A Word From Jack

In my 56 years as an educator, many things in the classroom have changed dramatically, however, my goal to promote student engagement and student learning has remained steadfast.

Jack NarayanThis, in part, is what led me to my latest role here at WebAssign as Chief Academic Officer. It is in this role that I now have the ability to further my goal of promoting student engagement and learning. This fall I will begin a series of blog posts that will explore new theories and strategies to promote student learning and increase student engagement. The blog will also feature interviews with faculty and students, book reviews, highlights from academic conferences, and trending topics in the teaching community.

For example, one of the issues I will explore here is the lack of preparation for college. Many students graduate high school, without having learned how to study or how to learn new concepts. Many lack problem-solving skills as well as the basic procedural knowledge of learning. This presents significant challenges for instructors. We need to help students understand that learning is hard and that it only becomes fun after they experience some success. I will interview instructors who have tackled this issue in their classrooms and find out what advice they have for their peers.

The blog will also share case studies exploring the use of new tools in the classroom. For example, WebAssign’s newest tool for instructors, Class Insights, was developed to help instructors pinpoint specific challenges students are experiencing. By analyzing student performance data, instructors can provide support in a targeted manner. The companion tool for students, My Class Insights, lets students easily review their progress and seek help where they are struggling. Enabling instructors and students to access real-time feedback on performance can have an immediate and positive impact on learning and outcomes. I plan to reach out to a number of instructors after the fall semester and report their feedback on these exciting new tools.

I would also like to encourage you to connect with me around the topics of student engagement and student learning. Please feel free to email me with questions and comments, or to share your best practices, at jnarayan@webassign.net.

Here’s to the start of a successful 2015-2016 academic year!

New Term Tip: Prepare Your Students for WebAssign

A new school year means students who may be new to WebAssign. Make sure your students are as prepared as you are to maximize their WebAssign experience. To help get your class up and running, we’ve created a printable Student Quick Start Guide for you to share with your students.


Based on feedback from instructors like you, we recommend you download and distribute our Student Quick Start Guide as a tool to introduce your students to our system so they have a handy reference on common WebAssign tasks such as logging in and submitting assignments.

A full collection of new-term resources can be found on our website, including our new Interactive Best Practices Guide for setting up your course.

As always, if you need further assistance please do not hesitate to contact our Customer Support Team.

New Term Tip: Getting Started Assignments

Several years ago, we released the Getting Started Assignments, and since then thousands of instructors at over 1,500 different institutions around the world have been using these interactive assignments to introduce students to WebAssign. WebAssign’s Getting Started Assignments provide the opportunity for your students to familiarize themselves with the tools and question types they’ll be encountering throughout the semester, so when they start their first homework assignment the only thing they’ll need to worry about is getting that green check.

If you’re using a textbook that utilizes one of WebAssign’s Course Packs, you’ll find that the relevant Getting Started Assignment has been included. WebAssign will continue to expand our offering of Course Packs, and you can look for the Getting Started Assignments in those Course Packs as more become available.

To date we have Getting Started Assignments for mathematics, calculus, chemistry, and physics and all are available for free with your WebAssign account. Read more about the Getting Started Assignments, utilize the best practice tips below, and try them out for yourself!

Best Practices for Using Getting Started Assignments in Your Courses

Schedule a pre-made assignment
The Getting Started Assignments can be scheduled to your courses by searching for the appropriate assignment ID number. We recommend making one of these assignments available to students to work on before starting on actual graded homework. The assignment ID for each of these discipline-specific assignments are listed below. You can also find this information on our website.

Getting Started with WebAssign – Mathematics (Search for Assignment ID 5969592)
Getting Started with WebAssign – Calculus (Search for Assignment ID 5969651)
Getting Started with WebAssign – Physics (Search for Assignment ID 5969658)
Getting Started with WebAssign – Chemistry (Search for Assignment ID 4555794)

Add the Getting Started questions to your assignments using the Question Browser
You can gain access to the individual Getting Started questions in the Question Browser by adding them as an additional resource when you create a course. Adding Getting Started questions to your assignments is an excellent way to provide interactive instruction to your students when they need it most. Most instructors use the Getting Started Assignments at the beginning of the semester, but if your students won’t be encountering a particular tool or question type later in the class, you can add the relevant Getting Started question at the top of the first assignment in which they’d encounter that tool or question.

Use the Getting Started Assignments as year-long practice and exploration in the WebAssign application
The Getting Started Assignments can be a space for students to explore WebAssign’s tools and question formats in a low-stakes environment. Self-paced exploration is a great way to become comfortable with new technology. By leaving the assignment available for the duration of the course, and granting the students a large number of submissions, they can familiarize themselves with the WebAssign application and its tools throughout the semester.

Get involved
Taking the assignment as a student gives you a better understanding of how students are interacting with the homework for your course. You can take the Getting Started Assignment yourself by scheduling it to your course, and clicking “Open Student View.” The Getting Started Assignments were designed to address the questions that we most often heard from you and your students, and we depend on your feedback to continue improving these resources.

If you have any suggestions on how to improve the Getting Started Assignments, please post a comment below or contact us by phone or e-mail.

Instructor Spotlight: Dr. Sharon Vestal

We love featuring the innovative work of our outstanding faculty users here at WebAssign. This week we are spotlighting Dr. Sharon Vestal. We are currently offering her Calculus Lab to WebAssign users. We invite WebAssign users to try these labs this fall as a free trial in your current course. Contact us to start your free trial today!

Sharon_VestalWhat is your educational background and teaching history?

I earned my BA and MA in Mathematics from the University of South Dakota (USD). During the 1995-1996 academic year, I was a full-time instructor at Winona State University in Winona, MN.  This was the first time that I taught Calculus I.

After earning my PhD I was a faculty member at Missouri Western State University from Fall 2000 to Spring 2006. I have been a faculty member at South Dakota State University since Fall 2006. I have taught several calculus courses throughout my teaching career and I have taught our Calculus I Lab, for which this textbook was created.

What is your teaching philosophy?

My teaching philosophy has evolved a lot during my years as a faculty member, but I have always believed that students need to work hard in order to succeed. I set high expectations of my students and myself and work hard so that we can both achieve these expectations. I once had a student tell me, “You are tough, but you are fair.” I took that statement as a huge compliment.

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

Most of the classes that I currently teach are for pre-service teachers so they are frequently at the board presenting material and answering questions. My teaching practices have changed a lot over the last few years as I used to have the opinion that the teacher was the focal point of the room. Now I strongly believe that the students need to be the focal point of the room and the teacher needs to get them involved. This isn’t difficult with pre-service teachers as they know that they will eventually be the teacher in the room. In my other classes, I ask a lot of questions and wait for students to answer. There are times when I have to wait a while as no one wants to answer, but I wait patiently. I make it very clear to my students at the beginning of the semester that I want to hear from them during class and that I don’t want a quiet classroom.

What are your best practice suggestions for using WebAssign?

As a faculty member who believes strongly that learning mathematics is about learning the process not about getting the answer, I use WebAssign very carefully in my classes. I limit the number of attempts on problems, ranging from one attempt to five attempts. One attempt would be used for True/False, Yes/No, or multiple-choice problems while five attempts is standard for a free-response problem. Also, I limit the help features so that the students can’t use them until after the third attempt. This is the way that I encourage students to actually work on the problem on their own before using one of the help features.

I really like WebAssign and feel that it is a huge time saver for grading homework. Homework is important so students can practice. However, I also give paper/pencil quizzes and exams so students can demonstrate their thought process.

What role does technology play in your teaching?

I use technology daily when teaching. In fact, I teach a course called Technology for Math Educators so the focus of that course is helping pre-service teachers learn how to use technology appropriately in the classroom. I have learned a lot of technology throughout my years of teaching and learn more every day. It is sometimes difficult to find the right balance of how much technology to use in class as I am also very much a traditionalist when teaching mathematics and believe in students showing work with paper and pencil.

Can you give us a brief overview of what is included in your calculus lab manual?

The lab manual includes algebra and trigonometry skills that are needed to be successful in first semester calculus. These topics are structured in an order that would fit nicely with an early transcendental first semester calculus course. Each lab includes reading, videos (coming soon), practice problems, and exercises related to the topic for that lab. There are twelve labs so one lab per week fits nicely with the structure of a semester course.

What initially made you want to write your own lab manual?

After watching students struggle in Calculus I for many years and wanting to help them succeed in the course, I worked with my department to create a one-credit lab and then write the lab manual to go along with it. As a faculty member, I want to see students be successful in my course and in subsequent courses.

Have you seen a positive response in student’s grades and comprehension following completion of your lab manual?

Our co-requisite Calculus I Lab is required for certain students who we have determined (through data analysis) to be at-risk. Much of our positive results have come from anecdotal evidence. I had one student who was retaking the course and chose to take the co-requisite lab. He felt that the lab was very helpful to him and his opinion was that all students should have to take the lab!