Samuel Gosling

Psychology professors James Pennebaker (left) and Samuel Gosling deliver a video lecture for an online psychology course. Students who took the online course were found to perform better on tests than past students who were taught using a conventional approach.

Photo Credit: Marsha Miller | Daily Texan Staff

The College of Liberal Arts has expanded its synchronous massive online course offerings for the fall semester by an additional course for fall semester.
The SMOC format was launched in fall 2013 by psychology professors Samuel Gosling and James Pennebaker. Gosling and Pennebaker co-taught an “Introduction to Psychology” SMOC, which they named “Psychology LIVE.” The college also offered an “American Government” course in the SMOC format the fall 2013 and spring 2014 semesters.
SMOCs, or synchronous massive online courses, are live-streamed online-courses that require students to log in at specific times to watch live lectures, take quizzes and exercises, and participate in chat room discussions.
According to Pennebaker, students participating in SMOCs are able to engage in more social online interaction than they would be able to in massive open online courses, or MOOCs, which do not require live participation from students.
“Online education is revolutionizing education as we know it. The benefits far outweigh the downsides,” Pennebaker said. “Depending on the quality of the online course, students can learn more efficiently at a fraction of the price compared to traditional classes.”
In addition to offering “Psychology LIVE” and “American Government” again for the fall semester, the College of Liberal Arts is including “U.S. Foreign Policy.”
While UT students can sign up for the courses during registration, non-admitted students can also take the classes for credit through University Extension. However, only Gosling and Pennebaker’s psychology course is being offered to non-admitted students as a SMOC. The government courses will only be available to non-admitted students in an “on-demand” format similar to that of a MOOC.
The college is also offering four other for-credit courses exclusively through University Extension with the “on-demand” model.
Government professor Robert Moser, who will be co-teaching his first SMOC, “U.S. Foreign Policy,” believes that the format can provide an attractive and valuable alternative for students planning on taking introductory courses.
“As an instructor, the online format provides opportunities to introduce technologies such as video clips, online surveys, live chat, and simulations that I could not easily integrate in a traditional in-person course,” said Moser, who is also the chair of the government department. “Since I was going to ask my colleagues in the government department to consider this new technology in their introductory courses, I thought I better try it myself.”
Government professor Eric McDaniel, who will be co-teaching the “American Government” SMOC, said there are both pros and cons to the format, like any other type of class.
“A significant gain in these online courses is that I have more time to deliver more content material. I spend less time repeating myself in the SMOC than I do in the traditional lecture setting,” McDaniel said. “Of course, with online courses, I lose the ability to assess students’ understandings with eye contact.”
The SMOCs are priced for non-admitted students at either $200 or $350, with an additional $10 library fee to access online material. Registration closes for the courses on Sept. 15, but a $60 late fee will be charged to those who sign up after Aug. 15.

Psychology professors James Pennebaker (left) and Samuel Gosling deliver a video lecture for an online psychology course. Students who took the online course were found to perform better on tests than past students who were taught using a conventional approach.

Photo Credit: Marsha Miller | Daily Texan Staff

Psychology professors Samuel Gosling and James Pennebaker have found that students perform better in an online classroom with daily “benchmark” quizzes rather than a traditional classroom with monumental midterms.   

UT has transitioned some courses to an online platform, developed by the two professors, named Texas Online World of Educational Research, in which students can participate online through broadcasted lectures that are formatted much like a television show. This is their third semester teaching with the new method.

“We started daily testing people, and we thought maybe it improves performance, and we found that it does improve performance in students, especially in students with low socioeconomic backgrounds,” Gosling said. “The idea is that if they bring their laptops in, we can give them personalized feedback based on their responses … to integrate many of those things that work well in an intimate class and try to scale those up for the big classes.”

After using the new program, the professors compared the students’ performances to years past and saw a few major differences, Pennebaker said.

“First, students did better on the tests than in previous years when we used a conventional teaching approach,” Pennebaker said. “Second, our students made high grades in their other courses both that same semester and the semester afterwards. Third, our new method reduced the traditional achievement gap between those from upper middle and lower middle class students.”

Portuguese sophomore Helena Delimaverde said she adapted quickly to the unconventional course structure. 

“I feel like this class really gives the chance for students get involved in class,” Delimaverde said. ”We have chats during class with other students, so you are able to discuss problems with other students.”

Students have a benchmark in each class that covers the previous class. These assessments make up 88 percent of the total grade.

Currently, Pennebaker’s and Gosling’s psychology class and a government class are the only two courses using this online platform, but Gosling said the University has been supportive of the idea and helping to implement it.

“It’s not exaggeration to say that thanks to the University’s support of what we’ve done that The University of Texas is at the very forefront of this,” Gosling said.

Psychology professors Sam Gosling and James Pennebaker are currently teaching one of UT's first Synchronous Massive Online Courses, or SMOCs.

Photo Credit: Sam Ortega | Daily Texan Staff

After the first full week of classes, the world’s first synchronous massive online course (SMOC) program still has fewer than 40 non-UT students enrolled in one of its two classes.

Though SMOCs rely on classroom technology integration and are meant for large audiences, they are different than massive open online courses (MOOCs), as SMOCs are live-streamed and involve more individual participation.

The program, launched this semester by the College of Liberal Arts, features an “Introduction to Psychology” course first developed and taught by psychology professors Samuel Gosling and James Pennebaker. The program also features an “American Goverment” class taught by government professors Eric McDaniel and Daron Shaw. While only 30 to 40 non-UT students are signed up for the class, there are more than 800 UT students enrolled. 

Each class session is filmed in a studio designed especially for the program in Mezes Hall, and 24 of the 800 UT students are invited to attend each class in person and to participate as an audience. 

Gosling said the SMOC combines in-class learning with online education — using technologies such as online chat rooms, secure testing systems and high-speed live streaming.

“The idea is to try and use technology to both retain what is good about in-class teaching, but at the same time, use technology to scale it up,” Gosling said.

Gosling and Pennebaker developed the SMOC in which students watch the course live by streaming it on their computers. During class, students are assessed and participate in group discussions through the course website. Pennebaker said he thinks the small turnout this semester is because the University does not know how to properly advertise this class.

The SMOC emerged out of a series of changes Gosling and Pennebaker made to the “Introduction to Psychology” course they have co-taught over the past eight years. Gosling said they use data they collect from each semester to improve their class.

“We didn’t sit down and say, ‘Let’s build a SMOC,’” Gosling said. “Each year, we’re improving things, and this coincided with the emergence of these new technologies that suddenly facilitated being able to do things one couldn’t do before.”

In the spring 2013 semester, Gosling and Pennebaker ran a scaled-down version of the SMOC before the College of Liberal Arts broadened the format for the fall.

The professors said they format the course as a mix between a talk show and an educational program.

“We’ve learned a lot from watching Jon Stewart and these others, because it’s a completely different way of teaching,” Pennebaker said.

The University also launched a massive open online course (MOOC) program with online education provider edX this semester. Unlike SMOCs, MOOCs do not require live participation from students. These classes are being offered to the public for free, but cannot be taken for University credit.

“There are a lot of different experiments underway and innovative approaches that are being explored across the campus,” said Harrison Keller, vice provost of higher education policy and research at UT. “The University is committed to supporting faculty innovation around teaching and learning.”

Although the course shares some similarities with a MOOC, Gosling said the SMOC works differently.

“Although our class looks like a MOOC, it’s only a superficial resemblance to a MOOC,” Gosling said. “The inside of it isn’t a MOOC at all.”

The SMOC allows for more social interaction between students and instructors and also between the students themselves, Pennebaker said. 

Additionally, he said SMOCs are more financially sound options than MOOCs for the University. Since many MOOCs are being offered for free, Pennebaker said they present a financial issue. The SMOC courses are being offered for credit to the public for $550. 

“The big issue with MOOCs such as Coursera and edX is that they don’t have a really viable business model,” Pennebaker said.

Pennebaker said they originally planned on having 10,000 non-University students and using money garnered from the course to fund graduate education. However, less than 40 non-University students signed up because of a lack of advertising.

The professors said they would like to see the University continue to expand the teaching format but will remain focused on improving their own course.

“Now that so much is mediated through technology, the distinction between researchers and teachers is breaking down,” Gosling said. “As we teach, we gather data that informs us, [and] we improve our teaching.”

In accordance with President William Powers Jr.’s plan for online teaching technologies, UT professors are experimenting with the world’s first synchronous massive online course (SMOC).

After Powers published a report in August outlining his vision for technology, UT created its first massive open online courses (MOOCs) and the SMOC. Recently, the University participated in the development of new technological enhancements that range from MyEdu and Blackboard to the UT System’s membership in edX. 

Powers’ proposal included five guiding principles for technology-enhanced education. Those principles were to ensure faculty control the curriculum, to support and reward faculty, to create a model that is financially sustainable, to share content and to continue to innovate for the benefit of students. 

The SMOC, which is an introductory psychology course co-taught by professors James Pennebaker and Samuel Gosling, costs less than a regular course on campus at $550, and is available to anyone with a computer. 

Pennebaker said he thinks the SMOC could be a viable model for technology-enhanced education that would fulfill Powers’ goals of innovating for the benefit of students. He also said the financial model of SMOCs is highly sustainable.

Gosling said the SMOC allows more students to participate than would fit in a lecture hall and once the startup costs are covered, UT could profit as the first university offering this new model of instructional technology.

“In terms of the psychology of teaching, I think the real key is trying to retain what works in an in-person class,” Gosling said. 

UT spokesman Gary Susswein said that “flipped” classrooms in which students learn online and apply their knowledge in class are a major way the University is helping its students learn more. Susswein said the SMOC is expected to generate revenue on campus.

“Students can use … streaming technology to learn material outside of the classroom and then engage directly with the professor and have an intellectual give-and-take [in class],” Susswein said.

Studio art freshman Anna Escamilla, who is taking the SMOC this semester, said the online course is both convenient and frustrating. Escamilla said that while she enjoys the casual nature of taking a class from home, there are some drawbacks.

“I personally like to learn not just by listening to a lecture or watching an educational video, but by being in the physical presence of my professor,” Escamilla said. 

Diana Pop, international relations and global studies sophomore, said in her classes the online tools used by the University have made online work more convenient, including collaborating with classmates on platforms like Canvas and Hoot.Me. 

While these technologies were encouraged by Powers in his report, he said the transition will not entirely replace traditional classroom instruction.

“Face-to-face interactions among students and professors can never be fully replicated in cyberspace,” Powers said.

A joint study between the UT and Washington University psychology departments found that traits in real life tend to match digital personalities on social media.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

A psychological connection exists between the use of Facebook profiles and the physical behavior of Facebook users, according to a study by a University psychology professor.

Psychology professor Samuel Gosling and partner Sam Gaddis were both involved in a collaborative study between the UT Department of Psychology and the Department of Psychology at Washington University in St. Louis. The study found that users who are more heavily involved in their social circles offline are more likely to have an active virtual social life.

The study, published in September 2011, has reappeared in online discussion this month. In “Manifestations of Personality in Online Social Networks: Self-Reported Facebook-Related Behaviors and Observable Profile Information,” researchers recorded data submitted by the subjects themselves. The data shows how often users post content to social media websites as well as information they keep publicly available on their profiles. This information was referenced with individual scores based on the five-factor model of personality which measures the traits of openness, extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism and conscientiousness.

“People are increasingly doing studies on these forms of social media,” Gosling said. “Some people have speculated that these portals serve as compensation for people’s personalities and are not how they express themselves in real life. It’s hard to know, about half the people think you don’t get a good impression and about half think you do. I wouldn’t say I was surprised, necessarily, given the results of other studies I’ve done.”

The five traits measured in each subject proved to indicate specific types of behavior on Facebook, according to the study. Study participants who placed higher in extraversion were more likely to constantly update content and comment on their friends’ posts. Although this was the strongest pattern exhibited in the study, social work junior Alexander McArthur said he feels he is an exception to the rule.

“I’m kind of an opposite, because I’m more introverted in real life than I am online,” McArthur said. “It’s hard to start a conversation with someone face-to-face, but when you’re online it’s much easier.”

While the neuroticism trait did not have a significant effect on online behavior, characteristics such as agreeableness and openness indicated higher levels of friends and information available on profiles, while low agreeableness levels demonstrated less page views and information available.

“I keep my education and workplace listed and all that,” McArthur said. “I usually fill out everything except the phone number, and I have an infinite number of ‘likes.’”

Patterns of Facebook usage and activity also gave researchers insight to real life habits that students often face, according to the study. Participants expressing low levels of conscientiousness were likely to spend more time viewing pages on Facebook, a practice researchers said was consistent with those who have a tendency to procrastinate.

“I usually have Facebook open while I’m doing other things like homework,” said biology freshman Taylor Bruner. “I check Facebook probably every hour.”

Users’ observations of their peers’ pages was equally as informative of online personality accuracy, according to the study.

“I definitely think people post stuff that goes with their real personality,” Bruner said. “I’ll post something about Broadway which fits me perfectly, while my friends who are sports fans are always posting about the game.”

Printed on Wednesday, January 18th, 2012 as: Study finds online, offline traits match