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.

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.