UT System regents approve new online courses to be offered worldwide

Alexa Ura

UT System institutions will join the ranks of major universities that offer massive open online courses to individuals around the world.

After a unanimous vote by the UT System Board of Regents, the System announced a new partnership with edX, a nonprofit distributor of interactive online courses, Monday morning. The System will invest $10 million in edX and intends to offer four online courses through the platform by next year.

Founded by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology last year, edX will include all 15 academic and health institutions in the UT System and the University of California at Berkeley as partners along with the founding universities.

UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa said new technology positively impacts how faculty will teach courses and how students receive course content.

“We will use the edX platform already in place to improve the way our courses are delivered across our campuses, offering a variety of technology to enhance instruction, face-to-face classes, accelerated classes, hybrid classes and fully online classes,” Cigarroa said.

Cigarroa said the System also plans to use the platform as a supplement to large, entry-level classes by including interactive laboratories, online tutors and online forums.

“The aspect of edX that gives me the most personal satisfaction is its ability to provide more tools and more opportunities to help our students excel using a web-based skill set which they are already familiar with,” Cigarroa said.

The UT System regents have prioritized online and blended learning since last year, when they adopted Cigarroa’s Framework for Advancing Excellence, an action plan which includes online learning as one of its nine pillars.

The System also allocated $50 million last year to create the Institute for Transformational Learning, which is designed to support blended and online courses. The regents will fund the $10 million investment in edX from the Institute for Transformational Learning’s funds, $5 million of which will be used to help tailor the edX platform for the System and to participate in analytics of the online courses.

The other $5 million of the investment will go toward developing the four courses the System hopes to offer next year. EdX does not offer courses for credit toward a college degree, but Cigarroa said the System will work with faculty to develop specific courses that offer course credit.

Steven Mintz, director of the Institute for Transformative Learning, will serve as the System’s chief edX liaison.

Mintz said edX will help leverage new technology to enhance student learning and accelerate graduation rates while keeping costs down.

“EdX will help us envision a new model for public higher education for 21st century – an education that will be active, visual, virtual and above all, interactive,” Mintz said.

The University was previously in discussions with Coursera, another online course provider, whose participants include Stanford University, Duke University and Rice University.

UT President William Powers Jr. said the edX partnership will provide an important new tool to diversify undergraduate course options and increase student access.

“A critical feature of edX is that it’s run by academics,” Powers said. “This puts edX in an excellent position to develop rigorous courses that will be adopted by universities across America and around the world.”

The University currently offers a variety of online courses, including 54 online, self-paced college courses offered through University Extension, which caters to both UT students and individuals not enrolled at UT.

The University’s Center for Open Educational Resources and Language Learning also offers free online course content and educational resources.

Printed on Tuesday, October 16, 2012 as: Board votes to invest in new online courses