College of Liberal Arts

University Offers First-Ever Synchronous Massive Online Course

Mon, Aug 26, 2013

AUSTIN, Texas — The University of Texas at Austin is proud to introduce the world’s first synchronous massive online course (SMOC) in fall 2013. Introduction to Psychology (PSY 301) presents a rare opportunity for students not enrolled at the university to register for a course at the same time as regularly admitted students and take part in an innovative online structure that incorporates a new approach to teaching and learning. Registration is available online at Class begins Thursday, Aug. 29.

Presented by the College of Liberal Arts, PSY 301 is taught by Samuel Gosling and James Pennebaker, two award-winning professors from the university’s Department of Psychology. Gosling and Pennebaker will hold class Tuesday and Thursday evenings at 6 p.m. live on the Internet. The course incorporates new research into how students learn — a topic of study in the course.

“We want to teach students how to learn,” said Gosling. “The design of this course draws on what we know of the psychology of learning. Much of what makes this course so cutting-edge is that the methods we will use to teach this course will help further the research into finding the most effective ways students learn in the 21st century.”

PSY 301 is now open for registration to students of the university, students at other institutions of higher education and those seeking an opportunity to sample new innovations from The University of Texas at Austin. Participants earn three hours of transferable academic credit that will appear on an official transcript of the university. Registration for Introduction to Psychology is being administered by University Extension at

PSY 301 also breaks from tradition by not incorporating conventional exams or textbooks. Instead, students will be assigned to read and view free online articles and videos and take weekly benchmark quizzes that assess learning and help students set individual study goals.

One way that Pennebaker believes people learn is through humor. “When you laugh, you remember,” he added. The course, while thoroughly academic, will also attempt to entertain. “Psychology should be more than a dry lecture. It’s an exciting, scientific discipline that pulls back the curtain on how individuals think, feel and connect with others. In this course, we will explore together how we all think and how we all learn. I truly believe this course is a rare opportunity to see and take part in something that you won’t see anywhere else.”

A synchronous massive online course (SMOC) is a class taught online to large numbers of students who participate in real time as the class occurs. Unlike a MOOC, or massive open online course, a SMOC concentrates on increasing student participation, building a sense of community among students and making the class feel personal for all participants. Students in PSY 301 are encouraged to ask questions and interact with instructors and classmates through interactive chat rooms.

This SMOC is just the latest example of how The University of Texas at Austin is firmly positioned to serve as a national model for using online technology to help students learn more effectively.

University President Bill Powers recently wrote in a report to The University of Texas at Austin on technology-enhanced education that “New technologies developed by our faculty, students and staff will strengthen our students' on-campus experience, improve learning and accelerate graduation.”

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