Knerd Story – David Simon, Baton Rouge Community College

David Simon
Baton Rouge Community College


For a long time, I’ve been thinking about making videos of me teaching, but didn’t get around to it. The move to remote learning in spring 2020 was the motivation I needed to get going on making these teaching videos. By the end of that first week of remote learning, I had a rig set up with my tripod, a selfie stick, and my phone, and I just started making videos and created a YouTube channel. The channel now has about 200 videos.

Why did you decide to use Knewton Alta?

As a college, we had decided to pilot different products in different courses. In the fall of 2019 I was piloting Knewton Alta, along with another competitor product. In the beginning, I really got into Knewton Alta. I just felt that it flowed better, was easier for students to latch on to, and linked up with Canvas much more easily. It was working great. Cut to March 2020 and I was starting my video project in the middle of the semester and working with multiple software platforms in different courses.
I quickly realized I didn’t want my videos to be connected to any particular textbook, so I decided not to use textbook problems in my videos. Instead, I used my own problems, and didn’t have to follow along with textbook chapters, and could let things unfold in my own way. I started incorporating Knewton, which I felt fit in with my plan in a more seamless way. I had links to OpenStax textbooks, and Knewton worked better with my videos. So I stuck with it.

What features of Knewton Alta do you like?

The fact that the homework is interactive and can pinpoint for students where they are is so important. Knewton Alta can tell them, “You need to practice this topic some more…” Instead of just being the typical “Do questions one through five and hopefully I can give you feedback.”
Logo Description automatically generatedKnewton Alta can give students that individualized feedback. That’s what I need. And I know some of the other software does that too, but Knewton was simpler and it just worked out better.
This interactive stuff, this is the future. Especially with all the video conferencing technology and all the remote learning that’s happening. I don’t think education is ever going back to the way it was. Nobody’s going to let that happen.
I like that Knewton Alta is a software where you don’t ever see a negative, or the downside because it doesn’t ever take points away. That’s one thing that helps motivate students too. They can lose confidence if they keep getting hammered for getting things wrong.
Knewton Alta’s adaptability is important. I tried a couple of softwares that were adaptive. A competitor product was also good, but it’s just the interface of Knewton seemed to flow better. The problem choices were a bit more varied. I felt like I could do more in it. I could make some of the problems in it. And there were just too many blockades for some of the other softwares. Like they didn’t link with Canvas or students had to log in somewhere else. Knewton Alta and myself jive, like puzzle pieces, my tap dancing, and its adaptability. And I just kept getting such good feedback from the students about it too.

What has been the impact of using Knewton Alta?

Diagram Description automatically generatedWell, things have been developing since Spring 2020. I kept piloting Knewton Alta at my school until I was able to show everyone how well it was working. I used to have a 40 or 50% pass rate. Now I’m up to a 70% pass rate.
This semester (Fall 2021) we actually went ahead and adopted it for the college algebra and trigonometry classes too. And it seems to be going really well. There are always pitfalls when lots of people are using things because some people are good at the technology and some people aren’t. I’ve tried to help as much as I can. And then my Customer Success Manager for Knewton Alta fills in most of the gaps. And I’m hoping that it can keep going. I know sometimes people have a tendency to regress and they want to go to something they know, and they want to go back to solutions and partners we’ve used in the past. And I say no, we can’t do that.

Implementation Strategy

I teach a topic and assign a Knewton Alta homework on the topic (or sub-topic). I try to cut the homework up into manageable chunks of about half an hour each. I do this if the Knewton topic is too big. It also allows students to get quick feedback and encouragement. Then even if one weekly Canvas module has seven or eight assignments, students know each one will take about 30 minutes.
Many educators, myself included, would love to be able help individual students. Back in the “little red school house days” you had individual attention. It would be great to be able to stand next to a student and let them know I’m helping them today, until they understand the material like the back of their hand. We just can’t do that. Every semester I’ve got upwards of 200+ students in a small college.
We’re getting technology like Knewton Alta, right when we need it—or maybe a little bit later than we need.

And I don’t know if a lot of us realized that until something like Knewton Alta came along. But now we can figure out where the problems are, where students’ difficulties are, and try to smooth them out. And that’s what we’ve been needing.

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.

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.

(Even better) Service and support

We’re setting a new standard for the customer experience by bringing service and support into the 21st century.

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.

Content enhancements

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.

If you have questions about any of alta’s newest features, you can always reach out to us at 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):

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.

Better 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.

Less Friction

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.

UX Research

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.

Introducing alta!

Today, we’re excited to launch alta, Knewton’s fully adaptive courseware for higher education.

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:

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!