Wanted: Beta Testers for a New General Chemistry Text

Stephen Matchett, a professor at Grand Valley State University in Michigan, has written a textbook aimed at the second semester of a General Chemistry course. This text is unique in that it is fully interactive by taking advantage of the power of WebAssign to engage the students as they read. Each chapter is written as a series of interactive sessions (4-9 pages) which can be mixed and matched to follow the instructor’s pedagogy. Imagine your students showing up to class having actually read the material prior to the lecture. This textbook is designed to make student reading a functional and not ignored part of the coursework.

Features include:

  • A conversational style that speaks to the student not at them.
  • Fully worked practice problems.
  • Pedagogy to teach students how to read science texts. By asking questions directly about the graphs and figures, students are shown how to interpret graphical information.
  • An emphasis on building a full conceptual understanding as well as problem solving.
  • More than 700 questions that build on the lessons presented. Most of the questions are linked to the interactive textbook so that an incorrect response lets the student open the appropriate section in a parallel window so they can review as they work through the problems.
  • Emphasis on continuous review and building a context-rich understanding of the material.

The textbook has been used for 3 years in a second semester General Chemistry class at GVSU by 2 instructors. Beta testers are wanted to get broader feedback about the effectiveness and convenience of the system. Beta testers would have email and phone access to the author and be asked to:

  1. Seek feedback from their students about how the system works for them.
  2. Search for areas in need of clarification or expansion to improve the book. A small record of issues or comments would be appreciated.
  3. Provide feedback on how it was used (optional reading vs. required; flipped vs. traditional classroom)

Cost: Free to the tester and their students during the 2015-2016 academic year!

If you are interested, please contact WebAssign for a copy of the table of contents, contact information for the author, and access to the current version of the text.

Increasing Student Engagement with Blended Learning

Kyle Kline has taught high school mathematics for twelve years and is entering his fifth year of teaching with WebAssign. He currently teaches algebra II and pre-calculus at Twin Lakes High School in Monticello, IN.


Kline holds the fundamental belief that all students can achieve a certain level of mastery in mathematics. “Not every student is capable of making straight A’s, but they are all capable of putting forth their best effort,” Kline says. He applauds the efforts of his students if they work hard and put in the effort to learn the material. Kline believes that the effort in itself is a success no matter the letter grade.

In his pre-calculus class, he has created a blended learning environment to increase student engagement. Kline uses WebAssign to post notes, videos, helpful links, and homework assignments. He also has his students do a mixture of assignments utilizing both WebAssign and the textbook. Typically they will view the notes and videos for homework, while much of the in-class time is spent working on practice problems and extension activities.

As part of each semester’s coursework, students are also asked to submit a video on a math topic. This assignment is a group effort, and students break into small teams to collaborate. Projects have included game shows, music videos and parodies of their assignments. Students aren’t the only ones creating video content. Kline also has an extensive YouTube library, including a few parodies of his own.

Technology plays a key role in Kline’s classroom, in which every student has his or her own laptop. This provides more opportunity for interaction, and he has found that his students are more active learners. He utilizes WebAssign for homework and online quizzes as well as the announcement feature. Kline finds announcements to be a great place for him to share important information and materials with his students. Each year, Kline implements more and more of the tools of the online learning system into his classroom.

One of Kline’s favorite features is Ask Your Teacher, which helps facilitate teacher-student interactions. He finds himself using Ask Your Teacher almost nightly and feels it has given students a voice in his class. This is especially important for students who do not feel comfortable asking questions in class.

His suggestions for other teachers and instructors using WebAssign are to read the monthly WebAssign newsletter and to attend WAUG and network with other WebAssign users. “It is a great place to meet new people and learn more about WebAssign and its features,” he says.

The WebAssign Users Group Meeting (WAUG) will be held on June 25th and 26th this year and features a great speaker lineup and interactive question coding workshops. Register today to reserve your spot!

Engaging Students in Their Own Learning

Stephen Matchett, a chemistry professor at Grand Valley State University with 24 years of experience teaching at the college level, believes that learning doesn’t end when a student graduates.

steve-matchett“When we leave school, we must continue to teach ourselves, so I try to guide them in learning this process,” he says.

Matchett’s teaching philosophy is to engage students to participate in their own education so that they can be life-long learners.

“Learning is not a passive process,” he emphasizes. “It requires us to work.”

Engaging students in their education requires extensive feedback and interaction, which Matchett says is made easier by using WebAssign. Before classroom lectures, students read the interactive textbook, which Matchett wrote entirely in WebAssign, and then test their knowledge by answering questions and solving problems online as they read through WebAssign. Then, Matchett uses the lecture to help students build on what they’ve already read.

“Because students work with the textbook prior to class, they are much better prepared and have a deeper understanding of the material,” he says.

In order to prevent students from cheating on the homework, Matchett uses WebAssign’s ability to randomize examples and problems from within the textbook itself, making each student’s experience unique.

Matchett also engages students by using WebAssign as an alternative to clickers in the classroom. Although clickers are in theory a good way to encourage student learning, professors have often run into problems with the hardware. For example, students forget to bring their clickers to class, or the batteries are dead. Sometimes students click randomly just to get attendance points which can give the instructor faulty information. With WebAssign, Matchett can take attendance and facilitate in-class participation by having students use their own smart phones as the hardware with no additional cost to students or department.

Although Matchett finds many features of WebAssign helpful to his teaching style, he says that being able to use the WebAssign platform to create his own materials has been particularly useful.

“Use WebAssign’s powerful features to customize the experience to your classroom,” Matchett advises other instructors.

Stephen Matchett will be presenting “Moving Beyond Question Authorship: The Power Of Larger Scale Content Creation” at our WebAssign Annual Users Group this June!

Collaborative Learning and Online Assessments Enhance Developmental Math at Ohio University-Chillicothe

Check out this inspiring article published by Campus Technology on collaborative learning that highlighted one of our innovative WebAssign users, Michael Lafreniere. Come to our annual Users Group Meeting to hear Michael discuss more details of his collaborative classroom setup and share his insight on Visible Learning in WebAssign.

By Leila Meyer
While in his previous role as associate dean, Lafreniere became concerned about the number of students who were repeating developmental mathematics courses two or three times in an effort to move on to college algebra. He had started using technology in his classroom in the late 90s, and even back then he saw its potential to make his classroom more efficient so he could spend more time helping students understand concepts. He used it for purposes such as sharing his notes with his students, but what he really wanted was a tool that could assess his math students’ problem solving process and give them feedback.


Evaluating an Online Instructional Tool

Around 2009, Lafreniere began looking for a tool to accomplish that goal. One of them was WebAssign, an online instructional system that combines digital learning content with instant assessment. “I eyed WebAssign because it had the ability to take advantage of some of the powerful packages on the mathematics and engineering scene, which were Maple and Mathematica,” he said in a phone interview. “Those were real draws because I knew the power behind those products that they were tapping into.”

As part of the product evaluation process, Lafreniere was able to compare WebAssign and other tools side-by-side in his classroom on a trial basis. “I had the opportunity to bear witness to students and their engagement, their excitement or frustration when working with these different tools,” he said. “It was rather interesting to see, in some cases, students taking a developmental sequence in two different formats at the same time. Usually you’re comparing apples to oranges so to speak with different students, but we actually had students experiencing both.”

Lafreniere evaluated the tools based on their academic value as well as cost, including textbook costs for students. The students had a real affinity for WebAssign, Lafreniere said, and as a professor, he liked its features, such as question authoring, pooling and randomization; customization and support for third-party tools for video, simulations and online calculators; as well as freedom to choose between publishers. The university had already adopted a textbook and wanted a tool that could support it. He also saw the potential of WebAssign to let students convey their mathematical thoughts beyond click and point by using digital ink. “It really has a lot of tools that are highly graphical in nature,” he said.

Responsive Teaching, Collaborative Learning and Online Assessment

Lafreniere lets the students work through the material at their own pace in WebAssign, but the majority of them choose to move through the coursework together. Because the tool lets Lafreniere monitor how well each student is mastering the material, he can pace his course accordingly, going back to reteach concepts students are struggling with. “You can see an evolution in students becoming more and more open, knowing that they can come to a classroom where they’re actually going to get a chance to ask questions about the difficulties they’re facing, versus a typical lecture where I’m moving on whether you understand it or not,” said Lafreniere. Over time, he has collected data about the number of times a typical student needs to work through a type of problem before he or she masters the concept, and he provides students with those benchmarks. If they’re still struggling with a concept after that number of attempts, it’s a flag that they need assistance.

Sometimes it’s Lafreniere providing that assistance, and sometimes it’s a fellow student. The system generates a unique set of problems for each student, while ensuring that they are based on the same mathematical concept. That randomization means students can work collaboratively, helping each other understand the mathematical procedure without copying each others’ work. “It allows the students literally to sit next to each other, as well as online, and talk about a problem that they’re trying to solve from a conceptual and procedural fluency standpoint, versus peering over [someone’s] shoulder and just taking an answer and submitting it,” said Lafreniere.

Since implementing WebAssign, Lafreniere has also revamped his approach to assessment and switched to proctored exams through a testing center. Each exam is available during a two-week window, so students can write select a time that is convenient for them and when they feel best prepared to tackle the challenge. Because the exams take advantage of WebAssign’s randomization feature, there is no risk of students cheating by sharing answers. It also means students can take each exam up to three times, with different problems each time. Lafreniere gives about eight exams throughout the course, so using the proctored approach means eight hours more classroom time for teaching and learning during the semester.

Effects on Developmental Math Outcomes

Since implementing this new approach to developmental math classes, Lafreniere has seen an increase in the rate of students passing the course and progressing to college algebra. “It was really impressive how students — when given the right direction to work on concepts, to build their procedural fluency — can learn the material and not have to revisit it time and time again,” said Lafreniere. The college algebra instructors noticed a change in the students coming from the developmental math classes, too. “Other faculty were finding them contributing and well prepared for their classes,” said Lafreniere. “That was a telling sign that things were going right.”

Based on the success of Lafreniere’s developmental math classes, the university has rolled out the new approach to all of its developmental math classes, so there are now about seven or eight faculty members using the new approach.

The Testing Effect: Changing Student Behavior with Enhanced WebAssign

We wanted to share a blog post from one of our publisher partners about the Testing Effect, a phenomenon we are passionate about.  Thanks to Rochelle Beatty, Program Manager for TeamUP Peer-to-Peer Faculty Development, for this great article and insight!

Have you ever taken the time to compare the results of your first test to the final grades in your course? If so, you probably noticed a correlation between passing the first exam and passing the course or even persisting until the end of the semester. I remember my mentor explaining this phenomenon to me during my first year teaching college (25+ years ago) and over the years I have realized, she was correct.

In fact, we noticed that only about 40% of our students were successful in passing the first exam (in college algebra) and I found it difficult to move the needle for many years. We attributed their lack of success to their not knowing our method of testing, not understanding the rigor needed in a college level course, not setting aside enough time to study, and the list continues.

We also noticed that when students did not do well on the first test, many times their subsequent test scores did not improve. With the integration of mandatory placement for math classes (at least 15 years ago), I started to see some improvement and the needle moving a little. But it was not enough to “write home about.”

Lately, however, I found an incredible change in my students’ abilities on the first test and contribute this result to using WebAssign as my online homework system. The change is so amazing that not only am I seeing more students persisting in the course and passing my first test, but I am also seeing the first test scores improve. In fact, the first semester I incorporated Enhanced WebAssign into a college algebra course with 18 students, the mean on my first exam was a 76% and the median was an 82%. I was absolutely blown away.

I continued to watch the students as they progressed through the course and realized that they constantly strove for perfection on homework and took as many attempts as needed to accomplish their goal. It seems reasonable to infer that the immediate feedback given to students through the online assessments did not let their learning get cold, but rather encouraged them to develop the correct reasoning. It also increased time on task, which in turn increased exposure to different problems.

Visit the Cengage Blog to read the full article.

How to Make an IT Admin Happy

Are new interoperability standards a solution to integration headaches?

GUEST POST | by John Lepanto, Associate Product Manager at WebAssign

As a product manager who oversees third-party integrations at WebAssign, I am tasked with researching a lot of different products. And I do mean a lot of products. It seems that every time I login to my email I see a few of these, “Have you heard of this new online proctoring service?” or, “Hey, can you check out this new learning management system?” It’s getting to the point where I can’t even keep track of all the new edtech vendors.

It can take weeks, sometimes even months, and a lot of resources to build a custom integration between software platforms, so how does one solve this issue?

The education technology space is experiencing a period of tremendous growth and innovation. It has been estimated by the Software and Information Industry Association that the PreK-12 edtech market size is nearly $8 billion. The global education market, according to IBIS Capital, has reached $4.4 trillion.

While having a huge assortment of services and technologies at their disposal can be an instructor’s dream, it can be a technologist’s worst nightmare. Attempting to make many different software applications work together in perfect harmony is a major undertaking. It can take weeks, sometimes even months, and a lot of resources to build a custom integration between software platforms, so how does one solve this issue?


Enter the standards-based education technology integration. IMS Global Learning Consortium has developed a set of interoperability standards that could make integrating the plethora of learning technologies scalable and affordable for both schools and technology companies. Gathering feedback from the edtech community, IMS Global created specifications for integrating education technology products and content which can help alleviate many of the pains the industry is experiencing.

For a smaller company, creating custom system integrations for every school, learning management system, or other product would be too cost prohibitive to build and support. Most companies have limited resources and I imagine would rather use those resources building their product offering instead of developing a custom integration for every system they wish to integrate with. Utilizing the IMS Global standards, you can build the integration once and deliver an offering for all conformant products. That is a huge win for the company and their customers.

For the schools adopting these products, standards-based integrations are also a win. Instead of spending weeks with back and forth emails and calls setting up a custom integration, school IT administrators can have a new product or content integrated into their school’s learning ecosystem in a couple of clicks. In most cases instructors can integrate third-party products and content into their course by themselves, without the help of the IT department. Tell me that doesn’t make an IT admin happy.

While there will be times where a custom integration will be needed, it is always a great idea to look for a way to implement some kind of standard. Standards based integrations can save time, effort and headache, and in the end allow edtech companies, schools and educators to focus on what is really important, teaching and learning.

We want to hear from you! What great or not so great product integrations have you encountered? Tell us in the comments below. 

In Memory of James Stewart

We want to take a moment to pay our respects to James Stewart, an inspirational educator, world-renowned author, and mathematician, who passed away peacefully surrounded by family at his home in Toronto, Canada on Wednesday, December 3. Read the official media release.

In the last forty-plus years since two of his students at McMaster University suggested he write his own calculus book, world-renowned author and mathematician James Stewart basically never stopped writing. Having essentially devoted his life to mathematics, Jim published over seventy textbooks, releasing a new text or edition almost every year. But calculus wasn’t Jim’s only passion. In addition to being a mathematician he was also a concert-level violinist and music philanthropist. These very different themes played an integral role in his life as told in the upcoming feature documentary, “The Integral Man,” created by Auratic Media.


During his life he donated generously to the University of Toronto, McMaster University, which named their Mathematics Building “The James Stewart Mathematics Centre” and The Fields Institute of Math which named their library “The James Stewart Library.” He also financially supported young musicians in their career development, many of whom are now recognized as outstanding performers.

Recently, Engaging Minds sat down with Jim at his home in Toronto, Canada to discuss his love of mathematics, how students learn, and the role of technology in calculus education.

Watch excerpts from Cengage’s interview with James Stewart below.

As they sat with Jim, they gathered a wealth of insights about teaching and learning. Here are a few of their favorites:

  • Technology brings calculus to life. Calculus can be regarded as the mathematics of motion. It shows things approaching other things. This can be hard to convey that in a static object like a book, but on the screen, calculus comes alive.
  • Jim wanted students to see that calculus is both practical and beautiful. Throughout his books, he incorporated that message with the practical aspect of mathematics. Solving problems is very powerful, but that is only one aspect of calculus; Jim also wanted students to discover the inherent beauty of calculus. This is challenging to convey because one cannot explain or realize it all at once—it is cumulative.
  • When students came to his office for help on a particular topic, and other students brought similar problems, Jim realized the topics that may need further explanation or pedagogical improvement. When he began writing his first edition years ago, Jim paid attention to his students, and to the questions that they were asking.

Read the transcript of Cengage’s interview with James Stewart.

The legacy continues

The team at Cengage worked with Jim before his passing to create a plan to continue his legacy. Jim selected and mentored his team of co-authors over the years to carry on the vision for his books to maintain his voice, approach and accuracy.  Jim touched the lives of many and he will be mourned, but he will not be forgotten. His legacy will live on to enrich the lives of others still to come.