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6 Posts authored by: Elizabeth Uva Employee

Originally posted by Felix Ling, M.A.

When students take a principles of economics course, one of the biggest benefits is that the tools they learn can help them better understand and make sense of what’s going on in the world around them. As Kelli Mayes-Denker discussed a few weeks ago, one way to help students make that connection is to use news articles in concert with classroom discussions and/or Sapling Learning’s discussion forums. Another way to accomplish this is via blogs, which have proved to be a fertile ground for economic commentary, covering many issues relevant to your class, such as inequality,externalities, monetary policy, and international trade.

Your Sapling Learning course can help introduce your students to these debates by adding a blog block to your right sidebar, which then displays to your students the headlines and links to the latest posts of the blog(s) chosen. Your Tech TA has probably already configured your course with a blog, especially if you are using a textbook whose author has an economics blog.

Here's how it works


If your course does not currently have this block, or you wish to change the blog(s) presented by it, this is easy to do. Either ask your Tech TA, or follow these steps:

  1. Login to Sapling Learning, go to your course, and click “Turn editing on” in the upper right.
  2. If you already have a blog block and want to configure it by changing/adding the blogs displayed, scroll down to find that block. It may be titled “Remote News Feed” or “Economics Blogs,” or have the title of an economics blog along with five article links below it (see image to the right for an example).
  3. Then click either the “Add/Edit Feeds” link or the icon that looks like a pencil. Then skip to step 5.
  4. To add a new blog block, scroll down to the bottom of the right sidebar. Below “Blocks” there is an “Add…” drop-down menu. Select “Remote RSS Feeds” in this menu. After a moment, your course page will reload.
  5. You should now see the “Remote News Feed” block. Below it, there will be a “Click here to configure this block…” link. Click on that.
  6. You should see two tabs. If the “Manage all my feeds” tab is in blue, click on the “Configure this block” tab to switch there.
  7. You’ll then see a list of various economics blogs with checkboxes. Simply check the ones you’d like, configure the title of the block if you’d like, and then click on the “Save changes” button.

In the list to choose from, we’ve included a number of economics blogs (as well as economic news sources) that should be of interest to principles students. We’ve tried to hit all the bases, but it’s certainly possible that we left out the particular blog you want to add. In future posts, I’ll discuss how you can add a new blog to this list as well as discuss the relative merits of various economics blogs in the context of a principles class, but in the meantime, please talk to your Tech TA, who will be more than happy to assist you.

As a blog tends to have a point of view, you can present a broader perspective to your students by including more than one blog. A bonus from this is that many bloggers often engage in debates with each other, and your students can even participate in the debate when the blogs have open comments. You can encourage such participation by offering credit to students for posting comments on blogs and/or in your Sapling Learning forum.

You will, of course, want to grade on the quality of the contribution. You can configure the Sapling Learning forum to be graded, and there are a number of options available, including allowing students to vote themselves on forum posts. For blog comments, you will most likely want to review the comment yourself and grade it on criteria such use of reason and logic, supporting arguments with evidence, and employing concepts learned in class.

You might even really pique interest by awarding a large amount of credit to any student who manages to get the blog’s author to respond to them but if you want this to be realistically achievable, you may want to extend your site’s blog offerings past the bigger names like Krugman, Mankiw, and Cowen to include some lesser-known blogs such as Economics Help, Econbrowser, EconLog, and Noahpinion.

Originally posted by Tara Baxter, M.S.


Finding valuable learning tools can cost time and money, especially with the cost of educational resources rising higher and higher each year. Biologists are now in luck thanks to Scitable, an open, peer-reviewed science library and personal learning tool.

Although the content is focused mainly on genetics and cell biology, it’s applicable to most biology courses and specializations. Scientists at any stage in their career can build a profile, identifying their background and area of expertise, and use it to network with others in their field by joining groups and discussions.

Scitable provides relevant resources for anyone interested in biology. Budding scientists can find information about effective science communication and career paths, and professors and researchers can access peer-reviewed articles and current events in their field. The blog community at Scitable harbors an array of discussion topics for all audiences ranging from “Bioscience eLearning” to “Genetics of Dog Breeding” to “Microbe Matters.” Many of the posts feature relevant video content that may help pique students’ interests in different topics in genetics and biology by presenting information in the form that the digital native prefers: blogs and vidcast.

How to use Scitable in your course

One of my personal foci in science education is incorporating technology for digital native students. They are accustomed to a constant stream of bite-sized information, so blog posts and short videos can be an effective way to present information to them. This rides the coattails of informational videos and "now you know" style information (like TEDTalks) that are growing increasingly popular to people, young and old.

Scitable offers a unique resource that can help you accomplish this in your course: the ability to build a free virtual classroom. You can create a customized list of assigned readings, moderate class discussions, post announcements, and build a feed with top stories from Nature and Scientific American. This is the most direct way to incorporate Scitable’s rich stream of content into your course and engage your students in the real world of science using a medium that they’re comfortable with.

Scitable has a great mix of mini-review style articles and regular, high-level journal articles that are applicable to introductory courses, upper-level courses, and even biology seminars. The simplified mini-review style articles are a useful way to introduce new or undergraduate students to the style of journal writing without intimidating them with overly complex data. The articles are informative, short, and often include a scientific figure or table from the actual journal article. The information is presented in a way that is more approachable than it may have been in its original paper. It’s a good way for young students to begin considering novel concepts.


The eBooks and resource guides also provide a springboard for understanding and using some of the more complex and customizable online tools in genetics, like the UCSC Genome Browser. These types of resources can be incredibly effective for students taking courses that require hands-on work with tools that are used to conduct real experiments and studies. These tools are often daunting to students approaching them for the first time (even after they’ve had some exposure during class), so the dedicated guides on Scitable can also be handy.

Check out Scitable and its growing community of biologists. Whether you’re a professor looking for a way to engage your students, or a researcher who wants to stay connected with your peers, it could be extremely valuable to you!



Images from

Originally posted by Andrew S. Campbell, Ph.D.

Academics like you are rarely satisfied with the status quo, and that extends to the classroom. Thanks to modern advancements, a lecture course can be adjusted, and even transformed, with the goal of increasing student understanding and retention.

At Haverford College, Professor Joshua Schrier is innovating his classroom to emphasize problem solving, creating a more efficient and lively learning experience. Hear how he uses tools like Sapling Learning to facilitate this general chemistry course.

IITS Technology, Innovation & Pedagogy series: Joshua Schrier, Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Haverford College from Instructional technology on Vimeo.



Which techniques or resources do you use to engage your students? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Originally posted by Kelli Mayes-Denker.

Have you had a student stop by during office hours only to mention that they "just don’t get chapter 5"? For a student, this specific chapter may be especially daunting. In reality, there are probably a few distinct concepts the student is struggling with, thus causing problems throughout the entire chapter.

Being an economist, it is important to find a way to more efficiently utilize office hours and maximize student understanding. For instance, I started asking students to email me to schedule a meeting during office hours. This allows me to be more prepared for them and target their needs.

In my preparation for the meeting, I could look up the homework scores in Sapling Learning and click on the score in the grade book to see detail of the student's work. Many times, the reality was that we could focus our meeting on specific questions to address the problematic areas.

With Sapling Learning, I can get the overall homework score and view each attempt that the student made on each question. It became increasingly helpful to walk through several of these with individual students, asking them specifics to gauge understanding and further remedy their knowledge of the content.

The outcome is a more efficient use of my time during office hours with the ability to focus the student in areas of importance as opposed to a general high-level review. With the student present, we could address the content, improve understanding and then spend some time getting to understand their interests.

Once I know a bit more about the student, these interests can be incorporated into lectures, class discussions and projects to further engage the student in the overall economics subject material. This created a winning situation for both of us.

Viewing student attempts in Sapling Learning: do it yourself or email your Tech TA to learn how

1. Go to the grades icon on the main page, left side

2. The grader report will open with all student showing, then click on a student score

3. Now you will see one student’s assignment and each question in the assignment

4. Click on a quick number at the far left, this will allow you to see all attempts for that question

The example below shows Linus Pauling’s assignment. Question 2 is showing with each of his 5 attempts. Click the incorrect or correct tabs at the top of the question to view each attempt.

This was originally posted by Kelli Mayes-Denker.

The principal-agent problem is often discussed in economics courses when looking at information costs and moral hazard. However, it is an issue that surfaces in every academic course. This concept is applicable to the example of professors choosing the textbook requirements for their students, and is increasingly relevant due to the rising prices of textbooks in recent years. Just last month, NPR examined the question of textbook costs in a Planet Money segment.

When a professor (agent) reviews textbooks and other learning resources, the choices made impact the students (principal). While it is the professor’s course, the unique differentiating factor is that the professor gets to choose how to spend the student’s money.

In a personal decision, one may weigh costs of a product by carefully determining the utility received in each option. However, when choosing textbooks, the student bears the cost, while the professor may be swayed by a variety of factors unrelated to price. These might include author philosophy, the amount of preparation for the course, departmental politics, etc.

How can you find resources that fit your teaching philosophy while remaining cost-effective for your students? At Sapling Learning, we understand this dilemma. Our focus is to provide a variety of textbook options so the best value can be determined for both you and your students. We call this freedom of choice. You can choose new or used editions from your favorite author, an ebook package, or even just stand-alone online homework.

Maybe you really like a specific author’s writing style, but the new edition of that textbook would cost your students $200 or more. We can adapt our assignments to fit that older edition, whereas the publisher would only allow assignments to fit the new edition. This simple option opens up tremendous possibilities for your students. They can purchase a textbook from the university bookstore or an online marketplace. They can rent a book, or borrow from a friend. If you’d like a more formal bundle option, we may be able to resell used copies of your textbook choice through our “Sapling Books” program, passing along more savings to your students.

Our textbook partners provide valuable ebook options at lower prices for students. Your students will experience the benefits of easy ebook interaction that boost learning, such as search functions, keeping e-notes, highlighting, skimming, and more.

We realize the options for course materials are numerous, and that multiple incentives drive each of us to make meaningful decisions. That’s why Sapling Learning gives you freedom of choice!

Originally posted by Kelli Mayes-Denker on August 11, 2014.

As an instructor who has taught a variety of economics classes, both principles and intermediate, I find that making the connection to real life application is key.

In daily life, economics surrounds us and can be found through the evening news or even during a shopping trip. For the principles student, these concepts need to be connected from the text to real life to inspire a search for economics examples outside of the classroom.

You can find relevant articles by searching the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, USA Today, The Economist, Time or Newsweek. Each of these can be another way to add the connection outside of the class that makes an impact for life.

For instance, in my classes using forums, articles and videos have been effective ways to make this connection while providing additional ways to engage students beyond the traditional lecture.

Forums for fun analysis, interactivity and connection

In Sapling Learning, forums can be created allowing students to comment on current events and apply analysis tools learned in class. My classes tend to be structured week by week allowing students to examine 1-2 chapters of content per week. Then one application of that content is analysis on the forums.

For instance in talking about supply and demand, the students might be given a current event article on a relevant hot topic such as Amazon, Tesla, Google, etc. The students can read this article as an example illustrating what they have just learned. Then it is their turn to go to the web and search for a relevant article related to supply and demand. They then post the link for others in the class to see and comment with a bit of analysis of why this is interesting and how it relates to that week's content.

Making forums part of your class: do-it-yourself or email your Tech TA

1. Find several current event articles and then determine which chapter of your text they would best align to illustrate the content for that week

2. Go into Sapling Learning and Turn Editing On (found on the top right side of the main page)

3. Find the week that the article aligns with and then click Add An Activity from the drop down under that week, then select Forum.

4. You will be directed in a new page to Add a New Forum Topic where you can name the forum with a title and enter the web link of the example article with instructions for students to find an article and do their own analysis.

5. Click Save and Continue and your forum will now show under the week you originally chose. Shown here in week 1 as Forum: Student Bio and Introduction and then in week 2 as Forum: Provide a Microeconomic Current Event.