online courses

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

When Greg Abbott laid out his higher education plan in September, he said affordability would be key. With Abbott now set to become governor in January, Barry McBee, UT System vice chancellor and chief governmental relations officer, said he thinks Abbott will work toward that goal.

“Affordability is going to be on the mind of any Texas governor,” McBee said. “My sense is that he sees affordability as ensuring students can move through college and attain a high quality education in as quick a time as possible.”

According to State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, Abbott will need to balance affordability and efficiency with providing high-quality education in his new term.

“I believe that Governor-elect Abbott will prioritize research, that he understands the value and is committed to excellence,” Zaffirini said. “He shares the enthusiasm about issues like affordability and accessibility and cost efficiency and productivity. We all support all of those concepts but not at the expense of excellence, and I hope Abbott shares that perspective.”

In his higher education plan, Abbott, a UT alumnus, focused on using online courses and accepting community college credits at four-year institutions as a means to make college more accessible. Zaffirini, who serves on the Senate Committee on Higher Education, said she can see the value of online courses, but that they shouldn’t take the place of person-to-person education.

“I believe that online courses are important and valuable, but we need more than that,” Zaffirini said. “Sometimes the options provided by online courses aren’t good enough. I believe it has its place, but it is not a cure-all, and, on its own, it is certainly not satisfactory to meet standards of excellence.”

Victor Sáenz, education administration associate professor, said Abbott seems to be following in his predecessor’s steps in regard to higher education.

“I think that he is definitely … on the surface pursuing similar policy ideas, [with] more of a move toward a performance-based budget and funding in higher education,” Sáenz said.

One of Abbott’s early responsibilities as governor will be appointing three new members to the UT System Board of Regents. Zaffirini said those decisions play a huge part in shaping higher education in Texas.

“The appointments are certainly some of the most important,” Zaffirini said. “Higher education is so important to the future of our state. It defines excellence. It defines our future goals.”

Citing regents Steve Hicks and Robert Stillwell, Zaffirini also said, if Abbott appoints regents of the same caliber as some of Gov. Rick Perry’s appointees higher education will benefit. She said she does hope to see a change in the board’s methods of operation.

“The people typically appointed are passionate about their alma maters, and they should be,” Zaffirini said. “You have people enthusiastic about serving, and what’s important is that every appointee understands the standards of governance.”

McBee said he looks forward to working with the governor-elect.

“We were encouraged by a number of elements of Governor-elect Abbott’s plan,” McBee said. “First, the desire to elevate research institutions like UT-Austin as the flagship for the UT system and for emerging UT institutions. We look forward to working for him in that regard.”

Last week, Attorney General Greg Abbott unveiled his higher education reform plan. Part of Abbott’s larger education plan, “Educating Texans,” the proposal calls for expanding the use of online courses and tying school funding to performance, essentially aiming to turn universities into degree factories. In announcing his goals, Abbott feigned concern for the financial welfare of students as the cost of a college education continues to soar. But his plan would mainly benefit the state financially and could, in fact, be academically detrimental to students. 

The Republican gubernatorial candidate outlined many ways to decrease the cost of a degree. One recommendation was to allow students enrolled at four-year universities to take massive open online courses, or MOOCs, for credit. These courses would be much cheaper than if they were taken in a traditional classroom setting. Of course, the state has a vested interest in the increase in the use of MOOCs. In 2012, the University of Texas System invested $5 million in edX, a collaborative MOOC service between Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California at Berkeley. But while the System, an extension of the state government, would gain, students taking these online courses would lose out on the tools that help those who are not yet college-ready succeed academically. Even with advances in educational technology, the use of MOOCs on a massive scale would deprive students enrolled at four-year institutions of the benefits of face-to-face tutoring, academic advising and office hours with an instructor. With an average completion rate of around 5 percent, MOOCs implemented for course credit on a large scale could also counteract efforts to increase graduation rates. 

Abbott intends to increase the number of students who graduate in four years through the use of outcomes-based funding. This model would link a certain percentage of funding from the Legislature to school performance, meaning that schools that do not meet certain thresholds would not receive that portion of funding. The problem with this model is that it traps schools in a perpetual cycle that ultimately harms students. Abbott’s plan makes no mention of methods to fix any current problems in existing administrative systems that could prevent certain institutions from meeting any arbitrary standards of performance. Because an underperforming institution would continue to underperform with less funding, the Legislature first must remedy certain issues so that all institutions are judged on a fair plane.

Abbott’s plan, though well-intentioned, fails to put the primary focus on students. Along with the System’s interest in recouping the money it has invested in MOOCs, using funding as a threat does little to actually enhance the quality of education for students. 

Should colleges develop and offer online courses? Yes. And UT’s online course system should be much improved. 

Currently, UT offers self-paced online courses for credit through the University Extension (UEX) program. But the courses offered are costly. According to the program’s website, a UEX course can cost anywhere from $350-1,800. Compared to Austin Community College’s fee of $62 per credit hour, a three-hour online course at UT is at the very least almost twice as expensive as one at ACC.

What’s more, UEX online courses cannot even be previewed. Until you pay the lump sum cost of a course, all you get is a vague half-page description of what you are getting into should you decide to sign up. You can only judge the courses by their lackluster descriptions, and after slogging through a few, I have no incentive to sign up. 

This is disappointing, especially since the market for online education is growing. According to the Sloan Consortium’s 2011 report on online education, “Going the Distance: Online Education in the United States,” over 6.1 million students took at least one course during the fall 2010 term. And the 10 percent growth rate for online education enrollments far exceeds the 2 percent growth in the overall higher education student population. 

High-quality online courses are growing in popularity as well. Coursera, a social entrepreneurship company that offers online courses for free globally was recently in Fast Company’s list of Most Innovative Companies of 2013 for “simultaneously scaring and wooing universities into the future of education.” Coursera boasts courses from top tier universities all over the world, including courses from almost all Ivy League universities. Based on the number of courses offered alone, Coursera has quickly overtaken edX — the online consortium of which the UT System is a member — in quality and in recognition. While Coursera has started offering some online classes for credit for under $200, many of its classes just offer a certificate, meaning its community of over three million users is made of people who just want to learn for the sake of learning.

On the other hand, UEX’S self-paced online courses seem to be there for the sole purpose of the University saying it offers online courses for credit. 

So why doesn’t UT engage in online education in a meaningful way? Developing better online classes has  the potential to solve many of the University’s problems. More engaging online courses could conceivably improve graduation rates by offering students variety and flexibility. Students could take courses they wanted to take rather than those they managed to get into, thereby increasing students’ dedication to their coursework. And students could take good courses at odd times while still being able to manage their individual schedules. 

What’s more, online education can engage students through hybrid methods of instruction like graphics, visual animations or just through creativity. Imagine, for instance, taking an interactive Spanish course taught by someone who is speaking to you from Spain. And online courses can increase rates of knowledge retention by offering immediate quizzes that don’t penalize students for nonattendance the way iClicker questions inevitably do.

Yes, UT has taken part in online education initiatives. But to whom do these courses cater — the best students on campus or the struggling ones? I haven’t heard of anyone taking UEX courses with excitement. 

Instead, while developing online education, the University should create courses that entice the best students to willingly take what they have to offer just for the sake of learning something new. They should offer their students the best possible, because only then will they be successful. 

UT’s motto is, “what starts here changes the world.” The world of education is already changing at a rapid pace. And if UT cares about the value of its students and about enabling them to change the world, it should get on board with online education as soon as possible — in a manner that is meaningful and engaging, unlike UEX, and offers credit, unlike edX. 

Malik is a Plan II and business honors program freshman from Austin.

In her visit to the Senate of College Councils last Thursday, Student Regent Ashley Purgason was quick to say that online courses “are here to stay.” More grim than enthusiastic, she assured students that online courses represented the way of the future and that faculty and students are being actively consulted about the courses’ development. The students, for the most part, seemed nonplussed by this announcement.

Why is online learning the way of the future? When I asked other students if they like online courses, their responses universally lukewarm included the following: The courses are easy to game. They’re what you make of them. They’re easier. One student responded by saying he had never taken an online class, only to remember that he had, and the experience had been so unremarkable that he had completely forgotten about it.

They had all taken online courses. Why? Because they were accessible, and these students needed the course credits the online courses provided to complete their real-life degrees. 

The accessibility of online courses makes ignoring their rise impossible (or at least foolish). And the UT System has already made a move to develop online courses. Last October, UT invested $10 million in the nonprofit online course platform edX, joining Harvard, MIT and the University of California at Berkeley in developing massive, open online courses that could be taken for free — although not for credit — by anyone in the world. The move, as The Texas Tribune reported, was praised by Gov. Rick Perry, who said that the partnership was “great news for Texas” and “exactly the type of effort [he hopes] more schools will consider.” 

The editorial board of this paper, however, took a more skeptical view, saying that “fully online courses, like those that will be offered through edX, are as yet unproven substitutes for in-person learning.” The UT System would be wise, suggested the editorial, to provide a vision for what online learning might look like before they pony up the money for a new delivery system. 

In the five months since the partnership, eight more universities have jumped on the edX bandwagon, including Australian National University, Wellesley College, and Rice University. UT is planning to launch four courses through the edX platform in the fall. Given the enduring appeal of online courses and the suggestion last Thursday by Purgason that they are the future, what should a brick-and-mortar university like UT do to prepare for the rise of online education? 

When asked about how UT-Austin can better prepare for the rise of online courses, Harisson Keller, vice provost for higher education policy and research, suggested that UT do three things: Engage faculty and students in course development, establish new partnerships with other educational institutions, and invest in technological infrastructure on campus. I suggest we do a fourth: Define the values of a UT education we want to persevere in this rapidly changing educational climate. 

What do I mean by values? I mean, how much do you value sitting in a Welch lecture hall and listening to your professor speak? How much do you value retrieving a book from the PCL stacks or studying in the Hogwarts-esque Battle Hall reading room? How much do you value living in an on-campus dorm like Jester?

All these are linked to the idea of college as a campus-centric experience in which you interact face-to-face with other students and your professors. And while I could never claim that online courses present an immediate threat to this experience (edX courses aren’t even offered for credit, after all), every day a student completes their coursework online, from home, is a day they don’t come to campus and walk past the Tower, past the South Mall, past 60,000 other students who have come from somewhere else to learn here, in a classroom on the 40 Acres, instead of through a website that just happens to bear the school’s name. 

Wright is a Plan II and biology junior from San Antonio.

Executive director of the Institute for Transformational learning Steven Mintz speaks to the UT Senate’s general assembly about edX. courses Thursday evening.
Photo Credit: Aaron Berecka | Daily Texan Staff

Beyond its partnership with a nonprofit offering innovative online classes, the UT System hopes to continue its growth in the world of digital and interactive education.

Steven Mintz, executive director of the Institute for Transformational Learning, spoke to the UT Senate’s general assembly Thursday evening, where he said it was important that UT lead the world in an innovative transition of higher education.

“If we do not do it, somebody else will and we probably won’t like what they do,” Mintz said.

Earlier in October, UT joined edX after a unanimous vote by the UT System Board of Regents. The nonprofit organization, which offers online education courses, was founded by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology last year. Since then, the University of California at Berkeley and the UT System have signed on to join edX.

The UT System pledged $10 million and four online courses to edX, but Mintz, who serves as the UT System’s chief edX liaison, said he wanted to see UT do more than provide those four courses online. Mintz said he wanted UT to continue providing more innovative, online classes for its students.

“Students who are in these large, pinch point, gateway, foundation courses are getting an OK experience, but they can get a better one in an interesting way,” Mintz said. “Let’s try to use some of our technologies to see if we can create something cool.”

Mintz said he wanted to emphasize that the idea of online courses was not being forced on faculty or students.

“In some places like California, there has been a lot of resistance to doing this,” Mintz said. “I think people are afraid that this isn’t about what is good for students, that it won’t be faculty driven and that it will come from up high in the administration. It won’t be that way here.”

Mintz said student involvement would be welcomed.

“I want to find ways so students can participate in the creation of new online courses,” Mintz said. “We’re going to try and bring these courses into the 21st century.”

Graduation rates are one of the problems facing higher education, Mintz said. When the UT System signed on with edX, Gene Powell, chairman of the UT System, said the partnership with edX would help increase graduation rates. Along with Mintz, UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa also said he wanted the UT System to lead a higher education revolution.

“New technologies are positively impacting how professors teach and how course content is delivered,” Cigarroa said in a statement earlier this month.

“The University of Texas System will help lead this revolution and fundamentally alter the direction of online education.”

Printed on Friday, November 2, 2012 as: UT adds focus on digital education

For university students, October means midterm anxiety and Halloween mischief. For the UT System Board of Regents, however, it’s again time to invest in an unproven, festively punctuated online platform claiming to radically change the 21st-century university experience. Nearly a year to the day after the Board’s Oct. 2011 announcement that it had invested $10 million in myEdu — the online schedule and professor review site formerly known as — the Board of Regents announced last Monday that it will now invest $5 million in edX, an open-source online educational platform established by MIT and Harvard.

By becoming the fourth “X University,” the UT System — or UTx, as it is known at — will join the ranks of MIT, Harvard and the University of California, Berkeley by offering online courses through the site. According to UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, edX will be used in a variety of instructional settings, including traditional “face-to-face” courses, “hybrid classes” and courses taught entirely online.

For most UT students, online classes are what you take when you want to cross a difficult or pointless lower-division course requirement off of your degree plan. Taking introductory history or beginner physics online from a Texas community college while wearing pajamas in your apartment or sipping a latte at a coffee shop allows students to avoid the rigor and cost of classes taught in person on the Forty Acres. The classes offered by edX are not those classes.

The site offers eight free courses for the fall 2012 semester, including CS188.1x Artificial Intelligence from Berkeley and 6.002x Circuits and Electronics from MIT. These courses are not offered for credit. Next fall, UT is scheduled to offer four courses on the site. While these courses will also be free, the announcements by the Board of Regents and edX allude to the possibility of charging fees in the future if students want to earn credit from the courses they take through the site.

Currently, students receive a certificate of completion upon successfully finishing one of edX courses. In the future, the organization says that this certificate may come at a cost. Additionally, Cigarroa has said that while UT’s initial online course offerings will be “open to the world for free,” the System is considering a tiered content model where certain for-credit courses would cost tuition. His proposal begs the question, what are college students paying for — the knowledge learned in class, or the piece of paper we get afterwards that says we know the material?

EdX says that the rigor of its courses is consistent with its member universities, but the recent addition of the UT System to edX challenges that claim. UT-Austin is not Harvard, and UT-Pan-American is not UT-Austin. Cigarroa indicated that all of the UT System courses offered next summer and fall on the edX website are likely to come from UT-Austin.  So while the entire UT System will benefit from membership in edX, it’s the System’s flagship campus that will be doing the heavy lifting.

UT President William Powers Jr. praises edX’s potential to augment the University’s course transformation initiative, wherein course curricula are redesigned to take advantage of up-to-date learning and teaching technology. “Hybrid” or “blended” university courses, in which some education happens in the classroom and some happens online, leverage the benefits of both learning models to students’ benefit. Fully online courses, like those that will be offered through edX, are as yet unproven substitutes for in-person learning — the kind of learning that has made UT and the other edX consortium schools some of the best in the world.

Like it has done in the music and publishing industries, Internet technology promises to transform standard operating procedure at institutions of higher education. UT administrators and regents would be wise to come out ahead of the technology curve by developing a clear vision for what a technology-based university degree will look like. The UT System’s investment in edX has the potential to lead the way in transformative learning, but so far System leadership has provided no vision for what this might look like. Without one, the partnership appears to be less about leading than about hitching a ride aboard higher education’s flavor of the month.

UT System institutions will join the ranks of major universities that offer massive open online courses to individuals around the world.

After a unanimous vote by the UT System Board of Regents, the System announced a new partnership with edX, a nonprofit distributor of interactive online courses, Monday morning. The System will invest $10 million in edX and intends to offer four online courses through the platform by next year.

Founded by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology last year, edX will include all 15 academic and health institutions in the UT System and the University of California at Berkeley as partners along with the founding universities.

UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa said new technology positively impacts how faculty will teach courses and how students receive course content.

“We will use the edX platform already in place to improve the way our courses are delivered across our campuses, offering a variety of technology to enhance instruction, face-to-face classes, accelerated classes, hybrid classes and fully online classes,” Cigarroa said.

Cigarroa said the System also plans to use the platform as a supplement to large, entry-level classes by including interactive laboratories, online tutors and online forums.

“The aspect of edX that gives me the most personal satisfaction is its ability to provide more tools and more opportunities to help our students excel using a web-based skill set which they are already familiar with,” Cigarroa said.

The UT System regents have prioritized online and blended learning since last year, when they adopted Cigarroa’s Framework for Advancing Excellence, an action plan which includes online learning as one of its nine pillars.

The System also allocated $50 million last year to create the Institute for Transformational Learning, which is designed to support blended and online courses. The regents will fund the $10 million investment in edX from the Institute for Transformational Learning’s funds, $5 million of which will be used to help tailor the edX platform for the System and to participate in analytics of the online courses.

The other $5 million of the investment will go toward developing the four courses the System hopes to offer next year. EdX does not offer courses for credit toward a college degree, but Cigarroa said the System will work with faculty to develop specific courses that offer course credit.

Steven Mintz, director of the Institute for Transformative Learning, will serve as the System’s chief edX liaison.

Mintz said edX will help leverage new technology to enhance student learning and accelerate graduation rates while keeping costs down.

“EdX will help us envision a new model for public higher education for 21st century - an education that will be active, visual, virtual and above all, interactive,” Mintz said.

The University was previously in discussions with Coursera, another online course provider, whose participants include Stanford University, Duke University and Rice University.

UT President William Powers Jr. said the edX partnership will provide an important new tool to diversify undergraduate course options and increase student access.

“A critical feature of edX is that it’s run by academics,” Powers said. “This puts edX in an excellent position to develop rigorous courses that will be adopted by universities across America and around the world.”

The University currently offers a variety of online courses, including 54 online, self-paced college courses offered through University Extension, which caters to both UT students and individuals not enrolled at UT.

The University’s Center for Open Educational Resources and Language Learning also offers free online course content and educational resources.

Printed on Tuesday, October 16, 2012 as: Board votes to invest in new online courses

Classes with 200 students could soon expand to include thousands if UT follows through with plans to launch online courses open to individuals around the world.

UT is in discussions with Coursera and edX, mass distributors of free online content from the nation’s elite universities, to negotiate a partnership. If a deal is reached, individuals not enrolled at the University would be able to access and enroll in online versions of select on-campus courses for free.

Harrison Keller, vice provost for higher education policy, is spearheading the effort and said the mass distribution of free online courses will help draw new students to the University.

“Of Coursera’s students, three-fourths are outside of the country, and this signals what expectations are like for these programs,” Keller said. “We want to share some of the amazing faculty and educational opportunities with a broader audience statewide, across the nation and abroad.”

Keller said a partnership with Coursera or edX will be an experimental phase, and no credit will be given for courses. Effectiveness and further development of the online courses will be discussed after the University collects course and audience data from the test run, Keller said.

UT has not released any information about which courses will be distributed.

Massive open online courses are fairly new to higher education. Coursera and edX each launched within the last year.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of California at Berkeley and Harvard University make up edX’s higher education participants. Some of Coursera’s 20 participants include Stanford University, the University of Virginia, Duke University and Rice University in Houston.

Rice University Provost George McLendon said Rice is testing massive open online courses as a supplement to large classes to pinpoint advantages and disadvantages.

“Students taking classes like chemistry, which are often 200- to 500-person courses, are already doing distance education if they’re sitting past the fourth row,” he said. “Is it actually better to be in this giant class or is it better to have the same lectures made available in a different format on your own time and use class time for problem-solving?”

McLendon said Rice will focus on whether online courses will benefit its current students. He said Rice is not primarily concerned with how this technology will benefit individuals worldwide not enrolled at the university.

Rice is testing the program through an interactive programming course on Coursera. Currently, the course includes 50 Rice undergraduates and about 25,000 national and international participants.

UT currently offers 54 online, self-paced college courses through the University Extension program. Both students and individuals not enrolled at UT can take these courses.

The massive open online courses are not intended to be a substitute for University Extension, UT spokesperson Tara Doolittle said. She said University Extension classes are more comprehensive than instructor-led open online courses.

Students can choose to take University Extension courses for credit or no credit and must pay tuition to enroll. Courses offered include accounting, introductory biology and American government.

The University’s Center for Open Educational Resources and Language Learning also offers free online course content and educational resources.

The initiative to create the massive open online courses falls in line with UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa’s Framework for Advancing Excellence, an action plan adopted by the UT System last year. Online and blended learning makes up one of the framework’s nine pillars. Cigarroa reported good progress on the initiative at the Board of Regents’ meeting last week.

Kenneth Green, founding director of the California research group Campus Computing Project, has been analyzing online learning and said business models have yet to be defined. He also said it is not clear how individual faculty or institutions will benefit financially based on figures presented by Coursera.

“The best way to look at massive open online courses is that they’re a journey of discovery,” Green said. “There is certainly a lot of interest on the demand side.”

Green said other key questions surrounding massive open online courses include course completion credibility without accreditation.

The University is expected to announce its decision in the next few weeks, but funding and a release timeline are still under consideration.

Printed on Thursday, August 30, 2012 as: UT partnership to expand free online content

Communication students listen to answers from their school’s Deans in the Main Building on Monday afternoon as part of a Town Hall meeting arranged by the Communication Council.

Photo Credit: Jorge Corona | Daily Texan Staff

Online course work should be emphasized during the summer so that students will be encouraged to continue their degrees during their three month break, said Communication Council president Patrick White during a Town Hall meeting Monday night.

The 4th Annual Communication Council Town Hall Meeting invited College of Communication faculty from all departments to hear and discuss survey results regarding the areas of four-year graduation rates, online courses and academic advising. An annual survey conducted in October revealed the major issues students wanted to discuss and change.

Roderick Hart, dean of the College of Communication, also discussed the financial status of the College and the opening of the Belo Center for New Media.

“We’ve been under very difficult circumstances budget-wise, and the University itself has been under financial stress in recent years so we hope things will perk up,” Hart said. “Our current financial priority is a proposal to try to move faculty to handle online courses, add more advisors to the advising staff and try to support online courses with more assistance.”

Hart said offices located in the CMA building will start moving into the Belo Center in June and students will have access to the building beginning July 30. White, also an advertising senior, said more than 700 responses to the October survey fueled a lot of the insights that were discussed at the meeting.

“So many changes that students will see in the coming months within the different departments are really coming as a result from the survey and appointed questions the students had for faculty,” White said.

Online coursework has become a hot-button topic, and faculty and students discussed it at the meeting.

“I’ve seen it go from being hated by students four years ago, but now graduating, there are students who are really on board and see that technology has improved enough to make online coursework happen,” White said. “It’s important to make sure we’re investing in quality forms of education.”

White also said academic advising and chances for students to be able to speak with faculty need to improve.

“It’s extremely important, especially in the College of Communication, to have access to a person that can help you and be able to communicate face to face,” White said.

Communication studies sophomore Jannah Deis, student issues and advisory chair for the council, said the four-year graduation rate is always a major concern.

“We want to get people out in four years, but students are so intent on double majoring or doing certificate programs and, as a college, we need to help them get their degrees on time in order to make room for new students,” Deis said.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology is hoping to legitimize and further transform online learning. The school finds itself at the forefront of the open educational resources movement. With its many online course notes, lecture videos and other educational materials, MIT recently launched another online learning initiative called MITx. The goal of MITx is to extend the reach of higher education and provide students with a means of earning credentials to supplement their studies.

Online courses have earned a reputation for being “lite” versions of their classroom counterparts and are therefore regarded as easier. It is a widely accepted fact, for instance, that if a student needs an easy A for a core class, he or she would do well to take it online. MIT hopes to change this culture.

MITx is not an easier version of MIT but instead carries the MIT pedigree to an online medium where non-residential learners will receive the best possible experience. MITx builds upon MIT’s decade old OpenCourseWare, which now includes nearly 2,100 courses.

The idea of MITx is to allow students to supplement their current coursework in a way that is both easy to scale and accessible. For example, an engineering student will be able to take the knowledge he or she learns in an electronics class and apply it to an online lab. MITx will be a free program. However, those who wish to get credit from MIT will need to take an exam that will cost money.

The ultimate goal of MITx and other online learning programs is to create high-quality, affordable, accessible education for future generations. The Internet revolution has allowed an online learning community to develop. Contributions from MIT and other institutions of higher education will spearhead the movement to create an online consortium. An improved online teaching environment modeled after MITx would bring many benefits to UT.

A bona fide, undiluted online program would extend UT’s global reach. Unlike traditional classes, online courses are unrestricted by physical parameters such as classroom size or student-to-professor ratio. Anyone with a computer and the motivation will be able to complete
UT coursework.

The creation of such an online program can be easily achieved by recording lectures and scanning lecture notes. These materials can be uploaded online for anyone to access.

UT could also improve online courses by making them more interactive. The University could retool its lectures and coursework to be responsive to students’ academic progress. For example, homework grading software could analyze a student’s missed questions and provide suggestions for improvement. An online course could also crowdsource the grading process. Qualified moderators could be certified to comment on students’ work in real time. This would further personalize the course and tailor it to the needs of the student.

A UTx-type program could also better prepare incoming freshman for the rigors of a university-level education. Rather than taking an AP test, a graduating high school senior could take a freshman class early to get a better understanding of what it takes to succeed at the undergraduate level.

Moreover, the interest generated by MITx and MIT’s OpenCourseWare shows that online programs present an opportunity to create revenue. Depending on their size and quality, future online programs at UT could help generate much-needed money.

In its current state, online education is seen as an inferior manifestation of a real course. However, if done well, online education could become the preferred medium for future generations of students.

Shi is an electrical and computer engineering junior.