Digital Learning and the Transition to Achieve: A Conversation with Dr. Michael Poulakis

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When instructors and students are used to in-person learning, the switch to online, remote learning can be a difficult one. It’s not unusual to feel rather disconnected, and it can be a challenge to form meaningful instructor/student and peer relationships. Macmillan Learning’s new digital platform Achieve can help facilitate this sense of community that many might feel is lacking in the virtual classroom. 

The Achieve platform includes an interactive e-Book as well as extensive learning materials with pre-class, in-class and post-class activities. In addition to these materials, Professor of Psychology Dr. Michael Poulakis finds the Goal-setting and Reflection surveys to be the biggest advantage of Achieve. Through the use of this key function, Dr. Poulakis feels he can better understand the needs of his students and track their progress throughout his courses. Macmillan Learning asked Dr. Poulakis what other features of the new digital learning platform he found helpful. 

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What have been some challenges with teaching–especially with online learning–since the pandemic started? How have you addressed them?

I think one of the main challenges is knowing how I should reach out to and communicate with my students to make sure that they understand the material. I teach psychology at the University of Indianapolis, so teaching online I need to ask myself: Do they understand the material? And, do they feel safe and comfortable enough to reach out to me if they don’t? Can they raise their hand virtually, so to speak, and say “Dr. P. I need your help with this”? Lastly, can I provide them with the tech experience that they need to be successful students? For me, Achieve has achieved that. Achieve has done that for my students. 

How do Achieve and LaunchPad differ?

Achieve is LaunchPad on steroids. I think that Achieve is what Windows 10 is to Windows 7. One of the advantages is the ability to do online surveys. This way I can gather some confidence about my students regarding how they feel about the class and their performance. How are they doing? How are they performing? These are the questions I ask myself, and with Achieve, I get data. I get to see what challenges my students face, including individual data from each student based on their responses, and that gives me more information about each student. 

Another thing I like about Achieve is the plurality of assignments for each chapter. That is one of the major advantages, and the reason I believe that is because I can use current events, and I can also make sure that I capture different learning styles. That has been very helpful to me. 

One part of Achieve that instructors and students have really responded to are the Goal-setting and Reflection Surveys. Are you using those? If so, how has that student information changed your class–for you and your students?

I’ve used Goal-setting and Reflection surveys since I started using Achieve. One of the main advantages is that I get additional information about each one of my students. I’m a qualitative researcher, so the ability for me to know what is going on for each student–and I taught a class of 45 students this past semester, dealing with COVID, dealing with financial issues, dealing with relationships, dealing with medical issues, working full time (many of them work full time). The surveys gave me information about how I can best reach them, especially during off-hours when I’m not teaching class to ask them “What can I do for you?” or “How can I help you?” and I think that helped me realize that each one of them had their own particular set of challenges.

I think it also reinforced that they can reach out to me, and it gave me a good idea of how they’re doing in class. They respond well to that because you can assign the different surveys throughout the semester, and that gives you data–baseline to an output–about how they’ve done, how they have progressed, and also how successful they feel about reaching their goals. 

Why did you first decide to use online tools in your class? 

All of my students used digital in high school, and that’s a shift that I have seen. Because of COVID, they’re already predisposed to that model. So for me, in terms of teaching, I knew that I needed to have a robust technology platform like Achieve to reach them. There were no technology issues, and that is such a blessing. I did not have to play tech support; I did not have to refer them to the tech side. The worst problem that happened was for me to teach them how to disable pop-ups and ad-blockers–for Achieve to work–and that was the worst scenario the whole semester. 


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. Interested in hearing more from Dr. Poulakis? Register today for the webinar "Connecting with Students to Improve Learning" where he'll share more about his experience using Goal-Setting and Reflection Surveys in Achieve.

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.