A Year in Review. What’s new in Knewton Alta in 2020
Putting achievement within reach for all students is a continuous journey. Students evolve as quickly as technology does, which is why Wiley is committed to a culture of continuous improvement with Knewton Alta.
We’ve continued to pound the pavement in 2019, asking every student and instructor we can get in front of how we can make their Knewton Alta experience better. Our goal: making an even bigger impact on learning outcomes by continually optimizing our journey together.
Of course, improving the experience of students and instructors requires more than just listening. It takes action. Throughout 2019 we’ve released a series of features and enhancements that address the feedback we received.
Below you will find a year-in-review, highlighting all of the enhancements made to Knewton Alta throughout 2019. If you haven’t looked at Knewton Alta in a while, you’re missing something special.
New Pricing Models
We believe that cost should never be a barrier for students.
- New pricing model: doubles-down on the Knewton Alta affordability promise by dropping the single-course cost to 39.95 USD (for standard-price courses).
- AltaPass: We also introduced the AltaPass as a promise to the student, that they will not need to pay more than $79.95 USD on multiple Alta courses within the same discipline.
- Monthly Subscription: Students can also subscribe monthly to a single course for $9.95 USD per month to suit their needs.
Updates to Adaptive Learning
We are adapting to provide a consistently improving experience for instructors and students
- Milestones: We’ve added messaging (and confetti!) to recognize students’ progress and accoumplishments as they work in Knewton Alta’s adaptive experience. Every student should know where they stand!
- New Assignment Builder: We’ve launched a more streamlined experience for instructors to create adaptive assignments quickly, while providing more transparency. This includes the ability to search for topics, include multiple topics or chapters in an assignment, and a more accurate duration estimate based on historical student data.
Managing your Course
Less time managing your Knewton Alta course equals more time for teaching and learning
- Improvements to assignment date and time settings: Instructors can now change both due and start times for individual students or assignments, in addition, we now have the capability to change dates in bulk for multiple assignments at once.
- Supporting changes to grading policies with automatic regrades: When you change a due date for an assignment, provide an extension, or change a grading setting (e.g. turn on late policies late in the semester), Knewton Alta will automatically regrade all relevant coursework in the sections of the course.
- Improved data insights to identify struggling students: Instructors can now see the bigger picture view of student analytics beyond an individual assignment. Easily identify individual students struggling on many assignments and identify trends with difficult topics. Instructors can now easily discover when many students are struggling, across the course and can use help right now – without waiting for the student to ask for help.
Tests and Quizzes
The new Assessment Builder makes it easier to create the right type of assessment (quiz or test) to match your needs.
- New Assessment builder for Quizzes and Tests: Instructors can now use the exact same flow and features for tests or quizzes – including Review Centers and the ability to select specific questions or adding your own. Calling an assessment a “Quiz” means only that the results of that assessment will appear under the Quiz section of the dashboards.
- Search Capability: It’s easier to navigate the table of contents with the addition of search and filters.
- Fewer limits: No limit on number of questions allowed per Learning Objective. (Just a limited bank of questions)
- Easier to Manage: We’ve added the ability to Copy and duplicate tests.
- Adjust grading of individual test questions: You can now delete a question from a test, mark a question as correct on a test, and mark an individual student’s answer on a test correct or incorrect even after students have started, and automatically update grades for the whole class.
- Weighted test questions: While creating an assessment, instructors can assign different point values to each question (differentiating according to difficulty/amount of time or work it takes, etc.). and students will see each question’s point value when working on assessments.
Instructors will experience a more seamless experience when navigating to the Knerd Studio
- Launched Knerd Studio with Single-Sign On: You can now login to the Knerd Studio using your Knewton Alta credentials. This makes for a smoother transition and easier access to our Knerd community!
Knerd Q&A: Meet two of the brains behind Knewton’s latest course – Knewton Alta Calculus
Alta wouldn’t be possible without a masterful group of Knerds taking care of business behind the scenes to provide you with the best product imaginable. To give you a little peek behind the curtain at this imagination station, we met up with two of the Knerds responsible for Knewton Alta Calculus to get the 411 on their love of Knewton, upcoming trends in education technology, and the key features that make this new Calculus course so impressive.
|Andrew Jones is a data scientist and Alta product manager with a Ph.D in Music Theory. From analyzing jazz piano recordings to studying student learning patterns, Andrew focuses his time on using mathematical modeling and machine learning to extract patterns from complex data. The resulting algorithms help power our adaptive engine and provide students with individualized learning experiences to help them master complex subjects like Calculus. We can all thank Andrew for those A’s!
||Greg Hitt (now in his adult years) is a former calculus instructor turned Knerd, who spends his days developing courseware that meets the challenges he and his students faced day after day in his own classroom. Using that background, he has worked on many of the pedagogical interventions behind the student experience, designing everything with an eye towards the idea of assisting students on their path to mastery – whether that be the highly detailed answer explanations, mapping the relationships between sub-learning objectives, or building interactive graphs to explore and learn. He really does love Calculus that much!
1. You’ve been working in the Higher Education field for a while now. Give us a little overview of your past experience and why you became a Knerd.
AJ: I did my undergrad work in the Princeton physics department, where I specialized in large, noisy datasets at the intersection of particle physics and cosmology. When wrapping up my senior thesis, I decided I liked the tools more than the subject matter—so I earned a Ph.D in Music Theory from Yale, where I applied similar computational modeling approaches to complex musical datasets. That’s where my interest in machine learning really started. When I started looking for meaningful applications of machine learning on the data science market, Knewton seemed like a great chance to apply the skills I already had, learn a bunch of (k)new ones, and stay close to the classroom. I started on the data science team in summer 2017, during the big run-up to Alta’s commercial launch, and I added a product management role in late 2018.
GH: I worked as a teacher at a public high school in Brooklyn, New York, for 6 years. I primarily taught AP Calculus, Physics, and Algebra 2, but at some point or another, I taught every level of math offered. Along with teaching 130 students over 4 different subjects every day, I also built some tooling to help with a schoolwide data initiative. After exams, I could run reports on how my students did on individual learning objectives to help guide them in where they needed to study or what topics I might need to review in my classroom. I could also gather information on how effective my teaching was to improve lesson plans for the following year.
Once I started thinking about using data in this way, and seeing how assessing in a low-stakes way helped students both in terms of focusing their time and also in meta-cognition, I completely shifted my grading schema to a mastery-based classroom. I didn’t penalize students for not getting the content initially but saw testing as a formative experience. If they missed an objective, it informed both myself and them of deficiencies and maybe highlighted prerequisite knowledge gaps that I could address in tutoring during lunch or after school. It really transformed my classroom, but this was a lot of work—so seeing that Knewton was trying to do this exact thing sold me immediately.
2. Given your history in Higher Education, what do you think makes Knewton Alta different?
AJ: Alta didn’t start from the assumption that a fixed textbook or set of assessment questions should work for everyone. Knewton had been providing personalized, adaptive experiences based on individual student needs for years, but our publishing partners ultimately controlled the pedagogy, user experience, and how our adaptivity fit into their educational products. With Alta, we had the chance to start from scratch and say: if we have this great adaptive engine, what do the learning science and educational data mining literatures tell us would be the most impactful learning experience for students? We came to the conclusion that implementing mastery-based learning in the lowest-cost, most scalable way possible would let us extend the benefits of one-on-one attention and coaching to a huge number of students who otherwise might not have it. Alta’s built on that bedrock: putting achievement within reach for every individual student, especially in classrooms where students come from all kinds of educational and financial backgrounds.
For those heterogeneous classrooms, alta is really the first product to take seriously the idea that you might implement mastery-based learning in a variety of course structures. We have instructors choose what learning objectives students should get great at and by when, and each adaptive assignment starts all students on those target learning objectives. Our proficiency model and recommender then provide as much support as is needed to get students across the finish line as efficiently as possible — whether that’s just some worked answer explanations, or some detailed instruction, or potentially significant prerequisite support, all delivered seamlessly and just-in-time.
3. Knewton Alta was recently aquired by Wiley, a boutique publisher who has been in the Education Publishing space for quite some time. How has that affected Knewton Alta as a company and the courses you create?
AJ: You say “boutique,” but I was nervous about joining a big publisher! Knewton was like 100 employees for most of my time there. But the results have been great — the Knewton team has remained focused on Alta, and our data science team is starting to expand the reach of our models into other Wiley products, so we’re kind of like an in-house tech company. The cross-pollination has had a big impact; we immediately gained access to a huge amount of high-quality content, and Wiley has been able to start thinking about investing in adaptivity in a totally new way. We think this will speed up the rate and increase the quality with which we can launch new Alta titles.
4. Knewton Alta Calculus was just launched last week and is the first course coming out after the Wiley acquisition. Can you tell us a little about this course and what makes it special/why people should pay attention?
AJ: The calculus market has been static for a long time—there’s one market-leading textbook that’s been updated many times, but the pedagogy hasn’t really changed. And nobody has been able to come up with a strong adaptive or mastery-based solution in such a complicated subject. Calculus is amazing and elegant and important to a bunch of majors and jobs, but it remains a course where a lot of college students give up on math. We’re excited about Alta Calculus because it’s built to serve everybody and to be capable of more robust, targeted interventions than any previous calculus courseware. By wedding a huge quantity of OER content (most of which is generated in-house thanks to Wiley’s financial support) to these interventions, we’ve built a pedagogical model that we also think will scale to other complex subject areas in the future.
5. Adaptive technology is a big part of the mastery-based learning system Alta provides. How would you describe the adaptive model that Alta uses?
AJ: Alta’s adaptivity is built on a proficiency model and a recommendations engine. Our proficiency model assesses student knowledge states in real time—after every question a student answers in Alta Calculus, we’re jointly estimating how proficient the student is on the highly granular problem type they answered, on the learning objective more broadly, and on related learning objectives like pre- and post-requisites. Our recommender then makes use of those estimates and our highly parameterized content to choose the best path forward for the student: you can think of it as an encoded pedagogy, making decisions about what kinds of problem, instruction, or remediation would be most impactful at any given time.
6. Outside of adaptive learning, what are the key features of Alta that you would like instructors to know about?
GH: In my mind, the biggest highlight other than adaptivity is the use of desmos. Desmos as a company has been so focused on great pedagogy from its inception, so being able to harness what they have done to build both assessments and explorations that help students get a more conceptual understanding of topics is something I am very excited about.
7. And last question. We know you spend a ton of time dedicated to your work, but when you’re not creating adaptive algorithms or programming modules, what do you like to do?
AJ: Well, the music thing never really went away, so I’m an avid record collector and hi-fi enthusiast. My wife and I also have an energetic golden retriever, Lucy, who runs most of my non-work life.
GH: I’m an avid birder [200 species last year!] and have a weird obsession with visiting as many state capitol buildings as I can [just hit 31 with Denver!], so I try to sneak in as many weekend trips as possible to do one or both of those things. My commutes are filled with books and crosswords, and I both play and host trivia.
Want to check out Knewton Alta Calculus first hand? Schedule a demo!
Knewton launches altapass, an all-access pricing option, making alta even more affordable for students
With altapass, students can access multiple alta courses within a single subject area for $79.95; Knewton lowers price of a single-course alta subscription to $39.95
New pricing options available to students for Fall 2019
NEW YORK — Jan. 15, 2019 — Knewton, the world’s leader in AI-driven teaching and learning, today launched altapass, an all-access pricing offer for alta, the company’s adaptive learning courseware for U.S. higher education. With altapass, students can access multiple alta products across a single subject area for up to two years, and for unlimited use, for $79.95. Additionally, Knewton has reduced the price of a single-course alta subscription from $44 to $39.95.
By introducing the new pricing options, Knewton is making alta even more affordable and accessible, helping to put achievement within reach for the students who need it most.
Students wishing to purchase altapass for Fall 2019 may do so beginning Aug. 1 at Knewton.com. Students may still purchase access to a single alta course via monthly subscription for $9.95 per month.
At launch, altapass will be available across all 36 alta products in the following subject areas:
- Mathematics and Statistics
Knewton brings alta to scale with altapass
Knewton’s effort to make alta more accessible and affordable comes one year after the product’s successful introduction in the U.S. higher education market. Launched in January 2018, alta was used by instructors at more than 250 colleges and universities during the Fall 2018 term.
“It’s clear that we have something special with alta. Now, we’re making it even more affordable and accessible, so that the students who need alta the most can benefit from its impact on learning outcomes,” said Brian Kibby, CEO of Knewton. “We’ve turned the cost structure of our company into a competitive advantage — not just for Knewton, but for students looking for better results at an affordable price.”
“By keeping alta’s pricing simple and consistent across subject areas, we’re taking a lot of the mystery out of the cost of course materials for students. We’re also making alta more affordable for the high number of students who are using alta in more than one course in a single subject area,” said Heather Shelstad, Knewton’s VP of Marketing. “We’re giving students the power to decide which purchasing plan is right for them, and helping them save money no matter which option they choose.”
Knewton releases new insights into student usage, engagement and performance with alta
To provide fresh insight into how alta makes an impact on learning outcomes, Knewton’s data science team released a series of findings regarding student usage, engagement and performance during the Fall 2018 term. They include:
- Students are staying engaged with alta throughout the semester. The rate of weekly student usage of alta increased by 25% in Fall 2018. On average, students spend 2.8 hours per week in alta.
- Students who use alta are engaged when they need it most. When students get a question wrong in alta, 38% of the time, they engage with the personalized instruction alta provides.
- Students who begin alta assignments go on to complete them. 88% of the time, students who attempted an assignment actually completed it. This rate has remained consistently high over time: during alta’s 2017 beta release, students completed their assignments 87% of the time.
- Alta is associated with higher test scores. Students who completed alta assignments performed 22% better on tests. Of students completing alta assignments, those who used alta’s AI-driven Review Center to prepare for an exam performed 9% better on tests.
Knewton recently published the results of an independent study of alta’s effectiveness led by the Center for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins University. The study’s findings drew a link between alta and improved student performance across student ability levels, classrooms and institutions.
“Knewton is an outcomes company,” added Kibby. “While access and affordability represent a key part of alta’s value proposition, there’s nothing more important than its ability to deliver results for students and instructors. We’re going to keep challenging ourselves to set a new standard for transparency regarding those results.”
What’s new in alta for 2019
There are a lot of things that set Knewton apart as a company. One of the most important for our customers is our culture of continuous improvement.
Leaving well enough alone? It’s just not in our DNA.
That’s why, since we launched alta in 2018, we’ve been pounding the pavement, asking every student and instructor we can get in front of how we can make their alta experience better. Our goal: making an even bigger impact on learning outcomes by continually optimizing their alta journey.
Of course, improving the experience of students and instructors requires more than just listening. It takes action. That’s why, over the summer, we began releasing a series of features and enhancements that address the feedback we received.
Below, you can find a handy guide to all of the enhancements we’ve made to alta since launch. If you haven’t taken a look at alta over the past few months, perhaps it’s time for a fresh look.
General improvements for instructors
New functionality and product design makes alta more powerful — and useful — than ever.
- New user interface: Over the summer, we found a way to make alta’s instructor UI even more streamlined and modern, raising the bar for how learning technology should look and feel.
- Dashboards: We’ve introduced a new analytics dashboard that focuses on students first, providing high-level insight into student performance and engagement as well as easy access to the full history of individual students. We’ve also revamped alta’s coursework analytics dashboard to provide more actionable metrics to instructors.
- Strict due dates: We’ve given instructors the ability to require students to complete coursework by a defined due date.
- Courses and sections: During Summer 2018, we gave instructors the ability to access multiple sections of their course from a centralized location, providing better control and analytics.
- Penalties for late assignments, quizzes and tests: Instructors can now set penalties for late submissions to assignments, quizzes and tests.
- Bulk editing — start and end dates: Instructors can now edit the start and end dates for multiple coursework items at the same time.
- Autograde coursework: Instructors can now automatically regrade coursework after adjusting individual due dates.
Enhancements to alta’s LMS integration
Making learning more accessible is one of the key reasons why we built alta. By enhancing alta’s learning management system integration capabilities, we’re taking accessibility to new heights.
- Canvas-specific course cartridges: Instructors can now use a course cartridge to transfer due dates along with LTI links from alta into Canvas.
- Preview as a student: Now, instructors can preview coursework as a student directly from their LMS — without having to create a student account.
- Semester migration tools: It’s now easier for instructors to transition their LMS-integrated courses from one semester to another — without having to manually change any coursework LTI links in the LMS.
(Even better) Service and support
We’re setting a new standard for the customer experience by bringing service and support into the 21st century.
- In-app live chat with Knewton support: Students or instructors who have questions about alta can now get a quick response through alta’s built-in chat feature, powered by Intercom.
- Supplements: Instructors can now access supplemental materials — including worksheets, slide decks and labs — to support all alta products.
Testing and assessment enhancements
We’ve made a number of improvements to how instructors prepare and deliver quizzes and exams in alta — and given students new ways to prepare for their exams.
- Review Center: Students can prepare for higher stakes tests by completing very targeted adaptive assignments in alta’s new Review Center, which launched during Spring 2018. Students completing alta assignments who used the Review Center performed 9% better on tests.
- Pooled questions: By developing question pools, instructors can reduce cheating on higher stakes tests.
- Edit assignments, quizzes & tests: We’ve given instructors the ability to edit assignments, quizzes and tests if students have not yet started them. (Additionally, instructors can now edit certain test settings after students have begun a test.)
- Free response questions: We’ve substantially increased the number of free response questions in alta. We’ve also given instructors the ability to add custom free response questions to a test — and convert a significant number of alta’s multiple choice questions to free response questions.
- Printed tests: Instructors can now print tests by first marking them as “offline.”
- Multiple test attempts: Instructors can now grant students multiple attempts at completing a test.
We’ve made a number improvements to alta’s content with the goal of providing a deeper, more flexible learning experience that leads to better outcomes.
- More granular learning objectives: We’ve redesigned our ontology and recommendations engine to tailor them to the kinds of skills taught in economics courses.
- Data-driven revisions: Over the past few months, we’ve created or revised 234,000 content atoms across all alta products based on data we’ve analyzed and feedback we’ve received.
- Desmos: By incorporating rich, interactive Desmos graphs into many alta assignments, we’ve given instructors the ability to deliver higher-order comprehension and graphing questions.
If you have questions about any of alta’s newest features, you can always reach out to us at email@example.com. A Knerd will get in touch with you ASAP to walk you through what’s new and answer any questions you may have.
Wishing everyone in our Knerd community lots of success in the semester ahead!
What’s new in alta for Fall 2018
Ahh, the dawn of a new academic year. When the slate is wiped clean and we are given a new opportunity to help students achieve their goals.
There are new courses to be taught. Fresh faces in your classroom. Great new alta features just waiting to be used. With that in mind, we thought we’d provide a handy round-up of everything that’s new in alta for the Fall 2018 term.
If you have any questions, please reach out to us — we’ll have a knerd get in touch with you ASAP to walk you through what’s new and answer any questions you may have.
Now, on to the enhancements!
In-app support via chat
Ever wanted support to feel a little less like sending a message in a bottle and a little more like a two-way conversation with a friend? Check out alta’s new support chat feature (that we think represents the most advanced support infrastructure in the industry):
- An intuitive and familiar two-way chat experience that also allows you to search our support center
- Support content that’s continuously improving through an integrated user rating system
- Proactive tips, instructions, and onboarding at specific points in your alta journey
What does all of this add up to? More immediate responses, more proactive support, and an elegant support experience that’s on par with what you’ve come to expect from alta.
Courses and sections
Have you ever wished that you could manage multiple sections of your alta course — while keeping all the core elements consistent?
With our Courses and Sections update, you can create sections based on your original alta course. Alta will carry over the original course learning objectives, content, and settings to the new sections. (Instructors teaching the new sections may add coursework or modify due dates for homework, but don’t worry: the important stuff will stay the same.)
Courses and Sections is kind of a big deal, so we’ve dedicated an entire blog post to it. If you have questions or would like to learn more, we recommend checking it out.
Improved adaptivity in non-quantitative courses
After gathering feedback from instructors and analyzing how students performed using alta in their Economics courses, we recognized an opportunity to improve the student learning experience.
Over the summer, we released updates to how our adaptive engine measures student progress toward mastery in non-quantitative courses. We’ve also made the learning objectives in these courses more granular to allow us to help students gain proficiency with greater precision.
Desmos graphing questions in for Math, Econ and Stats products
We’re always seeking new ways to present content and assessment in order to help students achieve mastery. That’s why we’re proud to announce that alta products in Math, Economics and Statistics will feature graphing questions from Desmos.
Desmos provides a powerful platform for presenting assessment questions in the form of a graph. The flexibility of Desmos allows us to deliver higher-order comprehension questions and provide better support for graphing questions.
Expect between 25-50% of content within each alta product in these subject areas to feature Desmos.
…and content updates across the board
While we’re continually refining alta’s content to make sure that it’s effective in helping to improve learning outcomes, over the summer, we completed a front-to-back sweep of our content to make sure that everything is in tip-top shape.
Think of it as a little “summer cleaning,” if you will.
There are lots of things to love about alta, and chief among them is the fact alta is always getting better. You can expect to hear more from us soon about the next set of exciting enhancements to alta.
In the meantime, we wish everyone the best of luck with your alta journey this semester!
Easy to use: The design of Knewton’s alta
The what, why, and how behind alta’s ease of use, and why focusing on user experience is a differentiator for Knewton.
The mission of the Knewton UX Team is to represent our user’s interests in the product experience. We do this in a few ways: 1) by listening to and observing our users to better know them and provide solutions to their problems, 2) by providing them a high-quality experience that is as delightful to use as it is effective, and 3) to differentiate our products from the competition. By nature, our processes integrate with every corner of the business as we attempt to design our workflows and experiences to achieve the best results. We want to eliminate bad design.
“Bad” design can lead to enormous waste of time and resources and results in lost leads. Be it a technology stack, CRM flow or user experience, poor design choices can all lead to lost opportunity and leave your product at a competitive disadvantage. It might even lead to embarrassingly dangerous errors like, say mistakenly sending out an inbound nuclear missile warning to an entire state!
That’s why Knewton believes that the alta user experience and our business processes must be designed with ease of use and efficiency in mind. And, like many of you, I have observed in software product-focused organizations that these communications, support, management and metrics systems we duct-tape together and call a “business” are severely entropic — as new needs and goals emerge, new people and ideas cycle through the organization, adding to the complexity.
Staying focused on identifying and solving real user problems with a design thinking mindset will help give your product a competitive advantage.
Great product experiences are rarely born of a chaotic set of goals and business processes. Knewton has made a real investment in user experience and research because we understand the advantage these capabilities bring, especially as a differentiator in education.
Only a focused student can effectively learn, and student performance insight is perhaps one of the most important components of effective teaching through software. Both will remain elusive without a carefully considered UX.
Simple Is Hard
No technology company has time to continually take a step back and reflect on their product experience, and then redesign each time new features are added. It’s easier and faster to bolt on features without considering how they impact the usability and perception of a product for users.
At Knewton, in creating alta we’ve asked ourselves, how can we take all these disparate problems and needs and boil them down into a simple product experience that will scale to accommodate our roadmap of the next 24–36 months, all while the plane is flying? How do we create a scalable, elegant design system that will help us be more efficient as a product team?
You can see how hard it is to deliver a quality UX simply by looking at our competitors and other entrants in EdTech. Most are afflicted with a bad case of featuritis.
By contrast, alta’s ease of use is a differentiator. Instructors and students can see that user experience is important to Knewton and naturally gravitate toward an experience that is content-forward, intuitive, calming, focused and responsive.
There are a few key ways we’ve designed the alta experience to build trust with educators and students.
Focus on the Fundamentals
Why will a higher education instructor choose alta over other options already in the marketplace? We start with the fundamental elements that create the conditions for ease of use.
Consistent Navigation and Context
Our users should always know where they are while using alta, and what they should do next. Most good UX designers will tell you that there should be one main purpose per screen, accessible with a clear call to action. In alta, we’ve reduced visual clutter, and replaced it with more structure to prioritize focus.
Done right, a user interface will essentially disappear for users — they won’t be thinking about how to use it, or spending precious time interpreting choices.
This includes a consistent, scalable navigation, which is critical infrastructure for the usability of any piece of software. Done right, a user interface will essentially disappear for users — they won’t be thinking about how to use it, or spending precious time interpreting choices.
But clear navigation is only part of a successful user experience. Since alta is a adaptive learning technology with assignments that can be of variable length, context is the key to a more relaxed, focused student.
We make sure a students options are always accessible and they know their current level of mastery, with persistent access to a prominent progress bar and mastery view. Similar enhancements that make it easy for instructors to track student mastery and easily aid struggling students are on the way.
Clean User Interface
We’re making alta the most usable, legible, and accessible personal learning experience. For students, a responsive user interface adapts to their web device so they can work how and when they like. We’re developing our alta Design System based on Google’s Material Design, not older bootstrap-like frameworks used by our competitors. That means our experience is more modern and mobile-friendly. alta feels more like other native and web apps students and instructors are accustomed to using in their personal lives.
In user experience, friction is defined as interactions that inhibit people from intuitively and painlessly achieving their goals within a digital interface. Friction is a major problem because it leads to bouncing, reduces conversions, and frustrates would-be customers to the point of abandoning their tasks. — Victoria Young, Telepathy
In alta, we’ve focused on enhancing interactions such as our onboarding flow or when a user encounters an empty state, so that a first time a user understands how to proceed without having to investigate. We’ve revamped our course and assignment cover components to feature key information at the top of the screen, such as status and estimated work remaining and completed, as well as making our calls to action more prominent and informative.
Building a User-Centered Process
Some ways UX design and research help the alta user experience resonate with instructors and students, and deliver real results.
Identify Real Problems
Our sales, marketing and product teams all interact with our users. In fact, we’ve built this as a requirement into our business processes. We all work together to make sure we are coordinating methodically in filtering out the noise, identifying real user problems and addressing them in priority order.
Solving real problems means sometimes going beyond what your users are saying to divine what they actually mean. The result is that alta feels almost like magic to our instructors in higher education, because we’ve succeeded in creating a product more powerful and easier to use than anyone else can due to the baggage and their legacy complexity.
The product team is investing in User Experience Research and collaborating with our entire commercial organization. Research in UX informs the decisions we make on how to implement features with real qualitative insights from real users and prospects.
Over the past 6 months we have conducted numerous focus groups and individual research sessions, focused mainly on Grading and Instructor Analytics. The insights from those sessions helped us to iterate quickly on an incredible upgrade to instructor analytics. Meanwhile, we’re planning many more product development focus groups in advance of key roadmap features, such as practice tests and coordinator reports.
An example of the kind of feedback our UX research and sales teams gather in the field. Navigation/UX is their number 2 concern, which speaking volumes about the current state of UX in educational software.
With help from our sales team, we’ll connect with our detractors, instructors considering adoption while awaiting specific features, and those curious about alta as an integral part of our workflow. In many cases, Product and UX communicating with potential users will turn skeptics into evangelists.
And there’s more to come in research, such as recurring feature refinement sessions on existing features, student and instructor surveys, market research, and building out our UX Research capabilities to gather more qualitative insights.
World Class Product UX Design Team
In addition to impressive talent in product, engineering, data science, and more, Knewton has built a high-quality product UX Design team comprised mostly of generalists with a high design pedigree and experience in education and a variety of other industries. We are here because we know that a strong UX gives alta a competitive advantage.
Activities such as UX labs and design sprints are baked into the earliest stages of feature discovery, and we continue to refine and try new techniques. We then cross-reference potential solutions with our design system, current product UX/UI, competitive landscape and most importantly, with our users, through research.
This way we help shape how our products are conceptualized and integrated with the overall experience rather than allowing the solution to be pre-ordained when it appears in the early documentation.
Choosing alta Is A No-Brainer
Here’s why all of these overlapping initiatives and processes make alta an easy choice.
Lower Switching Cost, and Less Training
An instructor’s time is valuable, so a more intuitive experience means less headaches when making the switch. alta is not complicated to configure or learn, for students or instructors, and requires far less documentation than our competitors. It just works — both with major LMS systems, and standalone. This quality is by design.
Happier Students = Happier Instructors
We know what students tell their instructors about their experiences with courseware. We uncover these stories in the field, through our research, focus groups, surveys and metrics. We know where and why these products fail to deliver, and of course seek to avoid those same weaknesses in our product. Through reducing student complaints and actually delivering a delightful experience and improved learning outcomes, we’ll achieve nothing short of making teaching and learning easier.
Powerful Insights for Instructors
We’re rolling out new and improved, research-backed analytic tools for instructors, enabling them to easily monitor student performance at each stage of their coursework. We make it easy to identify struggling students and provide granular views into learning objectives and activity. The product team made a real investment in iterating on these features, setting up a framework for an ever evolving set of performance analytics that instructors can rely on.
Transforming Higher Education with Knewton
We’ll continue to focus on creating a superior user experience as we gather new feedback and insights from instructors and students. Perhaps the most critical aspect of our effort to transform higher education through our digital products is the direct connection between our users and our product team, so if you’re an instructor or student interested in speaking with Knewton or participating in future research, please contact us.
Flipped, tipped or traditional: Adaptive technology can support any blended learning model
Like many people, I funded my graduate school (and early teaching career) by bartending. At the end of any really long or otherwise challenging shift, I looked forward to drowning my sorrows with Waffle House coffee as I contemplated the complexities of their hash brown menu…smothered, covered, and diced went without saying, but then what? Capped? Peppered? Chunked?
If you’re not from the South (or you’re just not a fan of Waffle House, or hash browns), you’re probably feeling a little lost right now. Don’t worry—a quick Google search will clear things right up for you! (Trust me, by the time you get to a Waffle House, you’ll likely know exactly what you want.)
If, on the other hand, it’s the “flipped, tipped, or traditional” that has you wondering, we can dig deeper here for you. What are the differences between these three models of blended learning, and what role can adaptive tools play in each?
According to EDUCAUSE the flipped classroom is a pedagogical model in which the typical lecture and homework elements of a course are reversed.
In other words, concepts or skills are introduced to students ahead of class time through a digital medium, and in-class time is spent working with, practicing, or applying their newly acquired knowledge or skills.
In this model, homework typically functions to:
- prepare students for productive in-class time by giving them materials that introduce or develop key concepts and skills you’ll be working on in class;
- provide visibility into students’ current knowledge or skillset ahead of introducing challenging material in class;
- or both of the above.
Adaptive learning tools like Knewton can have a positive impact in this context because they guide students through material that’s coming up in class, offering lots of practice as well as an opportunity to demonstrate mastery so students feel more comfortable participating in class discussion or group activities.
Instructor dashboards and reports enable you to know ahead of time which concepts or skills your students struggle with as a group, so your instructional plan can be targeted to these learning objectives. Some instructors use the Knewton dashboard to build groups or facilitate other peer-to-peer learning opportunities between partners with complementary strengths and weaknesses, or to inform one-on-one instruction or meetings.
The traditional model, in the context of blended learning, refers to a pedagogy that utilizes homework in pretty much the opposite way. The concepts or skills students work on after class are those that were introduced or developed in the class immediately prior. In this model, homework can:
- provide additional practice opportunity;
- enable students to make use of and take greater ownership of new knowledge and skills;
- serve to demonstrate mastery or understanding;
- or, all of the above.
Adaptive learning tools can play a role here similar to their role in the flipped class, offering advantages for both teaching (instructor analytics let you know where your class stands as a whole and also see how each student is faring individually) and learning (lots of additional practice, instruction if needed, and opportunity to demonstrate understanding and build confidence). Inclusion of non-adaptive assignments like quizzes or tests are commonly used to give closure and provide evidence of student learning that can be easily measured and assessed.
This brings us to the tipped model—the newest of the bunch, and not one you’ll have much luck Googling (at least this was true at the time of this draft!) but it’s a term that’s begun surfacing in conference paper titles and abstracts. And it’s floating around with some uncertainty in conversation.
Personally, I love it! In part because of the imagery but mostly because it captures the interstitial nature of this model; its capacity for tilting between the flipped and the traditional.
In this model, you might assign homework that meets the same purposes for which you would assign homework in a flipped context (prepare students for the material, gain insight into students’ prior/current knowledge, etc.), and then use the instructor dashboard to help you decide on the best topics for a “mini-lecture” at the start of class and provide the focus for the day’s activities. Then, after class, you’re back to the traditional model—students return to the platform to take a quiz; you see the results in real time and can adapt accordingly.
Any way you slice it (or dice, smother, cover, cap, or pepper it), adaptive learning tools can add a lot to the experiences of both teaching and learning. I have no doubt that these tools would have made my early teaching life much easier—leaving the tough decision of the day to hash browns.
Editor’s Note: We’ve got some new tools on the market that fit any of these models. Take a spin for yourself!
Aimee Berger, Ph.D, is a solutions architect for Knewton. She travels around the country helping college instructors implement adaptive learning tools.
You can explore this site (or read our press release) for more details, but here are a few things I’m especially excited to call out:
- Alta is affordable: Available at $44 per course, alta delivers an affordable and impactful teaching and learning experience that combines Knewton’s adaptive learning technology with high-quality openly available content.
- Alta is accessible to all learners: its technology, content and user experience are all WCAG 2.0 AA-level ADA compliant.
- Alta helps students achieve mastery: Every assignment in alta is tied to learning objectives that have been selected by the instructor for their course. When students successfully complete an assignment in alta, they demonstrate mastery of the assignment’s learning objectives. If a student struggles to complete an assignment in alta, Knewton’s adaptive technology dynamically diagnoses and remediates the student’s knowledge gaps with instructional content and assessment personalized to help them achieve mastery.
Our CEO, Brian Kibby, sees alta as part of a movement for better results and lower costs for college students.
“Students and instructors have been taken for granted by textbook publishers for too long. They deserve a better experience at a more affordable price,” said Knewton CEO Brian Kibby. “We designed every aspect of alta to empower instructors to put achievement within reach for their students, from its affordability and accessibility to its ability to help all learners achieve mastery.”
We look forward to bringing you more updates about alta in the weeks ahead!