher education, so naturally, that we forget how short a time this second revolution happened.

My experience with this second revolution began in 1994 when the Sloan Foundation approached UC Berkeley Extension with the first of over $2 million in support to launch online education. By today’s standards those first online courses, offered by AOL, were a bit primitive, based simply on the transmission of learning via a new channel.

Over the years, online education began to change teaching and learning at its very core, with the introduction of learning assets not available to classroom-based instruction. At first, I was a bit scared of the new technology, but soon saw amazing possibilities for it, particularly for continuing education students—a population always pressed by time and place restrictions. Suddenly, those restrictions were removed by a very efficient delivery system.

I brought my enthusiasm for online instruction to UCI in March of 2000, and almost immediately, was granted an amazing opportunity—to help build an online degree program with UCI’s department of Criminology, Law, and Society. Then Executive Vice Chancellor, Michael Gottfredson, allocated $500,000 to allow us to build the courses. This became the first online degree in the UC system and is now the top-rated online degree in criminology. With that start, we began conversion of our courses to online delivery. By the start of the COVID pandemic, about 70 percent of our courses were offered online.

Online education for UCI degree students started when I was director of Summer Session. With the approval of the academic senate, we began to put UCI degree courses online in the Summer and, over about three years, demonstrated to the senate that online delivery is a valid method. Eventually UCI led the UC system in offering more online regular degree courses than all UC campuses combined.

The revolution continued with some very interesting developments — those that gained and sustained my interest over my time at UCI. The first was the advent of open education. In 2000, just after my arrival here, I met Marshal Smith and Cathy Casserly of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, who were interested in creating open online education. Over the next eight years, UCI received over $2 million from the Foundation to develop and study open education, including one of the earliest gifts the Foundation made, which was to sponsor a national convocation regarding open repositories, offered at UCI in 2001. Joining MIT and its efforts to place all its courses online for free, UCI developed its own OpenCourseWare website which today contains hundreds of UCI courses. We then joined forces with the Foundation and MIT to start the OCW Consortium (now the Open Education Consortium) which has grown to about 250 members in 44 countries. I was one of the founders of the consortium, working on its bylaws and serving as founding treasurer.

It was through this association that I found new purpose in my career — a world in which everyone can learn anything, any time, any place, for free. One example of a step toward this goal is the offering of 17 UCI degree chemistry courses on YouTube, available to anyone having access to the internet. Over 60,000 students visit our open chemistry courses on YouTube per month.

One of the most exciting and beneficial developments in the second revolution was the advent of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). First offered by Stanford in 2011, these free courses attracted thousands of students. By mid-2012, UCI partnered with Coursera, the largest provider of MOOCs in the world. We offered six courses on Coursera in January 2013. Today we have over 175 courses on Coursera and are one of their top five university partners (out of a total of 350). Since 2013, UCI courses on Coursera have attracted over 4 million learners, with over 1 million completing the courses, about 70 percent of which are outside the U.S.

The second development now emerging in the second revolution, and one not yet well understood, is the advent of digital credentialing, sometimes called badges. Digital credentialing allows universities to verify workplace relevant competencies for students, in a way that a transcript cannot. Students control the distribution of their earned badges and can place them on resumes, LinkedIn accounts, or anywhere that accepts a digital file. Of course, this benefits students who have a credible third party (the university) certifying their job-related skills. It has also proven to improve pedagogy — courses with badges embedded in them see higher rates of student engagement. Further, it reinforces university commitment to relevance in its educational offering — an important demonstration as students and parents weigh the cost of education against its benefits.

The digital credentialing movement will have great significance in maintaining university reputations, worldwide. We have just developed a Digital Credentialing Center, authorized by the provost, with oversight from our faculty. To date, about 7,000 badges have been created with a remarkably high percentage being shared by students on other sites. UCI is a leader in creating an institution-wide approach to digital credentialing, and our division has been the initiator and will be the administrator of campus-wide badging.

The second revolution has energized me and kept me in my career for all these years. I am sad to be leaving now, as the second revolution continues to unfold. I am as excited as ever about the future of teaching and learning in our society. I am departing with anticipation of wonderful new advances toward my goal of free and open learning for all and expect to benefit personally from the advances as I continue to learn in retirement.

Dean Matkin and former UCI Chancellor Ralph Cicerone, 2000
Dean Matkin and UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman at DCE Building Opening Ceremony, 2016
Dean Matkin welcoming Tokyo BOE teachers, 2016

Learn more about Dean Matkin.