Choosing the right digital learning system is an important consideration for instructors as they plan out their courses -- especially when many classes are taking place remotely. More than just a place to read an e-textbook or complete homework, these systems are interactive tools used by students to complete assignments, track grades, connect with instructors, take quizzes or other self-assessment tools, and more. Each system has different strengths and offers different pedagogical approaches.
With the launch of Macmillan Learning’s new digital learning platform Achieve, instructors have been making the switch from Sapling, one of the more popular systems for STEM instructors and students. The Achieve platform includes an interactive e-Book as well as expansive learning materials with pre-class, in-class and post-class activities. We asked Dr. Tony Hascall, a Chemistry Professor at Northern Arizona University, about digital learning and his switch to Achieve for Interactive General Chemistry.
People are hesitant to embrace change, but what would you say are the benefits of moving to Achieve vs your experience in Sapling?
The main benefit is that Achieve is better integrated with the textbook and gives you the ability to assign readings from the textbook as well as links to videos, simulations etc.
The library of questions is exactly the same, including LearningCurve (adaptive quizzing), but Achieve allows readings etc. to be assigned for credit. Achieve also has a more modern, less cluttered appearance and makes it clear for students to see what assignments have upcoming due dates.
You mentioned that you give students pre-class, in-class and post-class work -- how does technology like LMS, Achieve and iClicker fit into that?
I have found that students don’t tend to do assignments unless they count for some points in the class. Achieve allows readings from the textbook to be assigned for credit. I also post asynchronous video lectures on YouTube, which can also be assigned on Achieve, as well as links to other resources such as PhEt simulations. These can be assigned pre-class to allow students to come to class prepared for active learning activities. And of course homework can be assigned as post-class work.
The LMS has mainly been useful during removed learning for posting materials that would have been handed out on paper in class. I have also used it for exams
One benefit to digital learning is the insights you get about student performance. What kind of feedback do you get and how do you use it?
I mainly use this to identify students who are struggling or not doing work early in the semester to try to change their habits before it is too late.
Why did you first decide to use online tools in your class?
Since my classes have been quite large, I did not want to assign paper homework each week due to the large amount of time needed to grade. But it is important that students practice the material outside of class. Online tools allow students to be given assignments that are graded automatically and provide students with instant feedback and hints.
Also I believe that students tend not to read traditional paper textbooks anymore, so having an electronic textbook that is integrated with the online system, as is the case with Achieve is very effective.
What have been some challenges with online learning since classes went virtual? How have you addressed them?
I would say the two major challenges have been trying to do active learning in a remote format, and giving exams.
I have tried putting students in Zoom breakout rooms, but with large classes, it is really not the same as having students working together in the classroom and being able to walk around the room and look at students’ work and help them
As for exams, I have tried as much as possible to write “Google-proof” questions to try to ensure that students are being tested on what they have learned, not just what they can look up.
This interview is part of a series focusing on how digital learning is being used in college classrooms and, in particular, what the transition to Achieve has been like.
About Achieve: Macmillan Learning built it’s new digital learning platform Achieve to help students of all abilities and backgrounds succeed. It offers the content, tools and insights about student success to do just that. Achieve was designed with active learning in mind, and can be used in traditional, online, hybrid, blended, or a fully “flipped” classroom, with options for both synchronous and asynchronous learning to support engagement. It was co-designed with more than 7,000 students and over 100 leading educators and learning scientists both at our company and on our independent review boards. Learn more about Achieve.