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James W. Pennebaker, Chair The University of Texas at Austin, SEA 4.212, Austin, TX 78712 • (512) 475-7596

PSY 301 Newsletter Fall 2013

Posted: September 27, 2013
PSY 301 Pennebaker & Gosling Newsletter Fall 2013

PSY 301 Pennebaker & Gosling Newsletter Fall 2013

Introductory Psychology goes live to the public

Psychology professors James Pennebaker and Sam Gosling have each won multiple teaching awards, and both have been inducted into UT’s prestigious Academy of Distinguished Teachers.  The two accomplished teachers are taking on a new challenge this semester by launching their online introductory psychology class live to students from UT and abroad.  The New York Times declared 2012, ‘The Year of the MOOC’ (Massive Open Online Course)- now, make way for the SMOC (Synchronous Massive Online Class).

In contrast to a MOOC, Pennebaker and Gosling’s Introductory Psychology SMOC is live and fully interactive, and offered for credit to registered UT students and now to a worldwide audience.  The professors lecture into a camera while students watch in real time on computers or mobile devices, so students participate in class as it occurs.  The format is dynamic and interactive, with Pennebaker and Gosling alternating between engaging in lively banter, showing video clips of psychological experiments, breaking up the online participants into small chat room groups for discussion, and administering daily quizzes. 

The Wall Street Journal featured the class in an article published August 30, describing it as, “…emblematic of just how quickly the once-static business model of higher education is shifting as technology gives students more options and forces schools and professors to compete for their attention.”  What excites Pennebaker and Gosling is the results they’re seeing.  Based on earlier versions of the SMOC, the professors found that students changed the ways they studied, took exams, and thought about the material.  Students scored about half a letter grade higher than in previous classes- and did better in the other courses they were taking the same semester and in the following semester.  Impressively, the course reduced the achievement gap between students from wealthy and poor backgrounds: the upper-middle class students continued to perform well whereas the lower middle-class students performed better than in previous years. 

Students are also reporting positive experiences in the course.  Christine Nott, who describes the class as one of her most enjoyable, find the professors to be very engaging, and she likes the format.  “As an incoming Freshman, I was nervous about taking an online course, “says Nott, “However, TOWER (Texas Online World of Educational Research) has provided me with all the necessary materials in order to be successful. 

In addition to its educational potential, the venture may eventually yield a financial boon for UT.  In upcoming years, the plan is to expand the course to several thousand students-- both UT and others-- with the hope of generating several million dollars for Psychology and UT each year.

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