New Analytics Tool for Students

We are excited to announce the release of our latest analytics feature for students, My Class Insights.

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Integrated with the WebAssign application, My Class Insights gives students an overview of concepts they have learned and topics they are struggling on based on data from students’ first attempt on a problem.

The user-friendly interface shows students a summary view of concept mastery, as well as provides the subsequent steps in the learning process. A practice button appears next to each topic so students can dive deeper into a series of similar question types.

“My Class Insights gives students more data and control over their learning, making WebAssign a powerful tool for increasing student engagement,” said Jack Narayan, WebAssign chief academic officer and mathematics professor. “Now students can quickly see the areas they need to pay more attention to, and the data presented in My Class Insights should encourage them to fully invest in learning before an exam.”

My Class Insights was designed primarily to act as a study tool, but can also be used as remediation or to identify gaps in prerequisite course knowledge. This new feature will be available via the student homepage in WebAssign for a select group of Summer II courses and will be available to all students for Fall 2015 courses. This is the latest feature in a series of analytical tools and reports WebAssign will continue to release throughout the year.

It’s that time of year…

As the end of the academic year approaches, stressed students work furiously on end-of-term projects and prepare for final exams. For faculty and teachers, another stress looms large – students’ course and teacher evaluations.

A new legislative proposal in Iowa has brought the use of student evaluations to the forefront again.  A recent NPR article discusses the bill and it’s potential impact: http://www.npr.org/blogs/ed/2015/04/26/401953167/what-if-students-could-fire-their-professors

In a nutshell, the article supports a widely held opinion that although course evaluations play a role in measuring some areas of teaching effectiveness, they really don’t accurately identify good teaching. Other methods should be employed – one of which has to do with reviewing the materials that professors use to create their classes. Materials, such as syllabi, handouts, exams, samples of students’ work, video recordings of class, and use of technology, are all familiar tools that teachers use to maintain student engagement, encourage learning, and reinforce retention.

Which brings us to WebAssign – a technology solution that many professors have relied on for years to support successful learning outcomes. In fact, in a recent student survey of WebAssign users, 85% of respondents stated that WebAssign positively impacted their exam grade*. We wonder…

  • Do your students include your use of WebAssign (or any technology, for that matter) in their evaluation of your course?
  • Would they award you positive points, or negative, for your practices of assigning online homework or scheduling online testing?
  • Does the student survey response sound like your students? And would they attribute their success to how you have employed WebAssign in your classroom?

It sure seems like technology plays a large role in the student classroom experience these days. Professors who successfully integrate that technology in their curriculum could have an advantage when it’s that time of year again.

 

* WebAssign end-of-term student survey, Spring 2014

“My WebAssign Life”

We love seeing the creativity of our student users. We recently came across this great essay, published by The Observer, a student-run daily print and online newspaper serving Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s. Thank you, Erin, for letting us share it with our readers!

My WebAssign Life

Written by Erin Thomassen

I love little green checkmarks. I hate red X’s. This is my WebAssign life.

My home is the WebAssign homepage. It is white and rather empty. My list of current assignments is not empty. There are 63.

I take a deep breath and click on the first one. The “0/0” is concerning. I scroll down the page, on the lookout for a “Watch It” box. I locate one under number six.

I know I can answer this question, for the man with the robot-voice will lead me through every step of the problem. He is my sensei.

How could he be my sensei if I have never seen him? How can I even know he is qualified to be my sensei?

The first time I discovered the joys of “Watch It,” I saw how my sensei-to-be added a cute hat on his î unit vectors. After that, there was no question about it: he was the sensei for me. He also gave me the answers, which helped him beat out the nonexistent competition.

Even though I love my sensei, he has been getting on my nerves lately. He refuses to give me the answers to the problems I struggle with most, such as finding the maximum volume of a cube and finding a way to talk to Mr. Shoeless.

I had the prime opportunity to talk to Mr. Shoeless the other night in North Dining Hall; he was wearing shoes for once (go health regulations, beat hipsters), and I thought I could comment on his recent addition of soles to his feet.

I wasn’t quite sure how to say what I wanted to say, so I did what I always did when I didn’t know how to tackle a problem: I logged onto WebAssign for a “Watch It” video. I assumed that my sensei could walk me through the solution step-by-step. I should not have assumed, for I couldn’t find any advice on approaching shoeless strangers — not even a “Read It.” I was dismayed.

But I couldn’t give up now; I had already devoted two minutes to this master plan. Maybe I was looking in the wrong place. I looked around me and saw a wonderful arena for practicing: a three-dimensional dining hall.

I headed over to the Stanford table to “Practice Another Version.”

“Hey,” I said to the first guy I saw. “You’re wearing shoes.”

“I always wear shoes,” he said, and returned his attention to his taco. I was less interesting than cheddar cheese. I would have been okay with provolone, but cheddar? I know when I’ve been insulted.

I tried to shake it off, but was struggling to get my Taylor Swift on. Her new album wouldn’t come out for two weeks, but I couldn’t afford to wait that long. Mr. Shoeless was right here, right now. I had to do what I did when I was desperate on WebAssign: enter “asdf” and “Click to View Solution.”

I went up to the next person I saw. “Asdf,” I said. He didn’t respond. Maybe the network was down. “ASDF,” I said louder, this time to his back. He didn’t turn around. Maybe my answer was off by more than 10 percent.

I couldn’t give up, though — not now. He was mounting the staircase.

“ASDF!” I popped out from behind the column. He dropped his tray and everyone applauded. Yes! Applause must equal a green checkmark.

Now I knew my answer was right, but what if “asdf” would not do the trick with a different stranger? Maybe Mr. Shoeless was a “qwerty” kind of guy, or maybe he used an international keyboard. What if he would only respond to special characters or wanted a negative rather than a positive answer? The anxiety was real.

I decided to calm down. My volition was to calm down. Unfortunately, I could not turn this volition into my will, for I was not capable of calming down. Logic could not conquer emotion, at least not my emotion. Remember: I was a Taylor Swift fan.

I tried to tune out Ms. Swift and listen to my left-brain, which told me I had no reason to stress. Even if “asdf” were not the best way to start a conversation with Mr. Shoeless, I would still have seven submissions left.

On WebAssign, the only answer that mattered was the last one; all the others were erased. Real life must be the same; even if I tripped or burped or broke out in an unfortunate duggie in front of Mr. Shoeless, I could still get a 100 percent on our interaction by getting the eighth submission right.

My right brain told me finger-painting with pesto would be a better idea than embarrassing myself in front of Mr. Shoeless. I listened. Mr. Shoeless was spared, and Mr. Seinfeld finally understands why everybody likes pesto.

WebAssign Welcomes Jack Narayan, Ph.D., as Chief Academic Officer

Jack NarayanWebAssign recently appointed Jack Y. Narayan, Ph.D. as Chief Academic Officer for WebAssign. In joining WebAssign’s executive team, Dr. Narayan will represent the academic community regarding such topics as trends in education technology and evolving teaching models. The CAO role aligns with WebAssign’s deep connection with its faculty customers and company mission to provide high-quality online instructional solutions that enrich the teaching and learning experience.

“We are excited to welcome Dr. Narayan to WebAssign,” said Alex Bloom, WebAssign president. “For many years, Jack has successfully integrated technology and hybrid instruction models in his courses. His studied and practical use of online tools and multimedia to improve education make him an ideal addition to the WebAssign team.”

“Instructional strategies that integrate a variety of technology tools, such as WebAssign, are effective in improving students’ chances of success,” said Narayan. “I am delighted to join the WebAssign team and help WebAssign continue to deliver advanced and relevant product features and services to the academic community.”

Dr. Narayan is a Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Department of Mathematics at SUNY Oswego, which he joined in 1970. From 2000 to 2004, as Dean of Graduate Studies and Research at SUNY Oswego, Dr. Narayan obtained a number of significant national and state grants for Mathematics Reform to enhance student learning. For more than 20 years, he has implemented emerging technologies, including WebAssign, and cognitive science developments in large classes of Finite Mathematics and Applied Calculus. Additionally, he is involved in various programs to increase student participation from underrepresented groups in mathematics and science. Dr. Narayan holds a B.S. Honors in Mathematics from Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, Canada and a Ph.D. in Mathematics from Lehigh University.

We are thrilled to welcome Dr. Narayan to our team!

Chemical Education Research and Education Technology Industry

ErikEppErik Epp is the Chemistry Product Manager at WebAssign.  He earned a B.S. and M.S. in Chemistry from the University of Michigan and University of Chicago, respectively, and a Ph.D. in Chemical Education from Purdue University. We asked him to share some of his experiences in the education technology industry because he has taken an unusual route from a chemical education degree.

What I Do

My job as Chemistry Product Manager at WebAssign has many responsibilities. I am responsible for determining what direction our chemistry offering should take and facilitating the process. I act as a subject-matter expert for our sales and marketing teams, as an educational researcher for our development efforts, and as a liaison to the chemical education and technology education communities. I also visit campuses and attend conferences, and follow the major journals and social media in education and research.

Academia or Industry

I started my graduate career with my heart set on being a faculty member of a small, primarily undergraduate institution. What changed along the way?  Graduate school allowed me to see whether what I was doing was something I truly enjoyed. I found myself drawn towards teaching, technology, and data analysis. Later, during my post-doc (a visiting faculty position), I found that the fraction of time that I spent doing the things I was passionate about was much smaller than I had anticipated. Ultimately I decided to trade my passion of classroom teaching in favor of spending more of my time on my other passions and making a difference in the teaching of thousands of teachers.

Skills for Industry

My chemical education research background provided me strong skills in data analysis, both quantitative and qualitative, that have served me well. I regularly collect and analyze qualitative data on issues professors are facing from sales representatives, customer support representatives, and from interacting with faculty members themselves. This data includes what faculty needs are unmet and how WebAssign might assist the learning process. I also pull quantitative data from a vast database to run analyses and present findings, and ultimately bring about data-driven decisions that shape the business.

Advice for Those Interested in Alt-Ac Careers

If you are considering an Alt-Ac career, the first thing I encourage you to do is research what is out there. One of the easiest ways is to visit the vendor exhibition at conferences and ask the representatives about what they do, what path lead them there, and what roles for an education researcher or content expert exist in their organization. This also has the benefit of helping you network, which can bring opportunities to you now and in the future. Just be sure to remember to hand out your business cards and collect cards in return.

I attend many of the ACS National and Regional Meetings, along with more specialized conferences (BCCE, Chem.Ed., Gordon), and am happy to discuss potential options and opportunities in the education technology field in more depth – look for me in the red shirt and black pants!

We want to hear from you!

Do you have any questions for Erik or advice for those interested in a different career path after a Chemistry Ph.D? Post your questions and comments below!

WebAssign Wins Best Workplace Culture Award!

We are excited that WebAssign recently received the 2013 North Carolina Technology Association (NCTA) 21 Award for Best Workplace Culture. The NCTA 21 Awards is North Carolina’s most prestigious and longest running statewide technology awards program. The annual showcase honors companies and individuals in 21 categories who represent the best and brightest in technology and business. A review committee comprised of non-profit, media, education, and technology leaders representing various regions of North Carolina selected this year’s finalists. Winners were announced and recognized at the annual awards gala on Thursday, November 7, 2013, where 800-plus leaders gathered to honor finalists in each category.

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“Each year, the NCTA 21 Awards brings the community together to celebrate technology excellence,” said Brooks Raiford, president and CEO, NCTA. “WebAssign has a deep commitment to North Carolina and to fostering its national reputation for a strong, high-quality university and college system. We are pleased to award WebAssign this year’s Best Workplace Culture Award.”

WebAssign has hired 60 employees in the past 12 months, and established an employee stock ownership plan, enabling all employees to benefit from the company’s growth. Restructured as a Benefit Corporation dedicated to enhancing education, our company encourages employees to participate in charitable giving and service by matching donations and providing paid community service leave, which was cited as a main factor in NCTA choosing WebAssign as the award recipient.

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“We are proud to be selected for Best Workplace Culture by NCTA,” said Alex Bloom, president of WebAssign. “Winning this award is especially meaningful as providing a quality workplace was very important to our founder, Dr. John Risley, and we are committed to honoring that tradition.”

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 www.webassign.net, or call 800.955.8275 or 919.829.8181.