Viewpoint: Ed tech helps with tough-to-teach courses

Exercises and practice tests were assigned and delivered over the Connect platform, and students were encouraged to use as much time as they could accessing Connect’s student-centric study features, such as LearnSmart, to review course content and previously submitted homework assignments.

All homework was submitted by students via Connect, and my teaching assistants scored all homework automatically using Connect’s Smart Grading feature.

Program results

At the completion of the first semester of PSY 201G, I evaluated Connect’s impact on the course in terms of student achievement as well as course administrative goals. I concluded that Connect did, in fact, help me achieve my dual objectives of increasing student engagement and reducing administrative burdens, enabling me and my assistants to focus our time and energy on teaching.

Although we are working with limited data and some self-selection—and therefore cannot make a strong claim for causation—it does appear that those students who chose to take advantage of the LearnSmart adaptive diagnostic tool in particular performed measurably better on their exams.

Students who completed all the assigned LearnSmart modules had average test scores 10 percent higher than students who hadn’t done any LearnSmart modules. The more time students spent with LearnSmart, the better scores they achieved.

Administrative time savings were significant. I was able to create all homework assignments for the entire semester in just a few hours using Connect Psychology’s Instructor Library and Simple Assignment Manager features. And a 90-percent reduction in the time my teaching assistants had to spend grading homework and exams freed us up to spend more time working with individual students.

I found the Connect Psychology platform to be a highly effective system for easing the logistics of teaching a large and demanding course. The most useful benefits from the new technology included:

  • The ability to pre-load homework assignments online;
  • The instantaneous grading feature;
  • The LearnSmart study modules, which provided students with targeted, individual study materials; and
  • Lecture capture (using Tegrity—added during the spring semester).

The LearnSmart modules provided a way for students to drill themselves for exams, eliminating the need to hold weekly review sessions. And the availability of the recorded lectures ensured that students who missed a class did not have to miss any of the material presented.

Lecture capture also allowed students who had been in class to revisit a lecture for purposes of review, enabling them to search for particular topics or sections of the presentation.

The tools provided by Connect Psychology allowed me to devote more time to individual students when they were in need of assistance, and they helped me to continue improving the course from semester to semester.

I believe internet-based assignment and assessment platforms like Connect represent a real breakthrough, particularly for instructors teaching survey or introduction courses with large numbers of students and a wealth of content to impart.

Igor Dolgov, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of psychology at New Mexico State University.

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