Required Equals Results: Missi Patterson, Austin Community College

“My students come to class prepared. They ask interesting questions, engage in thoughtful debate, and discuss material from the text with each other in ways I’ve never seen before. They do better on exams when they complete the digital work.”

What impact did requiring digital have on your students’ success?
I already knew that students who used the digital resources were benefiting. When I made the resources optional, I got about 10% participation each semester. Now that the resources are required, I have about 90% participation. My students come to class prepared. They can ask interesting questions, they can engage in thoughtful debate, and they discuss material from the text with each other in ways I’ve never seen before. Students quickly become aware that their grades increase not only because they are earning points from the digital assignments, but that they do better on exams when they complete the digital work.

Which digital tools do you use in your class?
I use LearnSmart, Connect, Tegrity, Blackboard, and classroom clickers. I find this to be a powerful group of tools, especially since they all work together so well!

When did you begin using digital tools in your classes and what did it replace, if anything?
The first digital tool I used was PowerPoint, which replaced transparencies, if you can believe that! I began investigating digital options in the mid-nineties. I was lucky to begin my teaching career just as there was an explosion of digital options. For a long time, I had students do “online assignments” which I crafted myself. I would ask them to think critically, use the internet, and spend time out of class responding to emailed questions. My students way back then used to balk that I required email and discussion board participation. Now, many students expect a technological side to classes, so it is much easier! Since I’ve started using Connect and LearnSmart, I’ve been able to give the same out-of-class experience with much less effort on my part. I’ve never thought of digital tools as replacing anything else; I see them as augmenting learning in unique ways.

When did you decide to require them as part of the course grade?
My homemade online assignments had always been required for a grade. When I made the switch to LearnSmart and Connect, however, I felt that since the tools had a monetary cost associated with them, I couldn’t require them of students. I felt like I was asking them to pay for the opportunity to earn points. I realized though, that especially in classes like mine, where homework was not the norm, students weren’t making use of these wonderful tools. Those that did use digital resources clearly benefited, but I wasn’t reaching everyone. When I finally realized that students were already paying to earn points (exam questions which could only be answered if they’d paid for and read their textbook), it occurred to me that I should make their investment count. So many students buy a text and never read it, or read it the night before the exam when it does no good. By requiring LearnSmart and Connect, I get my students to actually use the resources that help them. That realization was a real turning point, and I’ve never looked back.

What percentage of your course grade is made up by digital tools like Connect and LearnSmart?
Students in my courses earn about 15% of their grade through LearnSmart and Connect. It just so happens that this amount is almost exactly the same as each exam is worth in my course, so I always tell them that if they hate homework, they can just think about it as a semester long open book exam. They seem to like that idea.

Why is it important to require digital rather than make it optional?
Only the best, most motivated students do “optional” work. If you believe in a resource, you should want all of your students to have access to it, and that means making it required. I like telling my students that I know their time is valuable, and that I’m so sure these tools will help them that I’ll give them points for using them. Like anything else in my classes, if I want my students to put time in, I have to be willing to give them points for it, or it won’t get done.

What advice do you have for instructors who are incorporating digital into their courses for the first time?
Take it slow. Incorporate one new thing a semester. Don’t try to do it all at once. Make use of other educators as resources. Look at the Connect blog and interact with digital faculty consultants or other instructors who have done it before. Additionally, realize that there is a learning curve for students, and that you need to help them believe in what you are asking them to do. I find that by building in forgiveness in my grading scheme, I can motivate students without penalizing them for missing one or two assignments. Students in my classes know they have to do 90% of the digital assignments for full credit. This means that if they struggle at first, or if they forget an assignment or two, they can still earn full credit and they don’t give up.

What are you able to do now that you couldn’t before you required digital?
I’m able to come to class knowing where my students are struggling. I’m able to focus my time on things that actually matter, not on things that I “assume” are important. Many days, I’m delightfully surprised at how well my students handled their online work, and I can talk about exciting or fascinating things instead of teaching them boring definitions. The software takes care of the boring, and I get to have fun with my classes. I feel like I am doing more than just teaching my students about my subject matter. I’m teaching them how to learn effectively in college: read before coming to lecture. I know they’ll take that with them as they move into other classes, and I know that it will serve them well.

Check out the full Required Equals Results series to hear from other instructors about their experiences.

The Connect Team

By The Connect Team  |  August 07 2013

The Connect Team

The Connect Team