Technology was never a big part of my life.
Yes, I had a computer at home, and a Windows tablet for schoolwork. But I was never caught up with the latest apps or social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter.
When I enrolled at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley to study biomedical sciences last year, I was pleasantly surprised that technology provided me with a tool that made me more passionate about the field, eager to learn and capable of exceeding my potential.
Unlike most college students in America, my classmates and I were told that we would be a test case for a degree program that requires absolutely no textbooks. The only course material we were given was an iPad.
That’s because our new best friend for the next four years was going to be an app called Total Educational Experience (TEx). Designed by The University of Texas System, TEx is our one-stop shop for everything – a vast array of textbooks and other course materials, online access to faculty and success coaches, endless quizzes and exams, social media-like interaction with classmates, and real-time metrics to measure our performance.
TEx is not about taking only online courses (some are in person). It’s highly personalized for my learning needs and preferences, and it enables my professors to monitor my academic performance and goals anytime. Imagine it being a Fitbit that measures everything I do – from taking quizzes, to reading materials, to chatting with my classmates and instructors, etc.
Why is that important? College is an exciting but also difficult time for many students, especially freshmen. It requires a new level of commitment and skills, as well as an unwavering dedication to succeed, which I am determined to do.
However, not everyone makes it through their first year. In Texas, only 73 percent of all freshmen return for their sophomore year, according to data from the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems. Year one can be especially hard for students like me, who are the first in their family to attend college.
Because my professors are able to track my academic performance and goals on a real-time basis, they can intervene early if they see me falling behind in certain areas. Early intervention is more effective than reaching out to a student who is on the brink of failure.
TEx tells me what materials I should be covering and what benchmarks I should be achieving. This helps with time management and keeping pace with the workload. Moreover, the app’s quizzes are helpful in prioritizing what points should be drawn from the readings. And the fact that there is an explanation for each question — whether it’s right or wrong — has allowed me to better understand the material.
I feel like I am never alone pursuing my biomedical sciences degree. Through the social component of this app, I’m able to have chats with my classmates and faculty anytime I want. This team-based learning component has turned my brain into a sponge and enabled me to increase my rate of learning because I can access course materials and the brainpower of my classmates and professors at the tip of my fingers.
I’m not sure how many colleges are experimenting with using this type of app to deliver competency-based education. But I can tell you it works, and you don’t have to be tech-savvy to figure it out.
In a few months, my freshman year will be history and I’ll be more than prepared to become a sophomore who is poised to graduate on time with a STEM degree that will be valuable in the workforce.
I hope this technology can help other college students succeed. We are living in the greatest technological revolution in history. Isn’t it time for higher education to seek creative new ways to deliver a college education that will improve retention and ultimately increase graduate rates for students like me?
Marissa Trevino is freshman at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley who is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences.