On a recent evening, the University of Virginia’s president quietly slipped into an online classroom in the middle of a lively discussion about trust and disinformation.
The students in “Knowledge in the Digital Age,” taught by professor Chad Wellmon, barely noticed. They were talking about how to evaluate and verify facts, a relevant topic for an era in which everyone is a Google search away from opinions disguised as fact.
The student discussion stretched from the French philosopher René Descartes to so-called “deep fake” videos on the Internet, fabrications that appear to show people saying and doing things they never did. When video evidence can be faked, how do you find good sources? How do you identify experts in a sea of disinformation? When should you trust, and when should you be skeptical?
Then a student noticed that President Jim Ryan was in the virtual classroom.
“Wonder if that’s the real Jim Ryan or a deep fake? Now I’m doubting everything!” she wrote in the group chat.
A moment later, Ryan replied:
The students were the first cohort of UVA Edge, a new program for working adults to develop the digital and human skills needed for career success and earn 20 undergraduate credits toward a degree. The first group of students includes UVA staff from every corner of the University, from Facilities Management to UVA Health, as well as Charlottesville community members.
“I feel like this whole program involves trust,” one student said in the discussion. “It involved us trusting ourselves. And it involved trusting UVA.”
They are earning 20 college credits part-time over one calendar year, taking UVA classes taught by faculty members from the College of Arts & Sciences, which partnered with the School of Continuing and Professional Studies to create UVA Edge last fall.
Soon, these first students will be joined by the program’s second class, which is enrolling now. Applications are open until May 1 to start in the summer, and eligible UVA staff can use their education benefit for the program. Students who start this summer will pay only $300 total out-of-pocket for the program, after using any available employer benefits.
Those interesting in learning more can also sign up for a free information session to be held Wednesday at 7 p.m. EDT.
During his recent classroom drop-in, Ryan praised the quality of the discussion and told the University’s first Edge students how proud he was that they were part of the student body.
“This is a program that I believe in, heart and soul.” Ryan said. “I have no doubt that this is what UVA should be doing.”
UVA Edge was conceived by College of Arts & Sciences Dean Ian Baucom and School of Continuing and Professional Studies Dean Alex Hernandez as a new pathway for working adults without college degrees. The classes are online, a mix of scheduled virtual lectures and always-available online course materials intended to make it easier for working adults to participate.
“UVA Edge builds both academic skills and the human skills that workers increasingly need to get ahead, such as how to communicate in the workplace or navigate difficult situations,” Hernandez said. “The program can help students on the path to a degree, and it can give them immediately applicable skills to get ahead in their careers.”
Marcus Klaton, a UVA Edge student who first came to UVA through the Apprenticeship Program and now works in Facilities Management, is one of Edge’s first students. The first few weeks were an adjustment as he got used to the academic workload, but the effort has been more than worth it, he said.
“It’s not about the finish line, it’s about the journey,” Klaton said. “This way of thinking can help with so many things in life.”
Applications for the summer term are due by May 1, and anyone interested in learning more can sign up for the information session, visit edge.virginia.edu, or email firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.