Digital Learning and the Transition to Achieve: A Conversation with Karen Butland

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We’re now more than midway through the Spring semester, and many instructors are still teaching remotely. Many of them are using digital learning systems to accompany their instruction, enabling students to complete assignments, track their grades, connect with instructors and peers, take quizzes or other use other self-assessment tools, and stay engaged. The launch of Macmillan Learning’s new digital learning platform Achieve, couldn’t have come at a better time to support these learners. Butland.png

Over the past few semesters, many instructors have already made 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 Karen Butland, an Adjunct Professor of Chemistry at Grossmont College, about digital learning and her switch to Achieve for Foundations of College Chemistry.

What have been some challenges with online learning since classes went virtual?  How have you addressed them?

One of the challenges since classes went virtual is trying to assess student learning with exams and quizzes. Some instructors choose to address that problem with proctoring services, or with having students sign an honor code. I did not like either of those options. 

With fabulous features in Achieve, I was able to “pool” questions so that the computer picks different questions for each student within a certain category. For numerical questions that are the same, Achieve has algorithms that give every student a different number. Achieve has a feature allowing timed tests which has great flexibility. My students have a two-day window to complete an exam or quiz whenever it is convenient for them, but once they open the quiz, the timer counts 45 minutes for them to complete it.

People are hesitant to embrace change, but what would you say are the benefits of moving to Achieve vs your experience in Sapling?

I am VERY hesitant to embrace change, but I have found Achieve to be well worth the effort. I had already made the shift to using Sapling in HTML5, so migrating to Achieve wasn’t that much different.

How do Achieve and Sapling differ?

Achieve has many more features than Sapling. I have yet to discover all of them, but there was one thing I was delighted to find. When a disability student needed extra time on an exam or quiz, this was quite difficult to do in Sapling. In Achieve, it is so easy--just select the student and type in how much time they get, and Achieve does the rest.

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 love being able to see exactly which questions each student missed. It is extremely helpful to have a student on Zoom and share my screen while we look directly at their homework and compare their answers to the correct answer. I can also easily “reset” a question to give a student the opportunity to try again with a different number, once they feel like they understand the solution. I love the flexibility of being able to edit their score as I see fit.

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 its 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.

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