UT System launches first all-digital, no-paper textbook degree program at UT Rio Grande Valley

AUSTIN— Entering freshmen enrolled in the new biomedical sciences degree program at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley will never have to buy a traditional textbook.

Instead, their course materials will be delivered to them on iPads, which they’ll receive at orientation on Aug. 26. And that’s just the first indication that this degree program will not be business – or in this case – higher education as usual. 

UTRGV students attend orientation for the biomedical sciences program
The biomedical sciences degree marks the official launch of the UT System’s competency-based education initiative, an ambitious and sweeping mission to reimagine and personalize courses to increase student success and access. The degree uses elements of competency-based education.

Competency-based education allows students to advance through courses based on their ability to master knowledge and skills. Students are held to clearly defined and rigorous expectations but can move through a course at a pace that ensures their success. Courses will be delivered in a hybrid format, a combination of online, classroom, laboratory or clinical time.

The UTRGV biomedical sciences degree program was designed by the UT System’s Institute for Transformational Learning in partnership with UTRGV Department of Health and Biomedical Sciences faculty and is part of a larger initiative to increase the number of physicians in South Texas, who are desperately needed in the region.

Francisco Fernandez, M.D., dean of the new UTRGV College of Medicine, calls the project a groundbreaking initiative in premedical education that’s a game changer for aspiring physicians.

“Using elements of the competency-based approach and student services supporting creativity, determination and drive, UTRGV students are going to be better prepared to take the MCAT, enter medical school and be successful medical school students,” he said.  “What this will result in is more qualified doctors coming from the Rio Grande Valley who have the power to transform this community.”

The reconstructed biomedical sciences curriculum features core courses relevant to health professions, including medical humanities, the history of medicine and public health, and health care policy.

“It’s an innovative approach for the biomedical sciences with emphasis in the clinical application of the basic science knowledge,” said Hugo Rodriguez, Ph.D., UTRGV assistant professor of biomedical sciences. 

Marni Baker Stein, Ph.D., UT System ITL’s Chief Innovation Officer, said UTRGV faculty worked tirelessly to reimagine this curriculum for a new education delivery model that, if successful, could be adopted by other universities.

“The most exciting moment for all of us will come in the following years when we see students succeeding by graduating, entering medical school, and becoming knowledgeable and talented biomedical researchers and health care professionals,” Stein said.

Saraswathy Nair, Ph.D., associate professor and interim chair of UTRVG’s Dept. of Health and Biomedical Sciences, said the biomedical sciences curriculum was developed by faculty working collaboratively across disciplines.

“We developed an innovative and integrated curriculum that will allow students to make connections between biomedicine, evidence-based medical practice and translational research that benefits their own communities and society as a whole,” Nair said.

All classroom and online content can be accessed with iPads via TEx (Total Educational Experience), a revolutionary, mobile-first, application designed by the UT System to boost student engagement and retention.

Highly personalized, TEx offers online support from faculty and student success coaches to help monitor students and keep them on pace to achieve their educational and career goals. Students will be able to speak to their classmates, cohorts and faculty online anytime and take courses.

Judith R. Shapiro, president of The Teagle Foundation, said she hopes TEx and the new biomedical sciences program will inspire other major state higher education systems to launch similar projects. The Foundation provided the UT System with a $300,000 grant to support its biomedical sciences project, which will provide a core curriculum that interconnects liberal arts with students’ professional aspirations.

The biomedical sciences program will save students hundreds of dollars because a per-semester program fee, which includes the iPad and content for all courses, is cheaper than buying traditional textbooks and course materials throughout college.

ATTN: The news media is invited to attend orientation and watch a demonstration of TEx from 10:30 a.m. to noon on Aug. 26 at Sabal Hall, located on University Boulevard on UTRGV’s Brownsville campus.

About The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 in a historic move that will combine the resources and assets of UT Brownsville, UT Pan American, the Regional Academic Health Center and for the first time, make it possible for residents of the Rio Grande Valley to benefit from the Permanent University Fund, a public endowment contributing support to eligible institutions of The University of Texas System and the Texas A&M University System. UTRGV will also be home to a School of Medicine and will transform Texas and the nation by becoming a leader in student success, teaching, research and healthcare. UTRGV will enroll its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine will open in 2016.

About the Institute for Transformational Learning

Established by the UT System Board of Regents in 2012 and funded with $50 million, the Institute for Transformational Learning’s mandate is to drive student success and access through the innovative use of technology. Learn more: https://utx.edu/about

About The University of Texas System

Educating students, providing care for patients, conducting groundbreaking basic, applied and clinical research, and serving the needs of Texans and the nation for more than 130 years, The University of Texas System is one of the largest public university systems in the United States. With 14 institutions and an enrollment of more than 217,000, the UT System confers more than one-third of the state’s undergraduate degrees, educates almost two-thirds of the state’s health care professionals annually and accounts for almost 70 percent of all research funds awarded to public institutions in Texas. The UT System has an annual operating budget of $15.6 billion (FY 2015) including $3 billion in sponsored programs funded by federal, state, local and private sources. With about 20,000 faculty – including Nobel laureates – and more than 70,000 health care professionals, researchers, student advisors and support staff, the UT System is one of the largest employers in the state.

News Contact Information

Ken Ma:  kma@utsystem.edu  • 512-499-4778 (direct) • 954-621-7961 (cell)
Jenny LaCoste-Caputo:  jcaputo@utsystem.edu  • 512-499-4361(direct) • 512-574-5777 (cell)