Instructor Spotlight: Solomon Willis

We love our innovative faculty users! This week we are spotlighting Solomon Willis, mathematics instructor and Mathematics, Health, and Physical Education Department Chair at Cleveland Community College in Shelby, NC.

Solomon WillisWhat is your educational background and teaching history? 

I earned my Bachelor of Science degree from Gardner-Webb University in 1999. My major was mathematics and I earned a double-minor in education and computer science. I started teaching right after graduating, and later earned my Master of Arts degree in Mathematics Education. My teaching experience includes six years at Gaston Day School in Gastonia, NC, where I taught all levels of middle school and high school mathematics. I was hired full time at Cleveland Community College in Shelby, NC, in August, 2006, and have been there ever since. I am currently the Department Chair of Mathematics, Health, and Physical Education. I have taught at the college level, everything from developmental math up through calculus II and statistics.

What is your teaching philosophy?

My belief is that every individual can learn and can obtain an education. Teachers should realize that each person learns in his or her own unique way and they should try to cater to each student’s individual needs and learning style. Because each student learns individually, teachers should use various teaching strategies and do as much as possible to make learning interesting. Technology is also a key role in teaching and learning mathematics. I believe that all students should have the opportunity to experience the usefulness of graphing calculators. Education is important for young people in order for them to become meaningful citizens in today’s competitive world. Today’s society also has many adult learners going back to school, and teachers also need to accommodate their needs and different learning styles.

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

I try to find and use real world examples as much as I can to help make math “real” for students. If they can see where something is used in the real world then they seem to understand and appreciate it better. You will laugh, but I am a big Dolly Parton fan and collector of her memorabilia. My students quickly learn this and I often use “Dolly data” or facts about her in my classes. In statistics and quantitative literacy, we make a time series graph that shows her number of hit songs through the 1970’s and 1980’s. In pre-calculus we construct a linear model dealing with the life expectancy of women and always use Dolly’s year of birth to predict how long she will live! In addition to Dolly, I have students create a database of songs from their iPods and do various projects using the data – such as finding the mean length of their songs, a Pareto chart by genre, or a pie chart by decade.

What are your best practice suggestions for using WebAssign?

I have recently been making much more use of the Personal Study Plan (PSP). I encourage students to use this and even count it as a category in their weighted average. It quickly shows them their weaknesses and provides them with many tools to build upon those weaknesses. I love how customizable WebAssign is. If there is not something that works one semester, then I change it for the next semester. It is easy to copy a course from semester to semester, but also easy to make changes when needed. I don’t know how many times I have played around with the number of attempts or the things that I want them to see before or after the due date. I do find that 5 attempts on homework seems to work well for my students. I have also found that I should not be afraid to ask for help with WebAssign when I have a question; I am amazed at the quality of customer service WebAssign provides and the speediness of responses.

What role does technology play in your teaching?

I consider myself a “TI-84 expert” and use it almost daily in my teaching. I am also teaching myself more about the TI-NSpire and plan to make more use of it in the near future. I like showing students how to do things by hand, and then showing them how the graphing calculator makes it better! I also use a tablet computer in my teaching. I hook it up to the classroom projector, write out almost everything I do on the tablet, and then save it as a PDF for students to access later on Blackboard. I tell my students that it is a “high-tech overhead projector.” Almost all of my homework assignments are submitted through Blackboard and/or WebAssign. I collect very little on paper anymore and grade very little by hand, which is all a huge time-saver for me. I also frequently use Excel in the classroom for data projects, especially in statistics.


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!


Dr. Barbara Illowsky Joins WebAssign’s Board of Directors

illowsky2We are thrilled to announce the appointment of Dr. Barbara Illowsky to WebAssign’s board of directors. Dr. Illowsky joins a select group of business leaders in the technology industry and academic faculty members who work to uphold WebAssign’s mission to provide high-quality online instructional solutions that enrich the teaching and learning experience.

“We are pleased and fortunate to welcome Dr. Illowsky to our board of directors,” said Alex Bloom, WebAssign president. “As a strong advocate for using technology to increase access to education, Barbara is an ideal candidate to help guide the future of WebAssign.”

Dr. Illowsky has been a Professor of Mathematics and Statistics at De Anza College in California since 1989. She was one of the early leaders of open education in community colleges and is the co-author of the Collaborative Statistics and Introductory Statistics open textbooks. Other noteworthy achievements include being the first program director of the Community College Consortium for Open Education Resources and overseeing the statewide California Basic Skills Initiative.

As past president of the California Mathematics Council – Community Colleges (CMC3), Dr. Illowsky demonstrated leadership in improving math instruction through the use of online technologies and an interactive curriculum. In 2013, she received the international Educator ACE Award from the OpenCourseWare Consortium for her work in creating an open statistics textbook, along with her international leadership in promoting adoption of open educational resources as a way to increase access to education and improve learning. The textbook is now used by dozens of colleges worldwide.

“I am truly honored to become a part of this outstanding team,” stated Illowsky. “I admire the late Dr. John Risley immensely. His desire to create an effective learning system and his ethical leadership are among the reasons I accepted the invitation to join the corporate board of directors.”

Two New Textbooks Available Through Partnership with W.H. Freeman

new-freeman-books We are pleased to announce the addition of two new mathematics titles to WebAssign’s content collection. Calculus, First Edition by Michael Sullivan and Kathleen Miranda and The Basic Practice of Statistics, Sixth Edition by David Moore, William Notz, and Michael Fligner, both published by W.H. Freeman, are now enhanced with WebAssign’s online homework and assessment capabilities.

“We are excited to continue our premium partnership with WebAssign with our recently published Calculus textbook by renowned author team Michael Sullivan and Kathleen Miranda,” stated Steve Thomas, marketing manager at W.H. Freeman. “This ongoing partnership allows W.H. Freeman to provide our users with a variety of effective, high-quality online homework offerings. Our joint efforts with WebAssign enable us to push the future of online homework together.”

“Adding the bestselling textbook The Basic Practice of Statistics to our statistics collection greatly enhances our offering,” added John Lepanto, WebAssign product manager. “Integrating this textbook with WebAssign, along with Calculus, will augment student learning and provide instructors with high quality, market-leading textbooks to support their pedagogical goals.”

Since the late 90’s WebAssign has supported textbooks published by W.H. Freeman, but Calculus is the newest textbook to feature WebAssign Premium integration. WebAssign Premium’s features include more than 5,000 online questions that incorporate videos, multi-step tutorials, interactive eBooks, personal study plans, and algorithmic solutions. Instructors and students have access to superior support from both the W.H. Freeman and WebAssign sales and customer service teams.

Sample assignments for both textbooks are available for further exploration of these features.

Sixteen New Cengage Textbooks Now Available in WebAssign

We are excited to announce the addition of sixteen new mathematics titles now enhanced with WebAssign. The textbooks are published by Cengage Learning, a global publisher of print and digital information services, and augment our already extensive textbook collection. The majority of these new titles will be supplemented with an e-book and student support features such as Master It tutorials and videos.

“We are proud to provide professors with a selection of more than 400 mathematics textbooks supported by WebAssign,” said Jennifer Ferralli, WebAssign mathematics product manager. “Through our strong relationship with Cengage, teachers and students benefit from a content-rich and enhanced online learning environment that fully complements the classroom teaching experience.”

Sample assignments are available for all sixteen titles that span multiple mathematics disciplines such as prealgebra, calculus, and statistics. Featured titles from this new collection include:

And stay tuned because we expect to launch an additional set of Cengage textbook titles in early 2014.

For more information on WebAssign please visit, or call 800.955.8275 or 919.829.8181.

WebAssign’s Personal Study Plan

Did you know WebAssign offers a Personal Study Plan (PSP) for your students with select textbooks?  The PSP is a set of chapter quizzes, practice quizzes, and instructional materials that your students can use to learn, practice, and test their knowledge at their own pace.  This collection helps your students identify which sections of the textbook they have mastered and which sections require more study, and provides each student a customized selection of instructional resources that address the student’s deficiencies. And best of all, it is included as a free additional resource alongside a selection of WebAssign-supported textbooks.

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Some of the ways you might use a Personal Study Plan in your course include:

Test Preparation

Students often ask for the ability to retake homework assignments in WebAssign as a test preparation tool. The Personal Study Plan lets your students take and retake quizzes covering specific sections of the textbook in order to prepare for tests.

Supplementary Instruction

Sometimes, your students need to learn more material than the length of the school term permits you to cover in class — for example, to score well on a standardized placement test. You can use the Personal Study Plan to provide instructional materials and self-tests on the material that you cannot cover in class.


If you are teaching a course for which students often need a refresher on what they learned the previous term (for example, the second part of a two-semester course), you might use the Personal Study Plan to allow students to review and test themselves on that knowledge.


If you are not concerned with when your students do their homework, but only that they learn the material, use the Personal Study Plan instead of creating dozens of homework assignments. You can even count your students’ performance on the Personal Study Plan chapter quizzes toward their final grade.

To learn more about using the Personal Study Plan in your classroom please visit our Online Instructor Support page or contact a sales representative.

New Content Available for Mathematics in WebAssign!

WebAssign is proud to support a wide variety of textbooks from numerous leading academic publishing partners. We are constantly adding to our textbook collection and are pleased to announce the following textbook additions to our mathematics content offering:

View the complete list of mathematics textbooks available with WebAssign here!