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One year into a two-year pilot program, UT’s test of a new online learning technology platform has achieved successful outcomes that have resulted in additional state funding.

Launched in May 2013, the pilot program uses technology developed by Coursera and edX, national innovators in massive open online courses, or MOOCs. The initiative is a partnership between the UT System and the Tennessee Board of Regents and is funded by a $1 million appropriation from the state of Tennessee for online innovation projects in connection with Governor Haslam’s “Drive to 55” campaign.

Based largely on the pilot’s initial success, an additional $1 million appropriation was approved by the legislature last month. The funding will be used to apply lessons learned from the pilot or to test additional ways technology can be leveraged to improve student outcomes.

“Universities across the country are questioning what the future holds for higher education given rapid advances in technology, changing demands of those we serve, and declining state support,” UT President Joe DiPietro said. “We must be open to considering new approaches to delivering education, and this is one example of how we’re doing that in Tennessee and at UT.”

To date, four courses have been piloted on UT’s campuses statwide using the Coursera platform—including an algebra course this spring on the Knoxville campus.

The platform relies heavily on short video lectures, quizzes, and immediate feedback to ensure students master each concept before moving to the next. Two courses were offered completely online, and two tested a “flipped classroom” approach, which requires students to watch lectures outside of class. The Knoxville course used the flipped classroom method.

Malissa Peery, a senior math lecturer who taught the algebra course, said the experience has been overwhelmingly positive for both her and participating students.

“I’d never taught online before and was a little concerned about a flipped approach, but I really wanted to try it because I always hear students say they understand everything in class but can’t do it when they get home,” she said. “So it made perfect sense. They watch my lectures outside of class, and when we’re together, we’re doing exercises to reinforce the material and build connections between the concepts.

“Even the energy level in the flipped class is different. The students are interacting—it’s less stressful and a lot more fun.”

Initial takeaways from the pilot include the value of course redesign and quality video instruction and the importance of course fit for success in an online platform.

Three courses are being designed now for testing the edX platform. In fall 2014, a general education literature course using edX will launch at UT Martin, along with an upper-level education course at UT Chattanooga. The pilot will conclude in summer 2015 with all UT Knoxville freshmen being enrolled in First-Year Studies 100, a required course that takes place over the summer to help incoming students transition, using the edX platform.

In total, more than 4,800 UT students are expected to participate in the Coursera and edX pilot courses, and their feedback, along with input from faculty and support staff, will continue to be collected, compared to experiences and student outcomes at Tennessee Board of Regents schools, and used to determine next steps and future plans.