As an experienced online lecturer at UT Chattanooga and fan of technology, Tiffany Mitchell jumped at the chance to convert her online English rhetoric and composition course to Coursera, one of two national innovators in massive open online courses (MOOCs), being used in a pilot program throughout the University of Tennessee.

The pilot program is using technology developed by Coursera and edX.

Mitchell, who teaches English Rhetoric and Composition I and II at UTC (in fall 2013 and spring 2014), uses the Coursera platform, which relies heavily on short video lectures, quizzes and immediate feedback to ensure students master each concept before moving to the next.

In the University of Tennessee system, two courses were offered completely online, and two tested a “flipped classroom” approach, which requires students to watch lectures outside of class.  In addition to Mitchell’s offering, courses also include:

  • Masterpieces of Music, UT Martin (fall 2013 and spring 2014)
  • College Algebra, UT Knoxville (spring 2014)

Mitchell said she found the platform, in its current design, to be more of a content consumption tool better suited for lecture-heavy courses. She agreed the video aspect was a valuable addition but has continued using outside tools to allow for intense peer-to-peer and peer-to-instructor interaction.

“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.”

Launched in May 2013, the pilot program is a partnership between the UT System and the Tennessee Board of Regents, 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. The added funding will be used broadly to apply lessons learned from the pilot or to test additional ways technology can be leveraged to improve student outcomes.

“The excitement generated by this project has been energizing,” said India Lane, UT assistant vice president for academic affairs and student success. “Within a few months, it was easy to see how this type of investment and team effort helps us get in the trenches and test methods that we hope will reduce the number of students repeating introductory courses and lead to better retention and graduation rates.”

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 TBR and used to determine next steps and future plans.

“Through this pilot, we’re gaining valuable knowledge,” Lane said. “We intentionally mapped out a small pilot project and have proceeded carefully, monitoring the process and outcomes before considering any larger-scale adaption. As expected, the campus teams turned out fantastic course content, but we didn’t anticipate the synergy and exponential value we have gained from collaborating as a system and with TBR to brainstorm, share successes and address challenges.

Video Clip of Coursera Course

About Coursera

About edX

About the Pilot Program

Background information from the May 2013 announcement of the pilot is available at

State of Tennessee Funding for Pilot Program

The pilot program is the result of discussions between UT and TBR officials and UT Knoxville alumnus Randy Boyd, named in 2013 to a short-term appointment as the governor’s special advisor on higher education. The pilot is part of Governor Haslam’s “Drive to 55” initiative to increase education attainment levels of Tennesseans. Because of that connection, the pilot is funded by a $1 million special appropriation approved by the legislature and allocated July 1, 2013. Each system, UT and TBR, received $500,000 for startup costs for the pilot. Based largely on the quality and outcomes to-date of the pilot work, another $1 million in funds for online innovation projects has been approved by the legislature for the upcoming fiscal year.

Media Relations Contacts: Email Chuck Cantrell or call (423) 425-4363.

3 Comments » for MOOC technology pilot program earns continued state investment
  1. Tiffany Mitchell says:

    The picture with this article is of Tracye Pool rather than Tiffany Mitchell. There’s a rather noticeable difference between the two ladies.

  2. Allison Quintanilla says:

    I am very confused by this article. The main teacher mentioned, Prof. Mitchell, is not the professor featured in the picture and the professor featured in the picture, Prof. Pool, is not mentioned in the article even though she is also a part of the MOOC program. I think this is unfair to the teachers involved and they should be properly recognized for their involvement.

  3. Brian O'Leary says:

    The “initial takeaways” from this project are applicable to any course, whether it be face-to-face, online, or blended. We didn’t need to test Coursera to learn what is common sense to most academics. The only positive cited by anyone close to this project was the videos. Yet, Coursera had absolutely no involvement in the creation of these videos, other than the suggested length. Further, the in-video quizzes touted by Coursera as promoting “mastery learning” were very easy for students to skip; so much for mastering the content before moving on…. Video content is not unique to Coursera; videos can be integrated into any LMS (sans the in-video quizzes), including the Blackboard platform we currently use at UTC. In a nutshell, these results fail to demonstrate any value added by MOOC platforms based on the development time and financial investment required, or the learning outcomes achieved.