Adaptive Online Learning Engaged, Even Emboldened my Students

Three college students working at a long table in the library

Two things I have tried to instill in all of my students are: (1) they must be prepared for their work; (2) they must “leave no stone unturned.” Having spent several years working at pharmaceutical and biotech research laboratories after earning my Ph.D., I learned what was necessary to be successful in industry. Now that I have been teaching for 10 years, I continually try to instill in my students that they must learn all of the course material, not just some of it. Similarly, an employee cannot know and truly understand just part of their job responsibilities; they must know all of them.

My challenge as an educator became how do I help my students go from passive learning to taking responsibility for it actively. Most of my students plan to transfer to four-year institutions, so in my General Chemistry I class, I wanted to incorporate activities students could do outside of class. In 2009, I implemented MasteringChemistry by assigning tutorials and end-of-chapter questions, with the goal that students would spend time in the online program learning and reinforcing what they learned from the book. Before the next class, I could easily assess where students were having problems and focus class time on those concepts rather than on all homework problems. This freed up a tremendous amount of class time to work on example problems that students could refer to while working independently on their homework.

Around 2012, I noticed that if I could have the students spend more time preparing for class by effectively reading the textbook and anticipating our classroom work, I could spend even more time on those concepts students had difficulty understanding. The concept of flipping the classroom, which we are all familiar with, was getting a lot of attention; however, I was more concerned that students understand why they must prepare for classes. Coming to class, saying “what are we doing today?” is as unacceptable as showing up to a department meeting not being prepared to discuss your research. I began preparing what I called pre-lecture assignments, which were short four to five question assignments that could be answered by reading the chapter. My students know that each time they enter my classroom, they must have done something with the materials to prepare themselves for class.

Although I would analyze the MasteringChemistry results and look at the homework problems most students had trouble with, I would find there were a few students who weren’t doing well on the problems I did not have time to cover in class. These students often would not make the effort to see me outside of class and would just let the learning objective for the particular homework problem they had difficulty with fall by the wayside. Unfortunately, these students who did not “leave no stone unturned” by seeking to understand all the material would see a similar problem on the exam and be unable to solve it. I’ve found that Adaptive Follow-Up (AFU) questions are the perfect tool to help each student master all the course material. If a student scores below a certain threshold on a particular homework problem, MasteringChemistry will automatically assign more questions for the student to work through, giving them an opportunity to master the topic.

My teaching style has evolved greatly over the past years. Through time, and with the help of MasteringChemistry, I’ve been able to reach my goals of impressing upon my students the importance of being prepared and taking responsibility for learning all the course material.

If you are interested to learn more details about how I used MasteringChemistry in my courses and the statistical outcomes, please read my case study.


About the Author

Donna Barron, Ph.D., teaches general, analytical and biochemistry courses at Hudson Valley Community College. She earned her Ph.D. in 2000 in BioAnalytical Chemistry and then spent several years working in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries before joining the faculty of Hudson Valley in 2005.