Harrison Keller

Nestled on the ground floor of the Graduate School of Business Building, the Center for Teaching and Learning’s testing facilities serve thousands of students.
Photo Credit: Jack DuFon | Daily Texan Staff

As the University continues to expand its range of online classes, officials at the Center for Teaching and Learning said they have recognized a need for a larger testing center.

The Center currently operates a testing space in the Graduate School of Business Building, although the space is not considered an official testing center. The space has 23 seats for testing, according to executive director Harrison Keller, and allows students to take exams in a proctored location. Students come to take exams for online courses, take placement exams to test out of courses or receive testing accommodations for a disability.

David Laude, senior vice provost for Enrollment and Curriculum Services, said an increased number of online courses has accordingly increased demand for using the testing facilities. Laude said the government and psychology departments offered a combined total of around 1,000 online courses in the fall and spring this year alone. 

“We absolutely need a substantially larger testing facility,” Laude said. “We’re in the planning stages, but this is something that’s going to have to come.”

Keller said other universities in the U.S. have established testing centers.

“We’re scanning right now for what kind of facilities other universities have,” Keller said. “We’re also looking at what kind of technologies are available.”

The current space where students can take proctored tests relies heavily on old technology, such as scantrons, according to Keller.

“It’s clear that this is a pinch point that needs to be addressed,” Keller said. “As the pace of innovations is accelerating on campus, that puts a different kind of demand on our facilities.”

Laude, who teaches an introductory chemistry course with approximately 500 students each semester, said not every student is able to make the testing course’s time. He said he offers a makeup date for every exam and has generally been able to accommodate each student.

“Because we hold evening exams, there’ll always be lots of conflicts,” Laude said. “[But] there’s almost never any issue with students missing an exam.”

Kelli Bradley, executive director of Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD), said the number of students registered with SSD has increased from around 1,500 in 2009 to 2,300 this year. Bradley said 80–85 percent of registered students request testing accommodations.

“The more students register, the more students receiving extended time or test accommodations, the more likely there’s going to be the need for this space,” Bradley said.

Erin Gleim, Student Government director of the Students with Disabilities Agency, authored a resolution that supported the construction of a larger testing center. SG voted in support of the Center on Tuesday.

“It’s an expectation that we have [a testing center], and the fact that we don’t is a disservice,” Gleim said.

Over the past five to six years, SSD increased the number of exams they proctored, from 500 tests a semester to 6,000, according to the resolution.

“We’re mostly hoping to raise awareness that this is an issue,” Gleim said. “This is something that benefits everyone.”

Students and faculty don’t always flip out over flipped classes.

In a “flipped class,” professors provide online video lectures to students prior to class. The professor then uses classroom time to ensure students have a deeper understanding of the material. Flipped classrooms have increased in popularity at UT since the concept was first introduced in a course transformation initiative by administrators in 2009. 

Harrison Keller, vice provost for Higher Education Policy and Research, said using online tools both in and outside of the classroom has increased with the rise of newer online teaching platforms, such as  Blackboard and Canvas.

“We definitely have more requests from faculty who are interested in incorporating technology into their classrooms,” Keller said. “The change from Blackboard to Canvas has been a catalyst for some of this.”

Keller said not every professor wants to flip the classroom, and he acknowledged not all classes would benefit from the change in format.

“I would say there’s people who use lectures very effectively in combination with all kinds of things,” Keller said. “So we shouldn’t be too dogmatic. This is a time when we want to encourage experimentation and innovation.”

Petroleum engineering senior Danny Cervantes said in his experience, flipped classrooms make learning more difficult.

“I feel like it may have gotten in the way of learning a little bit because it doesn’t really give you the chance to ask questions on sight,” Cervantes said. “It’s really good to have something going on while you’re thinking and just to process information a little better.”

Exercise science junior Gabby Mircovich said she experienced a flipped classroom for the first time this semester.

“I feel like you get a lot out of it because you’re putting the practice that you learn outside of class into work, and then you’re having the professor help you and work through everything with you,” Mircovich said.

Keller said faculty members in various departments are constantly working to redesign the flipped classroom model and said student feedback is a critical element in the retooling process.

“It’s really important for the students to talk to the faculty members,” Keller said. “That insight, that suggestion could end up reshaping the whole class going forward.”

David Laude, senior vice provost for Enrollment and Graduation Management, said he began uploading lectures online about eight years ago, long before UT dedicated any resources to flipping classrooms. Laude said in addition to improving student test scores, flipped classrooms make teaching more enjoyable for professors.

“It makes teaching an absolute delight, in my opinion,” Laude said. “Instead of simply repeating what’s on a PowerPoint slide, you have the freedom and the time to do whatever you want with a classroom in terms of engaging the students.”

Laude said not all class instruction, such as in-class writing or laboratory exercises, can be done online.

“I think there are certain classrooms for which it’s ideal, but not for all,” Laude said.

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.

The UT classroom is coming to the web, and the web is coming to the classroom. 

“In the next 18 to 36 months, some really profound changes are going to occur in public higher education,” said Steven Mintz, executive director of the UT System Institute for Transformational Learning. “Nationwide, universities are going to move aggressively into the online space — students are consuming education in multiple ways.” 

The University’s new approach focuses on two primary goals: making its resources available to people outside of the University and making the educational experience more personal for students. Part of that initiative is massive open online courses, or MOOCs, which are courses that anyone in the world can take online for free. Earlier this month, the UT System debuted four of these courses on the edX platform. Within three days, nearly 15,000 students had enrolled. 

“MOOCs are aimed at large audience around the world, to showcase some of the strengths of the University,” said Harrison Keller, vice provost for higher education policy and research.  

Gene Powell, chairman of the UT System Board of Regents, said he feels this reflects the System’s role on the forefront of education innovation.

“There’s a paradigm shift going on in higher education in America,” Powell said at a recent board meeting. “The UT System is leading it.” 

Personalized learning initiatives largely rely on data analytics, which Mintz said he hopes will make the educational experience more effective. For example, some online courses will anonymously track students’ keystrokes, using speed as one factor for calculating understanding. 

“Students have different pathways and trajectories, so let’s tailor education to suit that,” Mintz said. “We’re going to use a lot of diagnostic software to figure out when students don’t know something, and we’re going to be able to create more personalized modules that will strengthen students in precisely the area where they need help.”

Keller stressed the faculty-driven nature of educational experimentation, as well as the wide variety of new techniques being tested out. 

“Our professors are asking really interesting questions about how we can improve individual student learning in large courses,” Keller said. “Some faculty are experimenting with systems students use on their phones, in order to collect information in real time about what students are understanding or not. Others combine online elements with face-to-face engagement.”

Keller said it is important to remember that some techniques have been around for decades. He cited “flipping the classroom,” an approach where students listen to lectures and study content before class in order to do hands-on learning once class begins, as an example.

“We frame ‘flipping the classroom’ as a novelty, but we’ve had faculty doing versions of it for a long time,” Keller said. “One professor said he supposed he’d been using the practice for years — but he just called it homework.”

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

Faculty and administrators are redesigning large, entry-level undergraduate classes to better engage students with hopes they will learn and retain more from the courses.

The University, with funding through the provost’s office, has committed $2.5 million to the newly created Course Transformation Program over at least three years, said Harrison Keller, vice provost for higher education policy and executive director of the Center for Teaching and Learning. The program provides funding and expert support from the Center for Teaching and Learning for faculty to design, implement and assess new teaching methods. The program focuses on courses that enroll more than 1,000 students at a time in multiple sections.

In the large courses, one in five students receive a failing grade or withdraw from the class, Keller said.

He said the program aims to lower the number of students who fail or withdraw while maintaining or improving the rigor of the courses.

“Can we help more students successfully navigate these gateway courses while at least maintaining and hopefully improving quality?” Keller said.

He said staff at the Center for Teaching and Learning spend much of their time supporting the faculty who wrote proposals and were chosen last year to participate in the program. He said five classes which serve more than 9,000 students — two introductory biology, two chemistry and an introductory statistics class — will begin implementing methodology changes this fall.

Senior biology lecturer Sata Sathasivan led a group of faculty to write the proposal to include biology courses in the program. He said he has planned methods to improve students’ ability to prepare for class and allow instructors to use lecture time more effectively. He said the planning has taken place in weekly meetings with the other biology faculty participating in the program and the teaching center’s experts.

“We start with the learning objectives, examine the best ways of addressing them to students and then examine how we can assess the learning,” Sathasivan said.

One possibility for improvement is to broaden access to online material organized by topic, including lecture segments on materials or concepts a student may be expected to know from a previous class but may have forgotten, said associate chemistry professor David Vanden Bout.

He said in his weekly meetings he has helped develop methods to improve students’ ability to prepare for class, including simply reading textbooks and using technology aids. He said if this system were fully implemented, all class sections of the introductory chemistry courses would have access to the same set of online material.

He said this systematic approach to organizing access to online content would consolidate any efforts professors may already be making to free up lecture time by enabling students to better prepare for class. He said lecture time would be freed up to interactively cover more relevant and applicable topics and problems.

“I would love it to be a time where everybody wants to go to class because they know they are going to learn something new and interesting not just ‘I have to go so I can get the notes,’” Vanden Bout said.