MOOCs transform learning experience

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Executive director of the Institute of Transformational Learning Steven Mintz is behind innovating collaborative and personalized online classes to propel UT in becoming a leader for online education. 

Photo Credit: Yamel Thompson | Daily Texan Staff

Established by the Board of Regents in 2012, the University of Texas System’s Institute for Transformational Learning has a bold mandate: to leverage technology to make a UT quality education more accessible, affordable and successful, especially among populations that higher education has too often failed.

The ITL’s mission is to serve as a catalyst for innovation.  To this end, the ITL has supported a number of initiatives at UT Austin including innovative online delivery of a large number of “gateway” classes and development of nine massive online courses, or MOOCs, that have reached nearly a quarter of a million students globally. These included the first MOOCs to implement adaptive learning, which tailors learning pathways to individual students’ needs, and project-based learning — in the case of Jonathan Valvano and Ramesh Yerraballi’s Embedded Systems MOOC, building circuits and programming a real microcontroller.

UT Austin is currently integrating MOOC assets and digital content into on-campus courses.

Right now, ITL’s energies focus on ways to better serve non-traditional students: low-income students, first-generation college students, part-time students, commuting students, working adults, family caregivers and students with some college and no degree.  

Our strategy is three-pronged. We are working with faculty across the System’s academic and health science campuses to: 

1) Develop transformational curricular and program designs that offer a clear value proposition, individualized learning pathways, anytime, anywhere access to course content, and wrap-around student support.

2) Design and implement next generation user experiences and infrastructure that will allow the UT campuses to deliver personalized, adaptive educational programming and support services at scale.

3) Harness the power of advanced learning analytics to better advise students, personalize instruction, and continuously improve teaching methods and student support services.

We consider the ITL-supported projects to be among the most exciting in higher education.  These include: 

1) An array of career-aligned, competency-based degree programs in areas of high employer and student demand.  The first of these programs, a B.S. in Biomedical Sciences at UT Rio Grande Valley, will launch this fall.

2) Degree pathways with an intentionally designed curriculum that can begin in high school and lead to graduate school or a rewarding career. UTRGV’s B.S. in Biomedical Sciences is part of a broader Middle School to Medical School pathway. 

3) Innovative medical school curricula that are competency-based and that emphasize experiential and project- and challenge-based learning; and 

4) UTxProfessional Health, a cross-institutional educational marketplace for health professionals worldwide.

Uniting these initiatives is an approach that is student-centered, outcomes-oriented, career-aligned and data-driven. Our projects emphasize high fidelity content and instructional design, personalization, powerful networking and collaborative experiences, high impact student services, sustainability and scale — which will provide the data needed to further enhance these programs and to better support student success.  

Faculty at UT Austin are among the country’s leaders in inventing next generation teaching and learning and conducting educational research. The ITL is staunchly committed to partnering with campus visionaries to support the innovations that will define the future of higher education.

Mintz is the executive director of the University of Texas System’s Institute for Transformational Learning and a UT Austin history professor.