Gov. Jerry Brown wants California’s public university systems to figure out how to make online classes work.

As it happens, I’m trying to do the same thing. So far, I haven’t figured out much.

Of course, it’s only the second week of a brand new online class I’m teaching at Arizona State University, where I’m a professor of practice in the school of public affairs. Readers of Fox & Hounds will be unsurprised to learn that my class is a survey of Global Direct Democracy; there hasn’t been a class quite like this anywhere in the world, and I’m hoping to bring it eventually to a global audience.

It’s way too early to draw any firm conclusions about this new world (I haven’t even graded anything yet). But I do know one thing already. Teaching an online class is hard  — much harder than the in-person variety (I previously taught a class at Chapman University in Orange that looked at journalism about California, from statehood to the present).

That’s because an online class has to be designed and planned out in minute detail, ahead of time. Because it all has to be online. When I taught in person, I had an outline of where I wanted to go, but adjusted on the fly in class. In essence, on certain days and certain topics, I could wing it a little.

That’s not true online. This doesn’t mean a professor can’t make adjustments – I’ve already made one significant change in the course design, in response to feedback from students – but everything really has to be set down in detail. All together, I’ve probably already done close to 100 hours of preparation just for this class, and I also required considerable time and help from a thoughtful ASU staff member who is expert in designing online courses. Given all the time and work and technology required for my class, I’m skeptical that online education is going to be a way to save money and faculty time.

But I also can see the potential and power of online education – instructionally. My students are an incredibly diverse group of people, at different stages in their life, who have already demonstrated sophisticated knowledge of the subject. For practical reasons, my students (with their busy lives) and I (I live and work in LA after all) couldn’t assemble as a group for an in-person class in Phoenix, but we can do so online. And the power of the online tools gives me the opportunity to do deep discussions and bring the students an incredible array of perspectives. In fact, using the online tools, I’m able to bring my students guest lectures from experts and practitioners of direct democracy from four different continents.

The ability to reach more students, and bring more knowledge and resources to them, makes me excited about this new class, and this new way of educating students.