The UT System Institute for Transformational Learning introduced a new learning platform that uses competency-based education in an attempt to more actively engage students.
The institute developed the platform, known as TEx, to support competency-based education throughout the UT System. The program was unveiled at SXSWedu on Tuesday. According to a statement from the UT System, competency-based programs are meant to allow students to advance based on their abilities and mastered skills instead of time spent in a classroom.
Marni Baker Stein, chief innovation officer at the UT System’s Institute for Transformational Learning, said the new platform is meant to work for students of all backgrounds.
“It is a unified user experience that connects to lots of different technologies and services and applications,” Baker Stein said. “That gives it a lot more flexibility for [students]… where you really want to create lots of different types of learning experiences for different types of study pathways.”
The program will be launched at UT-Rio Grande Valley in fall 2015, said Amy Shackelford, director of strategic partnerships at the institute.
The platform will then be used for students in continuing and professional education, such as health care, beginning in spring 2016. The program will be expanded the following year to include 10 degree programs for fall 2017, which is when it will be first introduced to UT-Austin.
Steve Mintz, executive director of the institute, said the platform has the potential to reduce the cost of textbooks aside from making material easier to access.
“By creating these ‘textbooks on steroids,’ we can dramatically cut the cost of textbooks because we can create, at scale, using open resources, using other resources, using resources that we create and pass the savings [to the student],” Mintz said. “There is an expense, but that is being picked up elsewhere.”
Baker Stein said the creation of a personal profile that remains with students throughout their educational experience sets TEx apart from other platforms.
“From the moment that you start in a program — even before, perhaps, in affiliated high schools — you have a profile in the system you are building,” Baker Stein said. “You are setting your goals; you are collecting your network; you are collecting, in a sense, credits or badges or certificates or degrees.”
Shackelford said students would have a coach who watches their progress and checks in on them aside from the ability to contact faculty and teaching assistants.
“You have a coach who is not academic, but this coach is actually monitoring your progress,” Shackelford said. “So, if something is going wrong, and they see you are behind, they can proactively reach out and say, ‘Hey, is everything okay? I noticed that you’re behind for this week.’”
Mintz said developers reworked the learning platform to make it more attractive for students to use.
“Our view is that if we are going to give [students] electronic resources, they need to be as engaging and as interactive as the best materials that you interact with,” Mintz said. “That’s what this is about — it’s creating a user experience that is elegant, intuitive, exciting [and] addictive.”