Professors see improvement in course performance through online platform


Marsha Miller

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.

Wynne Davis

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.