TEXAS TECH UNIVERSITY
Home to more than 35,000 students, Texas Tech University has a strong reputation as an agricultural school, but more and more students are coming in with diverse backgrounds and skills. Results from a recent student survey revealed that among freshman Animal and Food Science students at the university, only 60 percent grew up in an environment where they were exposed to production agriculture.
In many ways, agricultural educators at Texas Tech are also adapting to this changing educational landscape. As educators in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, Dr. Ryan Rathmann and Aaron Jennings are among those who face the challenge of teaching students with limited experience in the field of agriculture. To maintain a consistent learning environment and level playing field among students, technology has become a staple within the university’s animal science courses.
In an effort to enhance the quality of courses the university offers – especially introductory classes in animal science and livestock and meat evaluation – Texas Tech implemented iCEV, an online learning platform that delivers comprehensive agriculture science resources to students and educators. Rathmann and Jennings use the platform’s many digital resources, video modules, grading features and online assignments to give students a greater level of exposure to livestock, food science and agriculture.
“The challenge is trying to teach an audience with varying degrees of exposure to the subject matter we need to cover in the course,” Jennings said. “Students come in with many different backgrounds and are not always at the same level prior to enrolling in the class. With iCEV, we’re able to assign materials to help bridge that experience gap and still teach effectively.”
Making the transition from high school to college can be difficult for some students as they begin to explore new subject areas they may not have been previously exposed to. Rathmann and Jennings noted that with iCEV, it’s easy to assign class materials in a way that helps with a student’s specific needs and learning style.
Jennings and Rathmann have adopted a flipped learning environment as a way to help students learn the material before they attend class. With such a vast range of experiences, it’s often difficult to be consistent and ensure all students are at the same level in the course before they move to a higher level. Both professors agree that holding their students accountable for the quality of work reflects how they will confront the rest of their degree program and future career.
“iCEV does a good job of tying educational materials together with career placement options to help students form a vision,” Rathmann said. “Education is about giving students an idea of where they can go and what career possibilities there are in the field they choose.”
As students start to show interest and explore different career opportunities in the early levels of the program, a teaching abstract by Rathmann showed that a total of 83.3 percent of respondents strongly agreed or agreed that viewing iCEV increased their interest in the animal science field. Additionally, a total of 94.4 percent strongly agreed or agreed that viewing iCEV increased their awareness of certain career paths.
There is an increasing demand for technology at the college level. More universities are being encouraged to create online courses to help meet a growing interest in animal science degree program. Since the implementation of iCEV, 52 percent of students say they spend an average of one to two hours each week on the online platform.
“We’re seeing that students don’t want to read from a textbook anymore. In past years, I can remember that most, if not all materials we were using in a class came from the textbook,” Jennings said. “With technology becoming such a prominent fixture in schools, students would rather pull up a video or readings on their phone or tablet.”
In an efficacy study of Texas Tech’s incorporation of iCEV into general undergraduate animal science courses, 75 percent of students agreed that they preferred to learn from an online media source as opposed to a textbook. Additionally, 100 percent of students agreed that viewing online media before class increased their awareness and understanding of the course material. Collectively, the data shows how universities are embracing and incorporating more technology in order to create a modern learning environment.
“People are getting used to the idea of using technology on an everyday basis, especially within the context of a classroom or learning environment,” Rathmann said. “Students are showing a willingness to learn through iCEV and other digital learning environments than through the more traditional methods.”