Online Learning Must be Faculty-Driven, Innovative, UT Austin President Says

University of Texas at Austin president Bill Powers has developed five guiding principles for using online technology in higher education that can help students learn more effectively and serve as a national model as universities navigate a rapidly changing landscape.

"New technologies developed by our faculty, students and staff will strengthen our students' on-campus experience, improve learning and accelerate graduation," Powers, who will become chair of the Association of American Universities in October, concludes in his Report to The University of Texas at Austin on Technology-Enhanced Education, which he released this week.

"These innovations will create new education models that can transcend the time and space constraints of traditional academia. They'll increase productivity, generate revenue and save students and their families money."

Such technology will never replicate or replace personal interactions between faculty members and students or among students. But it can build on that foundation for students at UT Austin and elsewhere, Powers writes.

The guiding principles are:

  • Faculty and academic units will control the online curriculum to ensure that it mirrors the quality of the traditional curriculum and features UT Austin's world-class faculty.
  • The university will support and provide incentives to faculty members to innovate, develop and adapt online courses, certificates and degree programs.
  • The model must be financially sustainable for the university, realizing the potential to generate revenue, improve productivity and increase the number of students who learn from UT Austin faculty members.
  • The university will develop online content that can be deployed across multiple educational settings and on various platforms.
  • The university will never stop innovating and will work closely with students to define new educational and business models for the 21st century.

"I applaud The University of Texas at Austin and President Bill Powers for their continued national leadership in online education," said Hunter Rawlings, president of the Association of American Universities.

"The set of principles articulated by President Powers to guide the integration of new technologies into teaching and learning not only supports further innovations in student learning, delivery and access, but also seeks to preserve the best of traditional higher education: a faculty-centered curriculum, high standards and a commitment to excellence.  The focus on collaboration, innovation and streamlined processes will surely be a hallmark of 21st century, world-class universities."

Powers called on faculty members and university leaders to work with him to implement these goals.

UT Austin is already a leader in developing and offering new online content and technology and has received funding for these efforts from the National Science Foundation, the Lumina Foundation, the UT System Board of Regents, the Texas Legislature and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The university is:

  • Using "flipped" classrooms, in which students use online resources to learn content and then have more opportunity to interact directly with teachers and classmates inside the classroom.
  • Developing "on ramp" course materials and teacher training to help high school and community college students prepare for the demands of a leading public research university.
  • Preparing online classes to be taught on edX, the massive open online courses (MOOC) platform created by Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California-Berkeley last year, with which the UT System established a partnership.

Last fall, nearly 10 percent of UT Austin students were enrolled in courses that had been redesigned through the Course Transformation Program, which incorporates innovative technology-based approaches to improve success in large, lower-division courses. In addition, more than 4 percent of students participated in courses that used some sort of distance education, such as interactive video or electronic media.

Powers' principles are already drawing praise from partners:

"Austin Community College is proud to partner with UT Austin in a variety of initiatives, and we fully support its increased focus on technology-enhanced education," said Richard Rhodes, president and CEO of ACC. "The university is exploring how technology can give students a better learning experience and more successful outcomes. That's what the future of education is all about."

A PDF of the report is available at: