I used the Sapling online genetics homework system in my class in the fall of 2016. I was greatly impressed with the system—it provides excellent problems, superior feedback to students, great analytics for the instructor, and outstanding customer service.
Here are the top eight things I love about Sapling.
- Great questions, each carefully reviewed and vetted.
- Excellent functionality. Questions include multiple choice answers, fill in the blank, and drag and drop labeling.
- Superior feedback to students, with feedback specific to the wrong answer they provide.
- A complete, worked-out solution for each question available after students have submitted their final answer.
- Super analytics for the instructor. Easy to see which questions students are getting wrong and why.
- The system is intuitive and easy to navigate for both the student and instructor.
- Great flexibility for the instructor, with ability to set due dates, points awarded for each question, penalties for multiple incorrect attempts, points deducted for late submissions, etc.
- Absolutely fabulous support. A Tech TA (Client Success Specialist) is provided for each course, who works closely with the instructor before and throughout the semester, essentially an additional TA for the course devoted entirely to the digital resources.
Sapling provides great functionality for genetics practice problems. The Sapling system includes multiple choice questions, drop and drag labeling, and answers that can be typed in. The questions are well formatted and easy for students to understand. My students appreciated the graphics and simulations that accompany some of the questions, making them interesting and fun. All the questions have been carefully vetted and reviewed; I found no errors in any of the questions or solutions.
Sapling provides superior feedback for students. When a student gives an incorrect solution, the feedback is specific to the wrong answer provided, helping the student to understand their error without giving away the answer. Also, if students are unsure of how to go about answering a question, they can ask for a hint that gets them going in the right direction. Sometimes students arrive at the correct answer without fully understanding the question or the solution. After students have submitted their final answer or given up, the system provides a complete worked-out solution to the problem, which is especially helpful for students first learning how to solve genetics problems. Instructors can adjust the percentage of points awarded for multiple attempts at answering a question. For example, I started off reducing by 5% the points available for each incorrect attempt at answering the question, but found that that was not enough of a penalty to discourage students from guessing before carefully working out the solution. I then raised the penalty for each attempt to 15% and this worked well for my students.
As the instructor, I found the system easy to manage and navigate. Settings, such as due dates, question selections, points awarded, etc. were intuitive and easy to carry out. The system provides superior analytics to the instructor, enabling me to quickly assess how my students were doing. I especially appreciated the heat maps, which give a quick visual representation of student success with each question. It is also possible to view the incorrect solutions that individual students provided. I found this really helpful when students came in to see me during office hours—I was able to quickly determine where they went wrong and provide feedback.
One of the best features of Sapling is the support. The TechTA that Sapling provides each instructor is literally like having another teaching assistant devoted entirely to managing the digital resources. My Tech TA took my syllabus and textbook, selected appropriate questions, and assigned due dates that that fit my syllabus. He was always available whenever I had a question.