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Two University of Texas at Austin professors this week launched their introductory psychology class from a makeshift studio, with a goal of eventually enrolling 10,000 students at $550 a pop and bringing home millions for the school.


The professors have dubbed the class a SMOC—Synchronous Massive Online Class—and their effort falls somewhere between a MOOC, or Massive Open Online Course, a late-night television show and a real-time research experiment. The professors lecture into a camera and students watch on their computers or mobile devices, in real time.


The class, which made its debut Thursday night, is 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.


"We're not business people, we're not entrepreneurs, but we know we have a first-rate class that works, and now the question is how do we go out and sell this mousetrap," said Prof. James Pennebaker, the chairman of the UT psychology department who is teaching the class with Samuel Gosling, also a tenured professor.


Unlike Massive Open Online Courses, which can be watched whenever, the SMOC requires students, professors and teaching assistants to be online at the same time.


MOOCS, which burst on the scene about two years ago and are generally free, have attracted more than 5 million students around the world and prompted dozens of top universities to launch classes in conjunction with companies such as Coursera and EdX. However, no one has figured out how to monetize the model.

大型开放式网络课程早在两年前就已经出现,而且大多都免费,吸引了全球500多万学生用户,并且吸引了数所全球顶级高校陆续与Coursera和EdX 等公司合作推出网络课程。不过,谁也没有找出将这一教育模式进行商业化的有效途径。

The class offered by Profs. Gosling and Pennebaker offers an alternative approach that draws from both traditional online education and modern MOOCS. The course is run entirely in house and any money generated from students outside the UT system will be split between the psychology department and the school. The cost is $550 for anyone not enrolled at UT. By comparison, full-time in-state students who are enrolled at UT would pay about $900 and out-of-state students would pay about $3,000 for attending a traditional, in-person version of the course.


The pair has a long way to go. On this, their first venture, the class has brought in about 1,000 UT undergraduates but fewer than 50 from beyond the campus—generating about $20,000. Reaching the goal of 10,000 non-UT students, the class would bring in $5.5 million.


Whether the model sticks, the class marks a new age of experimentation, said Clay Shirky, a professor at New York University and longtime observer of the Internet's potential to disrupt higher education.


"I think we're in for a pretty extraordinary next five or 10 years," Prof. Shirky said. "People are going to try a million new things; 990,000 won't work, but in the end we'll be left with 10,000 things that do."