UT Austin President Outlines Principles for Online Education

University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers has issued a report on online education that outlines five guiding principles for using online technology in higher education — and Powers has both celebrated the possibilities of the medium and touched on its limits.

In “Technology-Enhanced Education,” Powers said that “face-to-face interactions among students and professors can never be fully replicated in cyberspace.”

“New technologies developed by our faculty, students and staff will strengthen our students’ on-campus experience, improve learning and accelerate graduation,” Powers, who will become chair of the Association of American Universities in October, concludes in his report. “These innovations will create new education models that can transcend the time and space constraints of traditional academia. They’ll increase productivity, generate revenue and save students and their families’ money.”

Powers writes that technology will never replace personal interactions between faculty and students, but it can build on that foundation for students at UT Austin and elsewhere.

Powers’ guiding principles include:

– Faculty and academic units will control online curriculum to ensure that it mirrors the quality of traditional curriculum;

– The university will support and provide incentives to faculty members to innovate, develop and adapt online courses, certificates and degree programs;

– The model must be financially sustainable for the university, realizing the potential to generate revenue, improve productivity and increase the number of students who learn from UT Austin faculty members;

– The university will develop online content that can be deployed across multiple educational settings and on various platforms;

– The university will never stop innovating and will work closely with students to define new educational and business models for the 21st century.

Powers asked faculty members and university leaders to work with him to implement these goals, which can help students learn more effectively and serve as a national model as universities navigate the rapidly-changing landscape of online higher education.

UT Austin has already made strides with online content and technology, and has received funding for those efforts from the National Science Foundation, the Lumina Foundation, the UT System Board of Regents, the Texas Legislature and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The university is making use of the flipped classroom model in which students use online resources to access content and then have more opportunities to interact directly with teachers and peers inside the classroom. The university is also developing “on ramp” course materials and teacher training to help high school and community college students prepare for the demands of a leading public research university.

In addition, UT Austin has partnered with edX, the massive open online courses (MOOC) platform created by Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California-Berkeley, to offer online classes.

According to the university, last fall nearly 10% of its students were enrolled in courses that had been redesigned through the Course Transformation Program, which incorporates innovative technology-based approaches to improve success in large, lower-division courses.

In addition, more than 4% of students participated in courses that used some sort of distance education, such as interactive video or electronic media.