Psychology professor to lead initiative on educational innovation


Under a new five-year initiative, the University will look into incorporating more technology into courses and experimenting with more innovative teaching methods.

The initiative, Project 2021, will be headed by psychology professor James Pennebaker, according to President Gregory Fenves, who announced the initiative and appointment Tuesday morning.

“Increasing the value of the undergraduate experience is a priority for the University,” Fenves said. “[Pennebaker] will help ensure our undergraduate students receive the maximum benefit of our campus through the integration of research and education.”

In his new role, Pennebaker will coordinate offices at UT — including extended campus, learning sciences and the faculty innovation center —  to evaluate new teaching methods and course designs that better integrate technology and education in courses.

“This is a rare opportunity to bring together new approaches to teaching and research to help the University shape the future of undergraduate education,” Pennebaker said in a press release.
According to Joey Williams, interim communications director for the executive vice president and provost office, Pennebaker is a renowned social psychologist who has focused his research on understanding how students learn and communicate in groups, making him an ideal candidate for his new roles.

Pennebaker said he is honored to be a part of an initiative as massive and exciting as Project 2021.

“My goal is to work with various parts of the University to try to help prepare UT for the next generation of teaching and learning,” Pennebaker said. “President Fenves’s vision will establish UT as a leader in undergraduate training.”

Pennebaker, who served as the psychology department chair from 2005 to 2014 and has worked at UT for nearly two decades, will also serve as special advisor to the provost for educational innovation. He has received many awards for his work in his field,  such as the Distinguished Scientific Award for the Applications of Psychology recently awarded by the American Psychological Association.

“He’s known for being very innovative and using research and technology in his classes,” Williams said. “He’s really been studying this in his own research for some time, trying to be innovative and leveraging technology when appropriate.”

This story has been updated since its initial publication.