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Dina Yagodich
Mathematics & Statistics
Frederick Community College

How long have you been using Knewton Alta?

I’ve been using it since fall 2019.

Why did you start using Knewton Alta?

I was teaching statistics for the first time. Two of my colleagues had started using Knewton Alta so I copied their course over and really liked the way it worked. In statistics we have students coming in at very different levels, and Knewton Alta helps get everybody to the same level.

For some of our classes we’ve also had experience using Aleks, which is also adaptive. But Aleks starts by assuming you’re at the bottom, and Knewton Alta starts by assuming you’re at a higher level.  A lot of students already had statistics in high school, so using Knewton Alta made the homework less frustrating for them because they can get through it pretty quickly, but students still get what they want or what they need.

Logo Description automatically generatedWe decided in the spring 2020 semester that everybody was going to use Knewton Alta in fall 2020. We had a handful of instructors using it as a pilot, and we were in the process of training everybody, when COVID hit. Looking back, it probably couldn’t have happened at a better point because Knewton Alta gave students more interactive help since nobody was in the classroom for the rest of the spring 2020 semester. And we had very few classes face-to-face in the fall of 2020, so it worked out well. And even our adjunct faculty didn’t have too much trouble getting used to it.
Now we’re using it mostly in college algebra, pre-calculus, and calculus one (as well as the liberal arts math class).

We’re able to come up with standard courses that everybody can just use. Some of us integrate Knewton Alta with Blackboard, some don’t. So far, we’re finding Alta is working very well.  It’s kind of shocking in two years to see how fast you can switch. A lot of it is cost driven. We’ve been trying to do open source, but for the homework piece it just wasn’t there for college algebra, statistics, the pre-calculus. So, we’re trying to go to the OpenStax textbook along with Knewton for homework.

Another thing we like about Alta, or Wiley, is that they have a policy that you have access until you pass. So, if somebody fails the class, all we have to do is ask our rep for new code, so that student doesn’t have to purchase the software again. That’s a big deal because not all of our students are successful.

How important is the adaptive nature of Knewton Alta in terms of influencing your decision to use it?

Very important for stats and pre-calculus because we know our students come in with such different prerequisite skills and an adaptive homework system lets students who know the stuff not spend too much time, and it allows students who really need extra time to get more homework. The big issue for all of us (me included) was getting rid of the control of which questions were asked. But I got over it quickly. So, I take control of my paper and pencil quizzes and my exams. I don’t use Knewton Alta for exams, but a lot of instructors use Alta for all the pieces.

I found that there was a stronger correlation between homework scores and exam scores with adaptive homework than there was with a non-adaptive system.

There are pieces of it that are still not perfect. But overall, I think it’s a better experience for students. It meets there where they’re at.

Student Feedback

After an exam, I have students answer anonymous survey questions. One of the questions was: “how has your experience with Knewton Alta, did it help you prepare for the test?”
Here are some of the student responses (from pre-calculus):

  • “I love Knewton Alta, I love how it takes the pressure off of the minute correctness of a small number of problems instead is based on topic mastery.”
  • “I like that Knewton Alta forces you to learn. It can be a little frustrating when you have to do 30 questions because you don’t understand a concept, but other than that good software.”

Then somebody else who used it last semester:

  • “Knewton Alta is a fun way to know if an answer I typed out is correct or incorrect, it did help me with quizzes and exams.”
  • “Knewton Alta homework is really good for learning the basic material on rules I didn’t know before.”
  • “Your quizzes made me prepared for the tests.”

Calculus one students:

  • “Thus far I’ve had a good experience with Knewton Alta, I feel I can learn from my mistakes when it explains the problem, after you submit an answer, it helps me prepare for the material on the test.”
  • “It’s great”
  • “It’s helped, although Knewton Alta has a different method of solving problems, I adapt to these changes quickly.”
  • “I really liked the Knewton Alta homework as it shows you the full process of solving a problem and gives you extra help when needed.”
  • “I’m not sure how much the Knewton Alta homework helped in this case.”
  • “The Knewton Alta homework is helping for understanding the material, but I don’t like how they teach some of the concepts. Sometimes they skip over certain steps and leave me wondering how they get certain answers requiring me to look on Google or some other resource.”
  • “Knewton Alta has been okay. I’d rather do Alta than just worksheets, like we used to in pre COVID-19 classes.”
  • “Knewton Alta has helped me better with my preparation for the tests and adaptive homework has done a really good job at reinforcing the material I learned through the videos.”
  • “The homework hasn’t been too difficult so far. I appreciate the practice. It gives me, and it definitely helps me cement concepts in my mind.”

The class where we’re noticing the most issues is college algebra and supporting people coming in at the algebra one level.

In the spring (2022) we are going to try one class taught with Knewton Alta and a class taught with Aleks, because with that, starting at the top might not be the right mix for that specific class.

How do you support students using Knewton Alta?

We’re really good with explaining how to do the homework now. The first day of class, I tell them if you use this like normal homework where you just guess to try to see what the answer is, and then figure out what the answer is. You will fall into a pit of despair, and I don’t want that!

We make sure students know that instead, they should click on instruction when they need some help and that they don’t get penalized for doing that. So as long as the instructor really is clear about that, I think usually students quickly get the hang of how to use this software.

There are a couple kinds of questions where students have frustrations, but overall, I think students are getting good value for their money.

It can take a while to get some of the adjunct professors used to Knewton Alta homework. Some of them were concerned that Alta let students get to 100%, because they’re used to students getting around 87% on the homework. And we said yes, we actually want them to get to 100% mastery because then you will find that their test scores are also very good. The students who do it (the homework) are going to get 100% and you’re going to see that understanding carry through on exam.

When I look at student usage in Knewton Alta I look at the hours that they’re spending on homework and make sure that it’s a reasonable amount. If I see somebody who’s spending way too much time that’s when I’ll jump in. Or if somebody is zipping through them too quickly, I can ask them if they are looking things up to help them? Because that’s not going to work for exams!

How are you implementing Knewton Alta?

I have homework which opens on Saturday and is due every Friday. On Tuesday. I have paper and pencil quizzes based on the previous week’s material. I usually make the quizzes very tough because we spend the class period before going over any questions students have. So, my quizzes aren’t so much an assessment as they are a way of putting together all the different topics from the previous week. And students can see the kinds of formatting of questions that I’m going to ask on my exam.

The exams are paper, pencil, and written similarly to the quizzes. But they’re all based on the Knewton Alta homework. So, I go through Knewton Alta, before I write the test, to make sure I’m using similar vocabulary. The point of me asking students to do homework is so they do well on the assessments, not just to improve their grade.

Especially at the beginning of the semester, if people haven’t gotten to 100% in first week, I email them and let them know I extended their homework deadline an extra day. I let students know I want them to get to 100%. If somebody worked on the homework past due date and I can see that, I change the due date, so it matches their mastery.

So, a lot of my students get 100% on homework. I used to make homework worth 10%, now make it 30%. If I was back in a face-to-face classroom, I would probably make it 20%. I try to spread out the grade, so it’s not so test heavy. We don’t proctor our exams. And I figure if somebody who’s going to cheat with their way through the class, they’d have to pay somebody a lot of money to do all the Knewton Alta homework!

As the semester goes on, sometimes people only get to 87% mastery but that’s what is recorded. So over Thanksgiving, I’ll probably open up all the homework again and say, you can go back and improve your score on any of the sections to help students get ready for the final. Some will do that—although usually the ones who don’t need it, but I open it up to everyone.

Other feedback

One thing that could be improved is that it’s not super easy for me to hand off a class ‘as-is’ to an adjunct. We have gone through all the instruction for all the different objectives and copied all of the video links and embedded them into our Blackboard course. There’s a list of videos that students can watch ahead of time which helps, but it doesn’t help instructors to better know what’s going on and also to get a feel for what their students are seeing. Before, we could just look at the textbook and flip through it, but that doesn’t work anymore. Which is better for students, but instructors need more support.

So that’s the piece I think Wiley needs to improve on to make it easier for us to assign this to adjunct faculty without doing the prep work that we had to do.

They also have a lot of supplemental worksheets and PowerPoint slides, which I always give my students. Some love doing worksheets for extra practice, but it’s not easy to download them. They’re in different places and it’s not intuitive to just jump in and find them.

How is course content delivered?

I’m teaching a structured remote class, so I teach it more as a flipped classroom. I’ve taught calculus one before online, so I have my own calculus videos, which are specifically aligned to the textbook. So, students have my videos, my class notes, the OpenStax textbook, which they can link to online, or they can buy it for $26.

During my synchronous remote time we go over quiz questions, or if students have questions on homework. If I have notice in Knewton Alta that students are struggling on a topic, I’ll pull up those kinds of questions and we can do them together as a class. We’re finding at the community college that for many students structured remote is exactly what they need. They don’t want purely online, because they want some time when they know they have a professor in front of them.

Have you looked at relationship between Knewton Alta and grades?

I haven’t taught pre-calc in both formats. This semester, I’m going to compare how my Calc one students did in the Pearson homework and their grades, and then this semester with my Knewton Alta homework and their test grades.

So, I’m going to do a correlation to see if there is a stronger correlation between those two, because they would both be my classes. It will be nice to be able to compare two different classes and two different semesters with everything the same, except for the homework system.