UT to launch massive open online course program this year

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Germanic studies professor John Hoberman will teach one of the four massive open online courses that UT is offering in the fall.

Photo Credit: Erika Rich | Daily Texan Staff

While a major university in California has suspended its massive open online course program, UT is preparing to launch its own MOOC program in September.

Partnering with online education provider edX, UTAustinX, UT’s MOOC program, will start with four classes in the fall semester: “Age of Globalization,” “Energy 101,” “Ideas of the Twentieth Century” and “Take Your Medicine — The Impact of Drug Development.”

UT is offering these courses for free to anyone in the world interested in the subject matter. Currently, 88,272 people have signed up to take one of the UT MOOCs. UT will not offer credit, but students who pass the course can obtain a certificate of mastery.

“The University has always made some of its educational offerings available freely to the public; MOOCs are the latest way that we can perform that service role,” said Harrison Keller, vice provost of higher education policy and research at UT. “Through these initial MOOCs, our faculty [is] experimenting with the possibilities of this particular format and the context for providing educational experiences to participants around the world.”

The UT System Board of Regents partnered with edX and invested $5 million into the nonprofit company, becoming the fourth school to partner with the company and joining the University of California, Berkeley, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

The University selected four courses to start in the fall and five more to start in the spring 2014 semester. The University has spent $150,000 developing each course, officials said.

“We want the University of Texas to be an international leader in the development of next generation learning,” said Steven Mintz, executive director of the UT System Institute for Transformational Learning. “I think it is extremely important that our faculty help design 21st century teaching and learning. We want to give them the opportunity, with peer institutions, to be the real leader in this area.”

Although UT’s MOOC program is preparing to start in the fall, San Jose State University recently decided to suspend its MOOC program for the fall semester. SJSU’s program started in the spring 2013 semester. According to SJSU’s website, courses were offered for credit to both SJSU students and members of the public for a fee of $150. The Los Angeles Times reported the decision to suspend the program was made after the majority of students failed the courses.

Howard Lurie, vice president of external affairs at edX, said SJSU’s program was administered through a different company and MOOCs are still a new form of learning.

“Does it work in all subjects for all students all the time? No, nor does face-to-face learning,” Lurie said. “This is a new paradigm shift, and there will always be progress. Progress is based on evaluation of failures.”

Keller said a similar decision from UT would require the faculty to lose interest in teaching MOOCs.

“I don’t see that happening on the near term because when you talk to the faculty who are working on these courses, they are asking hard, interesting questions,” Keller said.

Along with other programs, Mintz said the goal of the MOOC program is to find new ways of teaching for UT students, such as blended learning.

“Our goal, ultimately, is to improve and enhance the learning of students at the University of Texas at Austin,” Mintz said. “We are going to be developing a lot of interactive learning tools, and we’re going to integrate those into our face-to-face classes. It is a real exciting opportunity for integration, and we will see what works.”

Some of the professors in the MOOC program plan on converting their MOOCs into a blended learning course where students view course materials online before discussing it in the classroom with an instructor. John Hoberman, a Germanic studies professor who will teach the “Age of Globalization” MOOC, said he plans on developing his course into a blended learning class for UT students.

“A MOOC is not a substitute for the classroom experience,” Hoberman said. “A MOOC is analogous to a textbook. You don’t give up the classroom experience because a textbook is available.”

However, Keller said that the purpose of the MOOC program is to offer some of UT’s services to members of the public, and pointed out that the University has already blended learning programs.

“I think it’s important not to confuse this mode of delivery with the larger landscape of what we’re working on at UT-Austin,” Keller said. “UT- Austin is a leader on almost every dimension.”

According to Juan Garcia, producer of the “Energy 101” MOOC, the courses will work by combining instructional videos, quizzes and online interaction between students as well as with the instructor.

“Everything is designed to encourage the student to try,” Garcia said.