Not long ago, the coolest perks for UC Berkeley students were probably free bus rides and gym memberships.
But now, students also have free access to a world of classes outside of the UC Berkeley campus through the online learning platform Lynda.com. As of last month, all students have premium memberships to the website, which hosts nearly 6,500 courses on topics ranging from web design and programming to media production and creative skills.
The campus-wide Lynda.com availability began as a joint effort by campus and Library staff members who, a few years ago, recognized the lack of resources available to students responsible for navigating and ultimately leading in an increasingly digital world.
One early champion of Lynda.com was Chris O’Dea, the production manager at the campus’s Graduate School of Journalism who heads technical instruction. The J-School, O'Dea said, has cages full of technical equipment that students must quickly master, on top of the suite of editing software needed for multimedia journalism. Lynda.com offers full tutorials for the Adobe suite, used extensively at the J-School. The site also has introductory classes on computer coding, which are invaluable for journalism students learning data visualization, O’Dea said.
“We are the smallest professional school on campus, but we have some of the biggest technical needs,” said O’Dea, who has used Lynda.com for the past 10 years. The learning curve can be overwhelming for students, O’Dea said, and tools such as Lynda.com can be important buffers for the rocky road. Previously, the J-School had purchased individual subscriptions.
On the site, which is owned by LinkedIn, courses are taught by experts in the field — including Berkeley faculty members — and come with downloadable exercise files for users to work alongside the instructor. There is also a transcript of each lesson below the video, and corresponding text is highlighted as the instructor speaks.
That interface is key for the Berkeley campus, which has a large international student body, O’Dea said.
“(Having the words) is pivotal when you’re trying to learn something,” he said.
In the search menu, courses can be filtered by skill level, duration, instructor, and subject. And because the lessons are fully transcribed, users can scan entire courses for particular words and skip to the sections they need.
“There’s really nothing to compare it to,” O’Dea said. “If I’m on YouTube, I could waste an hour on one topic, easily. There’s a million YouTube videos out there, and some of them are decent, and some of them are garbage.”
Three years ago, O’Dea approached campus administrators about getting Lynda.com for students. O’Dea was so passionate, in fact, that the campus thought he was trying to sell them something.
“They thought I was from Lynda.com,” O’Dea said, smiling. “They scheduled an appointment, … and I sat down and was like, ‘No, I work for you guys.’”
The campus gave O’Dea a job: to rally support from other departments and gauge how the platform could benefit other schools and centers on campus.
O’Dea started with the Library — which, incidentally, had similar efforts underway.
According to Cody Hennesy, the campus’s e-learning and information studies librarian, the Library had conducted a survey of students to learn what their technological needs were and which of them were not being met by the campus.
Using that information, along with discussions with O'Dea and others, Hennesy wrote a proposal for Lynda.com student subscriptions and offered it to the Student Technology Fund, which makes recommendations to the chancellor’s office on how to allocate funds for technology projects.
“We wanted to help students create media on their own — to be more empowered to create multimedia presentations, videos, and podcasts,” Hennesy said. “But that's not something we have the capacity to teach. So this fills that need.”
Students can find recommended Lynda.com courses for UC Berkeley students on the website for the Library's Level Up initiative, which aims to strengthen student's digital literacy and technical skills.
The voting members on the Student Technology Fund Committee (STFC) are mostly students. The STFC recommended $63,750 for a two-year pilot program, said Aneesh Chimbili, a program associate at the Student Technology Fund who helped provide a student perspective to the committee.
The STFC may decide to continue funding the subscriptions after two years if the Library can show data that enough students have used and benefited from the platform, said Aayush Patel, also a program associate at the Student Technology Fund.
For Chimbili and Patel, who are both students, the great benefit of Lynda.com is that it widens the range of disciplines that students have access to in a traditional course load. Aside from software and technical skills, the site also has classes on business strategy, marketing, and leadership.
“I’m a computer science major,” said Chimbili. “But if I want to learn more about entrepreneurship or business, and I don’t have the ability to get into those Haas classes, now I can, as a student of UC Berkeley, freely access a platform that has courses specifically for that content.”
Of course, Lynda.com does not supercede professorship, O’Dea said; nothing can replace the sense of inspiration and guidance born in a real classroom. But it can certainly complement the academic experience, and the challenge now will be for campus instructors to figure out how to integrate the learning platform into their classes.
For now, the J-School wants to use Lynda.com as kind of homework, where professors might assign a 15-minute video on editing software to a student and have them come in the next day to work on a shared piece.
“If you give everybody access to Lynda.com and you don’t give them any kind of chaperoning, it’s just going to go to waste,” O’Dea said. “It’s really important for the professor and the faculty to incorporate it into their class and have a reason and way to use it.”
“This — properly harnessed — can only add benefit in a classroom,” he said.