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Ahead of Higher Ed: UT streams on

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Psychology professors James Pennebaker and Samuel Gosling of the University of Texas at Austin are using the internet to teach class in an unconventional way. |  Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The University of Texas is making use of massive open online courses and is already innovating a new online learning platform that’s a little different from other MOOCs.

Two professors will be teaching Introduction to Psychology on Tuesdays and Thursdays this semester to an almost-empty auditorium. The only other people present will be a media production crew filming the professors and streaming to the 1,500 students sitting in front of their computers.

The class evolved into this platform during the span of a decade. Professors James Pennebaker and Samuel Gosling first required their two sections to bring laptops to class to have simultaneous quiz and response opportunities. Then one section moved online. Now the other has followed — but with a whole new presentation.

“I think we were influenced predominantly by this mix of Jon Stewart and ‘The View’ or Jay Leno,” said Pennebaker, chair of the department of psychology at UT-Austin, to Inside Higher Ed.

Technology innovation has become somewhat of a race to higher education administrators, and one school supplements the use of social media in an online class, said computer science professor Ioannis Pavlidis.

“I know of another scheme at Penn State that has similarities to this one, but it depends more heavily on live social media interactions during lecturing,” Pavlidis said. “I believe that in a few years a ‘winner’ will emerge out of this transitional phase and become the standard. I also do not think that this particular cluster of instructional designs are good for all topics.”

This is the first semester UT will be offering the talk-show-meets-lecture course on this platform.

UH, however, has used a similar platform where students log in at a certain time online, but not on as large a scale — at least not yet, said Jeff Morgan, interim associate provost for Education and Technology Innovation.

“We certainly are not headed in this direction in the near future, but we are constantly considering new teaching strategies and options for students,” Morgan said. “In general, we are interested in investigating instruction that improves student learning.”

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