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6 Posts authored by: Alex Kaufman Employee

Keeping Students Engaged:

A Tale from Introductory Chemistry

(Part II)

 

By Kevin Revell, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Chemistry and Consultant · Sapling Learning

 

 

I’ve been experimenting with differentiated learning; that is, using different techniques to connect with students’ unique learning styles. As I mentioned in Part I, I’ve found using Sapling Learning’s online homework to be one of the most effective tools for student engagement, and it is fairly common for me to see >90% of my students doing their homework assignments. In this post, I would like to mention another technique which I’ve found helpful:  lecture recording.

 

I first tried lecture recording with my organic chemistry class in the fall of 2012. Our school has a subscription to Tegrity (other products like Echo360 are also available), which enables the professor to record a voice-over of the screen projection. I use a tablet PC in class and provide skeletal slides beforehand. During class, I would work through the slides, and record the conversation. Because it was recorded in a live class and unedited, the audio was rough in parts, but if the students missed a topic, they could go back and listen later.  

 

A few weeks into testing this out, our instructional technology coordinator let me know that my recordings had been watched 110 times! This was encouraging, so I continued it the following semester, in my large, introductory chemistry class. What I found was really interesting: while only 40% of my introductory chemistry students watched the lecture replays even once, about 10% of my students watched them voraciously. By the end of the semester, I had multiple students who had watched over twenty hours of class recordings. These results were included in paper published in J. Chem. Educ., available here.

 

I found that many of the heaviest users were international/ESL students. Through the semester, several of these students told me how helpful this was for them, since they sometimes struggled to catch the subtleties of what I said in class. In fact, by mid-semester, if I said anything in class without turning the recording on, anxious hands would go up, reminding me to hit “start”.

 

In the two semesters since, I’ve transitioned to recording content outside of class, and using it in either a flipped format, or simply having the lecture material available online for review. I increasingly find that students love the video format - it seems to be the preferred learning style for many in this generation.

 

What about the correlation between viewing time and class performance? From what I’ve seen, the highest performing students don’t watch the recorded content as much, perhaps because they get it in class the first time. I think that completing homework correlates more closely with performance. Still, I believe that recorded lecture content can go a long ways toward supporting struggling students by helping them catch up on things they may have missed. And the more ways we can help our students learn, the better.

 

Do you use online homework or lecture capture in your flipped or hybrid classroom? Tell us how these techniques have impacted engagement among your students in the comments below.

Keeping Students Engaged:

A Tale from Introductory Chemistry

(Part I)

 

by Kevin Revell, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Chemistry and Consultant  · Sapling Learning

 

Just before the spring 2012 semester, I learned that I would be teaching the introductory chemistry class at Murray State University. I confess that I was less than thrilled with the assignment. It was two nights a week during my son’s basketball season, it was a large class that I had not taught in a long time, and it was largely freshman, with plenty of non-science majors meeting gen-ed requirements.   After teaching organic chemistry for so long, this was going to be an adventure.

 

To help things out, I decided to try a couple of new tools. For years, I had used a tablet PC in my lecture – posting skeletal notes before class, then fleshing out the concepts as we went through the class period. This semester, I decided to take this one step further and record the screen and audio for each lecture. And I wanted to use online homework. I had tried Sapling Learning in my organic course the semester before with terrific results. I was curious how this would translate to less-motivated students.

 

About four weeks into class, I began to notice a few unusual positives. First, in a room with a capacity of 144 students, there were almost no empty seats. Second, the students were doing WELL. Even in the second unit, I found that over 90% of the students were attempting the homework. This was not the high-attrition course I had expected.

 

Based on this, I decided to do a more systematic study: what was helping them succeed? How did the tablet-based lectures, the recorded lectures, and the online homework really contribute to student success? In order to investigate this, I began to correlate student performance with usage of the lecture-replay and online homework, and I administered a year-end survey to assess the student impressions of each tool. The full study was recently published in the Journal of Chemical Education, available here.

 

One of the biggest gains I saw was in the area of retention. In the previous five full-semester classes, the pass rate for this course was 71%. In my spring 2013 course, it jumped to 90%, with no significant change in the standardized test scores. Interestingly, the number of A’s didn’t change much. It turns out there are students who will work every problem, study aggressively, and get the A regardless of how the course is presented. The big jump was in the number of B’s and C’s earned. Based on these results, I believe that the combination of tools helped students stay more engaged, practice more, and earn a B instead of a C, or a C instead of a D.

 

And perhaps the most striking thing? Teaching introductory chemistry was an absolute blast. This semester, I actually asked to teach it again. I look forward to writing more on that in the weeks to come.

How to start flipping your course: part 3

 

Originally posted by Rebecca Celik, Ph.D.

 

What’s the most important part of an experiment? Results. Flipping a course should be treated like any other scientific investigation, and the best way to measure its effectiveness is by analyzing student outcomes. In the final installment of this series, Dr. Amanda Brindley, University of California, Irvine, shares her results and how her flipped general chemistry course altered the engagement and success of her students.

Flipped classrooms engage students in active learning

 

Most students are used to vegging out in lecture, especially in a huge lecture hall. A flipped classroom really forces them out of their comfort zones. On in-class assignments, they all work together with at least one other person. . . but that has been problematic. The first time I taught this way, I had a lot of difficulty getting them to consistently collaborate with classmates, and one of the main complaints on the midterm evaluations was that “the people next to me won’t talk to me.”

 

But now I make a big deal of the fact that if your neighbor refuses to work with you it’s your responsibility to move and find new classmates to sit with. Discussing the concepts with peers is a big part of the learning process. I’m fine with a little bit of chaos and moving around to make sure that happens. What I end up with are a group of individuals in the back left corner of the room who refuse to interact; you are never going to eliminate that completely in a 400 person class. I do spend extra time up there trying to engage them, but they only stay on task if I am in the general vicinity.

 

The rest of the class does commit to working together. And that’s much better for me, too, because when questions arise, there will be five people in a group who have the same problem. I’m not trying to get around to 400 individuals. I can more quickly identify topics that everyone is stuck on by talking to a handful of groups; and then I can stop and address the entire class to help clarify and move things along. So, everyone gets a lot more accomplished.

 

Assessing for accountability

 

One of the biggest problems I have with the flipped classroom is accountability, in part because of the very large size of the lectures I teach. I’m currently trying to deal with that issue by using pop i>clicker quizzes, but there are a few things I dislike about that approach. First, clicker quizzes take up valuable class time. Also, I have caught some students sharing clickers or taking clicker quizzes for other people. I’m sure there are others doing the same thing.

 

What I’d like to do in the future is make a low-difficulty Sapling Learning assignment to go with each video lecture that students would do on their own outside of class after watching. The feedback the system offers and the opportunity to take as much time as needed to think about quiz questions and even go back to re-watch parts of the videos would even the playing field for the students and allow me make the quizzes worth enough to encourage more students to do the assigned pre-lecture preparation.

 

What did the teaching evaluations say?

 

It’s funny, because in terms of teaching evaluations, I got the same numbers in both my flipped and regular classes; but I got a lot of whining in the comments about the flipped classroom style. A large number of them made it clear that they didn’t actually like it, however many made it clear that they did. It was very mixed. But that didn’t really surprise me.

 

My colleague did a survey with her flipped classroom students, and they responded that they didn’t prefer flipped classroom to traditional lecture, but that they would recommend flipped classroom to a friend. I’ve also seen a variety of polls from other groups of students presented at conferences, and the results are always pretty similar.

 

Students complain about flipped classrooms, but they do learn more and end up more successful in the course, and they do recommend it to others. The second [time] was much more positive, but still divided. I attribute much of this to discussions I had with them (read How to start flipping your course: part 1), but also because the student makeup consisted of more at risk and underprepared students. The flipped class method seemed to resonate much better with students who know that they do not learn well in traditional classroom settings.

 

Numbers speak louder than words

 

Follow up discussions with students from the second course were much more positive. They enjoyed the class more, and while many still said the flipped class method wasn’t their preferred method of learning, the students who spoke negatively of it did so from a “personal opinion” standpoint.

 

I showed them the class average for the first midterm from the previous quarter, when I’d taught with a flipped classroom, and the average from an earlier quarter taught the traditional way. It’s tough to argue with a 69% average versus a 60% average.

 

 

Want to learn more about flipping your course? Visit FlippedChemistry.com and join the community of flipped chemistry educators, today!

How to start flipping your course: part 2

Originally posted by Rebecca Celik, Ph.D.

 

Video is, of course, the preferred medium for delivering flipped lectures, but creating one from scratch can seem intimidating. Amanda Brindley, Ph.D., a faculty lecturer at the University of California, Irvine, has recently flipped her class. In part two of our blog series, we asked her to pass along some advice for curbing your video anxiety.

How long does it take you to make your videos?

 

Video lectures took me a ridiculously long time to make initially. I think it took me about 8 hours per 20 minutes of lecture for the first couple I created . . . and they still weren’t as good as I’d have liked. I’ve gotten much better, though, largely because I’ve learned how to edit much faster.

 

What do you use to make your videos?

 

I use Camtasia with the PowerPoint add-in for everything. For non-math topics, I just use PowerPoint as a slideshow. For math-based problem solving, I actually do the writing on my surface tablet as I record. I can’t write on an iPad, though my colleague uses her iPad with Doceri. The pressure-sensitive pen with my surface tablet works much better for me. It’s more like the Wacom tablets that artists have been using for a while.

 

Do you script your recorded lectures?

 

I learned that I absolutely have to script my lectures before recording. Recording a couple of unscripted lectures made me aware of all of my annoying little speech habits that go unnoticed in a live lecture but seem to become more pronounced when I don’t have an actual audience to interact with. It  prevents me from falling into those bad habits, like saying “so” too much.

 

Scripting also helps keep the videos short and relevant. Putting objectives at the beginning and end of each video has also become a must for me. It keeps the expectations for the students clearer and keeps the video much more on task, which also shortens the time and makes it more apparent if [a lecture] needs to be broken into multiple videos.

 

How do you make the editing process more efficient?

 

Scripting makes the editing process go much more smoothly and saves time by preventing a lot of editing from being necessary in the first place. My approach is to record until I make a mistake; then I stop the video and restart the recording. That way, when I piece everything together, I know that my mistakes are right at the end of each clip; so it’s easy to find and cut out that portion. And editing in Camtasia is great. It’s extremely intuitive.

 

My colleague, who has been doing a flipped classroom in her organic lectures for longer than I have, does things a little bit differently. She keeps a running list of timestamps where she makes mistakes or wants to redo something, and then she just re-records the parts she needs and replaces the old segments with the new ones. Both ways seem to work well!

 

My biggest problem with recording right now is sound quality; there is a lot of background noise in my office and in my home. I find that [recording in] my office with giant blankets around me to dampen sounds in the background works best . . . but it’s not ideal, obviously. I’m working on finding a better place to record before I start the videos for my other course.

Originally posted by Rebecca Celik, Ph.D on July 17, 2014.

 

How to start flipping your course: part 1

 

When Dr. Amanda Brindley, faculty lecturer at the University of Califoria, Irvine,  flipped her general chemistry course for the first time last fall she encountered challenges that are common to newcomers in the flipped community. She sat down with us to share her experience and pass along some of the tips and tricks you’ll need to start flipping your own chemistry course. Part 1 of this blog series will help you plan your flipped classroom journey.

 

What is the format of a flipped course?

 

For those who are unfamiliar with flipped courses, they employ a teaching style in which students review lecture materials at home in order to  prepare for class time devoted to group discussions, assignments, and activities.

 

Amanda delivers lectures via her own custom-made video podcasts. She includes a five-minute recap of the relevant video lectures at the start of each class meeting before getting students engaged in active learning.

I jump into a demonstration or two that serves as an analogy for the big concepts we’re focusing on that day. I have a few students come up and help me, which gets them out of their seats. When possible, I also use animations or simulations as a follow up-- PhET has some amazing ones.

 

After that they start working on a worksheet for that lecture. About half of the worksheet is conceptual and follows up on the demonstrations and simulations we just looked at; the other half is problem-solving oriented.

 

Normally I make the worksheet extra long, since running out of activities would be a bigger problem than not finishing all of the examples. I clearly state on, say, two of the questions that we may not get to them, but they are included as extra examples just in case; then if we don’t cover them I post answers online. But I only post answers to things we haven’t gotten to in class.

 

Sometimes I'll post some additional follow-up to questions we did get to, if I thought we went too quickly through something during class, or if the students seem confused; but I make better annotated answers for the ones we don’t make it to at all. I almost always have to post solutions to the challenge questions, and some of those are very hard. I usually say something on the website or document—that they’ll need to know it by exam time, but it’s a “challenge” now because of the timing. Other things really are above the level of a gen chem course, in which case I make sure they know they won’t see them on an exam for this class.

Prior to class, I write up hints for all of the problems on the worksheet and make those available so that students have a starting point. They work together in small groups with their neighbors.

 

Use online homework and/or clickers for assessment

 

Amanda uses Sapling Learning for her online homework system, which offers easy access to assignment analytics. She packaged it with i>clicker to use as an in-class gauge of student comprehension. The homework and pop clicker quizzes served as low-stakes summative assessments.

 

Homework for a chapter is always available to the students in Sapling Learning and is due 4-5 days after we’ve gotten through all the material for that chapter. At the end of each class period, I post a list of the Sapling Learning questions from that chapter that they should be able to complete. I also list some additional questions from the book as optional but recommended practice.

 

I use clickers at the beginning of some of the lectures as pop quizzes to make sure students really are watching the videos in advance, since that really is necessary for them to get the most out of the in-class discussion and activities

 

I also use clicker questions in the middle of the discussion of the worksheet questions as a way for me to get more feedback on how things are going. Clickers also automatically serve as a means to take attendance.

Devote an entire lecture period to explaining the flipped ideology

 

Amanda’s first semester of flipped students didn’t understand what they needed to do to be successful in a flipped course, so she adjusted her approach.

 

In the fall I had a harder time getting students to actually do the outside-of-class work that’s necessary for a flipped classroom to work… a lot of them had a "why does she expect us to know this before coming into lecture" or “isn’t it her job to teach us this” attitude.

 

This winter I headed that off a bit better by devoting a lecture to selling them on the idea and being crystal clear about “what I expect from you” and “what you should expect from me.”

 

One of the main things I stressed was that I did not expect them to be an expert on the material or to know how to approach all of the problems coming into lecture; but they were expected to try all of the in-class activities, even if they initially failed miserably at some of them.

 

And the students in my [second] group really did seem to take that to heart; they had much better attitudes about flipped classroom, at least in terms of preparation and participation. The 50 minutes spent being up-front with them about the methodology was 100% worth the time.

Amanda turned her typical “syllabus talk” into a scavenger hunt in her course website via a custom Sapling Learning homework assignment. This is a “best practice” tactic in the distance learning community as well.

 

The amount of emails I get asking me about things that are on the website has probably dropped by 80%! I think they got a lot more out of it, too, since it requires them to actually try out all the functionalities of the website and navigate to all of the important areas, including the FAQ page.

Visit FlippedChemistry.com for more resources and blog discussions.

Alex Kaufman

Combatting Cheating

Posted by Alex Kaufman Employee Jun 8, 2016

Cheating on homework: how can you stop it?

 

Originally posted by Rebecca Celik, Ph.D.

 

Today’s students have access to more online information than ever before, and with that access comes increased opportunity for cheating. Whether we use online technology in face-to-face courses or teach distance learning classes, we cannot afford not to be thinking about cheating. In fact, we must do as much as possible to prevent it. While the emphasis of this post is on cheating in the context of online homework, online sharing of homework solutions is just the tip of a very large iceberg. There are websites dedicated to making old quizzes and exams available for students taking the same courses from the same professors (e.g., Koofers.com, CourseHero.com, PostYourTest.com). It doesn't take much time to find PDF copies of entire textbook solution manuals available for illegal download. Search Craigslist in almost any city with a college or university and you'll find people offering to take entire online courses for students for a price.

 

Many schools provide on-campus exam proctoring services for distance learning courses and make-up exams, and companies like ProctorU and Kryterion offer similar services online for a fee. However, homework typically plays a different role than exams, serving as a low-stakes formative assessment that gives students a chance to practice new skills and receive valuable feedback. Ideally, the student will learn from their mistakes and demonstrate a deeper level of understanding in the future. Likewise, students should complete homework outside of class on their own time and, usually, at their own pace. Therefore, by necessity, homework assignments are almost always unproctored.

 

Most of us are aware that students can and do post solutions to online homework on websites such as Chegg or Cramster. This is true for any homework method, including pencil-and-paper homework. So, how does Sapling Learning help to prevent cheating? Where possible, Sapling Learning homework questions are randomized so that different students have different answers. This way, students who work together must communicate how they solved the problem rather than just the final answer. Additionally, questions may be pooled to add even more variability between students. Pooled questions assign similar yet unique problems, preventing them from sharing exact solutions.

 

The grading policies an instructor chooses also influence how likely students are to turn to cheating. In my experience, the best way to deter cheating is to keep the homework low-stakes. That is, I make homework worth only a small percentage of the course grade, and I keep the grading policy relatively lenient (i.e., low attempt penalty and high number of attempts). That way students are less incentivized to cheat on homework, and those who do tend to fail the tests and the class. Think of the homework as a learning tool for students rather than strictly summative assessment. Sapling Learning excels in this capacity. If you’d like, you can also set the solutions to be hidden until after the due date. However, you should consider that students often benefit more from the learning opportunity worked solutions provide if it is presented immediately after attempting a problem, when they still have a clear memory of their approach.

 

Another concern involves extra dummy accounts, which some students set up in hopes of obtaining correct answers to submit through their legitimate accounts. Anticipating this possibility, Sapling Learning makes it easy to remove fake student accounts. You can access and download your Sapling Learning roster. Use this process: Course Management > Participants > Export roster to open in Excel or similar software. This process allows you to compare the list of registered users in your Sapling Learning course to an official class roster from your school. Once you have identified a student to remove, click the Remove button found on the Participants page. When you are asked about refund options, keep the first option selected: the student will be given a refund, credit, or nothing as appropriate. Alternatively, your Tech TA can assist with the roster comparison and account removal process: send your Tech TA your final class roster after the add/drop period ends, and he or she can check it against your Sapling Learning roster and remove any accounts that do not belong in the Sapling Learning homework. At that point, your Tech TA can lock enrollment or set an enrollment password so that new students can’t enter without your permission.

 

Finally, when it comes to searching for homework solutions online, Sapling Learning solutions are much more difficult to find. Our team of experienced educators create our questions including all feedback, hints, and solutions. As a result, there is no risk of students obtaining a solution manual with all of the answers in one place, because such a thing simply doesn't exist. Compare this with a publisher-based online homework system, where the majority of questions are end-of-chapter questions with solutions widely available. In addition, solutions cannot be printed, making it cumbersome for students to share answers to problems.

 

The ultimate benefit of Sapling Learning’s approach to online homework is that students typically find it more efficient to learn the course material than to cheat on problems. Students are met with a mastery-learning approach, targeted feedback, and detailed solutions. That, in turn, makes Sapling Learning uniquely suited to prepare students for your proctored exams.

 

Have you tried other methods to combat cheating? Let us know in the comments below!