Poverty is one of the most complex and pressing issues of our time. To help prepare students to think critically about the subject, the UCI Blum Center for Poverty Alleviation in partnership with the Center for Instructional Design and UCI Media, has successfully developed and launched a new interdisciplinary online course. Called Global Poverty & Inequality in the 21st Century (PP&D 115), the course was offered in Winter 2017, and featured guest faculty from UC Berkeley, UCR, UCSB, UCSD, UCSF and faculty from UCI, namely Greg Duncan, Maria Rendon, and Andrew Penner.

With the goal of developing a poverty track within the existing Civic and Community Engagement Minor, the Blum Center viewed this class as a gateway to help increase awareness about the minor. Building the online class was a collaborative effort among the Blum Center, UCI Media, and the Center for Instructional Design.

The Course:

The Poverty Alleviation Class, initially offered Winter 2017, will be available again Winter 2018.

The idea of the course was to examine the many dimensions of poverty. Coming at it with some real research-based knowledge was key. What is poverty?

  • What causes and maintains poverty?
  • How are poverty and inequality alleviated?
  • What do we know about the problems in our educational system for people who are living in conditions of poverty?
  • What does research on poverty and health tell us?

The class highlights current poverty and inequality research across the UC system. Whether students want to do some good in the world, whether they’re thinking of a career, or they have an organization they’re already working with, the course is a platform for them to go out and do something.

In order to get a better idea of the story behind the class, OVPTL sat down with key players in making this course a reality.

  • Professor Richard A. Matthew, Director of the UCI Blum Center who taught the class for the first time in Winter 2017
  • Janet DiVincenzo, Assistant Director, Center for Instructional Design
  • Iain Grainger, Director, UCI Media and Communications, Office of the Vice Provost for Teaching & Learning

Insights from Richard: It started with an idea.

About three years ago, Blum Centers were established at all ten campuses. It created the opportunity to develop what we call the “Blum Federation.” Early discussions came up about building system-wide online courses that would allow students to interact with their counterparts at different campuses. We at UCI offered to pioneer the first one. It was an experiment in creating an educational offering that was systemwide and grounded in what the Blum Center is all about: finding ways to educate, research, and engage on the issue of poverty.

I sought the assistance of Janet DiVincenzo, an experienced instructional designer with the Center for Instructional Design, and she got us moving in the right direction and was there every step of the way. With her coaching, we were successful in getting a grant from UCOP’s Innovative Learning Technology Initiative, which was critical to make this online course happen.

Insights from Janet: Grant Funding helped make the class possible.

Fortunately, the Blum Center had initial funding from the School of Social Ecology ($15k) under Valerie Jenness and campus ILTI funds (another $15k). But when Richard began describing his vision for this course, I realized that his would be a perfect candidate for funding from UCOP’s Innovative Learning Technology Initiative (ILTI). The ILTI is designed to meet UC campus needs for high-quality online courses. The Initiative was established to enhance the educational opportunities and achievements of UC students by helping them get access to high-demand courses, satisfy degree requirements, and graduate on time. We facilitated the application process, asked for the full amount, and were awarded the grant.

Because Winter 2017 was the first offering, we were hoping for at least forty students. We were thrilled to end up with 211 students. Part of the UCOP’s requirements for the Innovative Learning Technology Initiative grant was to admit students from other UC campuses, so we also had students enrolled from UCSB, UCLA, UCR and UC Berkeley.  

In addition to being the instructional designer, I had the pleasure of being the main liaison with the guest faculty from other UCI departments as well as other UC campuses. Because we were tapping into their primary research interests, they were enthusiastic about participating. For some of them, it was their first time working on an online class or being in front of a videocamera.

An especially innovative part of the class was filming the virtual field trips. With the video crew’s GoPro cameras mounted inside and outside Richard’s car, the team piled in and took a road trip starting on a bluff overlooking the ocean in Newport Coast and then headed to downtown Santa Ana. The idea was to show how in 20 minutes we were able to travel from multi-million dollar homes to impoverished neighborhoods. On another occasion, UCI professor Maria Rendon took us on a virtual trip to Plaza Mexico near her childhood home in Lynwood to illustrate how communities are resilient and thriving even in the face of difficult economic circumstances.

Another innovative use of technology was the Learning Glass. Our friends at the Paul Merage School of Business lent us their Learning Glass for a few video segments. This allowed Richard to face the camera while sketching out the integration of the diverse course topics.

Insights from Iain: Producing Media for an Online Class.

UCI Media was honored to help produce this dynamic online course. Because the course included professors from all over California, virtual field trips, and special footage, our film crew traveled from UC Berkeley to Mexico. We were thrilled to be involved in all aspects of production, from filming, editing, animation, and graphic design. In working with Richard’s vision, and Janet’s guidance, the class was structured to have both recorded lectures as well as live webinars. Each module, each week, has a set of videos that we produced and animated. The students can watch the course videos whenever they want. They can race through the material and do three modules in a week if they want to binge poverty and inequality. There’s readings, there’s videos, there’s assignments, there’s quizzes, and so on. Every week, the instructor who produced that module participated in a live webinar with the class.

It was a team effort that involved staff from around campus. Special thanks to:

  • The ready-for-anything videographers and talented animation and graphics crew with UCI Media (Will Alvarez, Victor Quadros, Natalie Paredes, Luis Mascareno)
  • The Blum Center staff of Ruth Gyllenhammer and Ellen Kern
  • Janet DiVincenzo, of The Center for Instructional Design, whose instructional design and project management were critical throughout the project
  • OIT’s Stephen Franklin who helped us immensely with the Zoom webinars
  • The terrific Teaching Assistants who expertly handled the grading and student questions:  Tera Dornfeld, Katelyn Finley, and Jongho Won

What students are saying about the class:

  • Definitely one of the most inspiring, interesting, important, (add similar nice words) and useful courses I have had in my 4 years of college studies.
  • I absolutely loved this course. The material was so interesting. Professor Matthew did an excellent job in creating this course. Having different speakers every week talking about different aspects of how poverty can affect us was very enlightening. The online structure was very easy to understand, and the assignments were very enjoyable. I did not want this course to end!
  • THANK YOU for this course and the Blum Center! It was simply amazing and life learning! I have finally found what my heart was expecting from UCI. It was well organized, well plan, and topics were always on point. Every lecture, speaker, and discussion was always interesting and engaging. I will highly recommend this course to everyone!

To learn more about the class (offered again Winter 2018), visit http://blumcenter.uci.edu/education/online-poverty-course/