Instructor Spotlight: Dr. Anne Triplett

Featuring the innovative work of our outstanding faculty users is something we love to do here at WebAssign. This week we are spotlighting Dr. Anne Triplett. Anne is taking a sabbatical from teaching this year and will be writing a collection of sports-themed questions for WebAssign! We are very excited to have her working with us and recently spoke with her about her education background and teaching philosophy.

 Anne TriplettWhat is your educational background and teaching history?

In 1997 I graduated from The University of Oregon with a PhD in pure Math. I then taught at the University of Maine at Farmington for three years before coming to the University of Mount Union. I was fortunate to be able to do some teaching while I was a student, so I knew that was the path I wanted to take.

What is your teaching philosophy?

Make it real! If I am teaching probability, I start with expected value and do some actual games in class. This shows the students that counting arguments are useful. When doing weighted averages, I use quarterback ratings from football as an example. Sometimes I will start a mathematical topic with an example that is somewhat unexpected, so the students can become familiar with an application before they actually understand the mathematics. I try to teach concepts by relating them to real-life situations, when possible. I believe that all students are capable of learning, but that learning takes place more effectively when students have understood contexts and applications.

What teaching practices do you employ to get your students engaged in learning?

I try to use as many examples as I can from different disciplines. In a precalculus class, I may use examples from sociology or psychology. I always try use examples from sports and music. I hope never to give the students the feeling that my class is being taught in isolation from other disciplines. Math relates to every discipline on a college campus.

I also provide rapid feedback to students through frequent quizzes, tests, and other assessments. In class, I ask students questions and expect the participation of all students, whenever possible. I frequently ask students to work out problems on classroom whiteboards, and I assign graded WebAssign homework every day. I have many office hours for students, and I make certain that my students are aware of campus tutoring that is available to them.

What are your best practice suggestions for using WebAssign?

I like to use different forms of assessment. Some quizzes are in class and some are timed assignments on WebAssign. My assignments are due at midnight the day before every class. In this way, it is not likely that students will try to stay up until 4:00 a.m. the night before the assignment is due. I assign problems from different sources. The result is that the student will see different ways to ask for the same information. For example – find y’, find dy/dx, find the rate of change of y w.r.t. to x, find the slope of the curve, etc.

One thing that I always thought was odd when I was a student, is that teachers would tell us to get a head start on studying and not wait until the last minute, but they would only conduct reviews in the last class before the exam. This makes it likely that students will wait until the last minute to begin preparing for the exam.  If I give an exam on a Friday, then I assign a review on WebAssign the Friday before the exam, and I make it due on the Thursday before the exam at noon.

I make sure that “Practice Another Version” is enabled after the due date, so that they can work out the tough problems again. I believe that this helps to prevent a lot of procrastination. I send a gentle reminder to start the review early. Having the students see the review early shows them what material they are responsible for in enough time for them to get help if they are behind.

What role does technology play in your teaching?

I use the usual things like Excel, PowerPoint and Mathematica. But, I also have the students Google different topics and see what they find. For example, I might ask: “How many YouTube videos are there on integration by parts? Watch two of them and tell me what you think.”

What do you plan to achieve during your sabbatical?

I will be writing questions with a sports theme that require different math skills. Although many books have been written on the connections between mathematics and sports, I have not found one that provides many useful examples for students who do not have a strong interest in mathematics. Creating a collection of sports-related questions that teach basic skills and are both interesting and useful is at the heart of my sabbatical project.

The questions that are typically available for statistics classes are basic and uninspiring, dealing mainly with mean, median, and mode. Writing my own types of interest-based questions would help to provide students with more relevant content and more interesting delivery of the material. I have also found that most of the sports-related questions are focused on baseball, basketball and football. However, there is some very interesting mathematics in sports like cricket and bowling. So, on my sabbatical, I will need to learn about some sports that I am not currently familiar with.


We want to hear from you! Do you use similar teaching methods to engage your students. Will this collection of sports-themed questions help your students learn? Respond in the comments section below.

WebAssign Wins EdTech Digest’s Cool Tool Award

We are thrilled to announce that WebAssign was named the Collaboration Solution category winner for EdTech Digest’s Cool Tool Awards!

The mission of EdTech Digest is to tell the story of 21st-century education transformation. This year’s awards program highlighted the best and brightest tools, leaders, and trendsetters pushing forward today’s education revolution. The finalists and winners were selected as examples of well-known and highly regarded technology solutions.

“We are honored to be recognized by EdTech Digest,” said Rob Simora, WebAssign CTO. “Collaboration is an essential component to drive successful teaching and learning results, and WebAssign provides a range of useful tools and technology for students and faculty to work together.”

“In keeping with the mission of EdTech Digest, we are proud to share these cool tools, bold leaders, and innovative trendsetters that we hope will inspire learners and leaders everywhere,” said Victor Rivero, editor in chief, EdTech Digest. “These winners are reshaping the education culture, and they are creating a new and better future for students everywhere.”


Why Educators Should Use Online Assessments Like Gym Equipment

How frequent, low-stakes online assessments can help improve student learning and retention.

You may think that comparing online assessments to hitting the gym is an odd comparison—but it’s an accurate one when considering strengthening learning pathways in students’ brains.

Take, for example, the principle of deconditioning. To maintain their physical fitness and endurance, athletes must routinely exercise. Stop exercising and their level of conditioning begins to dramatically decline. Studies have shown, however, that athletes who need to take time off from training can still maintain a level of fitness if they exercise once a week.


Several analogous concepts can apply to student learning. One example is Ebbinghaus’ forgetting curve–the fact that learned knowledge is not durable, but can be lost if not rehearsed. “Time on task” is also recognized as a major factor in learning gains. In general, the more quality, focused time spent on an activity, the better the related learning outcomes.

This raises the question of what counts as “quality” – is there a specific way of spending the time or arranging the time that results in better performance?

Optimizing for memory

These concepts are related to the notion of spaced repetition. Rather than bingeing on information (for instance, pulling an all-nighter before an exam), students should study a little each day or every other day to refresh the information on a consistent basis. Without this rehearsal of knowledge, memory retention drops over time.

Certain types of knowledge may naturally have longer retention, such as mnemonics, rhymes, acronyms (blue line below) as opposed to random strings of digits and letters (purple line). Knowledge that is practiced can gradually move from quickly decaying (purple) to longer-lived (green, red, blue) through practice. This repeated practice explains how a person can remember certain random strings of information such as a locker combination, identification numbers, or license plate.onlinegym_chart

Order and structure can also help with retention. Rather than remembering dozens of formulas, one can learn the principle behind them, which is easier to remember for longer periods of time.

Practices for efficiency

With the importance of frequency established, the next step is to determine what students should be doing during these regular study sessions. Many instructors have found learning benefits by utilizing the method of frequent, low-stakes testing.

Low-stakes testing can be any sort of assessment that doesn’t have a large impact on final grades, unlike an exam that could make up 10-25 percent of the final grade. With frequent, low-stakes assessments, students get regular feedback that helps guide their studying and expectantly makes them more effective and efficient studiers.

This also helps preclude a misconception that simply reading the text or notes is sufficient – active use of the information in the context of a problem is key.

So, as an educator, how do you facilitate this behavior? Rather than assign weekly homework or homework limited to the days on which class meets, you can use online assessment tools to provide more frequent assignments designed to improve studying and retention.

Assessments like workouts

Just as a workout can be classified based on the type (easy or hard, long or short) these frequent assignments should also vary in length and difficulty. Collections such as WebAssign General Chemistry, sort questions into the following categories to make the assignment creation process easier:

  • Exercises that focus on a broader content area, similar to traditional homework
  • Skill questions that provide focused practice and support on a particular skill
  • Concept-mastery questions that assess student ability to connect concepts in the framework of a larger problem
  • Final-exam questions that assess student ability to integrate a wide range of chemical concepts in a single question, suitable for final exams or year-end reviews

This lets a user easily create “easy workout” assignments of exercises and skill questions, and “hard workout” assignments of concept mastery questions, with the added possibility of a nice well-rounded workout assignment to review for the final exam.

Let’s continue with the athletics analogy and see what we can learn from the process of training for a marathon: Marathon training programs (1, 2, 3) could be considered similar to a “syllabus” for a “semester” of preparation for a big “exam” at the end. For example, class assignments should be varied according to your semester plans and desired outcomes.

In both athletic and academic cases, you are trying to drive adaptation – and this adaptation can’t be rushed. Marathon programs frequently have shorter “midterm” races as a check-in to gauge performance and set expectations for the target marathon. The longest long run, a “practice exam,” if you will, is scheduled a few weeks prior to the “final” to give time for recovery and correction of problems that were identified.

Every plan has frequent practice to maintain and improve fitness with rarely more than a single day of rest in a row. Even the more advanced plans (1,2) for experienced runners have these characteristics – no matter your level of training, a coach would not suggest resting for 16 weeks, running 26 miles the night before, and then trying to run the 26.2 miles of a marathon. There are no shortcuts to success.

In summary, you can help your students exercise their minds and prepare for success with:

  1. Frequent, low-stakes assignments that require regular, active engagement with your course material
  2. A long-term plan for the semester that gradually increases in difficulty, with appropriate feedback along the way – feedback that occurs early enough for students to alter and improve how they prepare

Have a great term – hit the ground running and sustain that momentum!

WebAssign Partners with University Science Books to Offer New Textbooks

We are pleased to announce that we now offer an online homework solution for the publishing company University Science Books.

“We are excited to expand WebAssign’s physical chemistry offering with McQuarrie and Simon’s Physical Chemistry: A Molecular Approach also known as “Big Red,” and Chang and Thoman’s Physical Chemistry for the Chemical Sciences,” said Erik Epp, WebAssign chemistry product manager. “WebAssign is already a leader in the advanced mathematics arena, so we are pleased to bring advanced grading options for algebraic expressions, linear and differential equations, and matrices to questions in physical chemistry.” These new titles feature links to a complete eBook and step-by-step derivation questions to help students understand complex ideas.

University Science Books has published quality books and textbooks in chemistry, physics, astronomy, biology, and environmental sciences for more than 35 years. In addition to the two physical chemistry titles, WebAssign also now offers an enriched question collection for the publisher’s popular title, McQuarrie’s General Chemistry, 4th edition.

“With WebAssign, we are able to provide users our affordable content through an effective, high-quality online instructional system,” said Jane Ellis, publisher at University Science Books. “This union enables us to support student learning at a deeper level.”

WebAssign and University Science Books will be exhibiting at the 249th American Chemical Society (ACS) National Meeting and Exposition in Denver, CO from March 22-26, 2015. Visit us at booth #201 and University Science Books at booth #605.

Friday Funny!


Have a better math/science/teaching joke than this one? Email us to have it posted as one of our future Friday Funnies!

Friday Funny!


 Have a better math/science/teaching joke than this one? Email us to have it posted as one of our future Friday Funnies!