Given the importance that employers place on computer applications skills in a wide variety of fields, it is not surprising that increasingly colleges and universities are requiring their students to take a computer applications course as a prerequisite for graduation. Additionally, students also realize the value of proficiency in computer applications, most notably Microsoft® Office applications, as critical skills for employment and advancement. To meet the demand of increased enrollments, and to provide students with opportunities to apply computer application skills to real-world tasks and activities, college instructors are embracing the use of online solutions that provide opportunities for proficiency assessment and auto grading.

To gain an understanding as to how these types of digital tools can improve outcomes in real classroom settings, Project Tomorrow collaborated with Cengage Learning to evaluate the efficacy of the use of SAM online projects within Microsoft applications courses during the spring semester of 2014.

The mixed-methods study included the participation of thirty-eight college instructors and over nine hundred of their students from a geographically and demographically diverse set of two-year and four-year institutions as well as a small number of trade schools.Twelve of the instructors used only their Cengage Learning textbook, while twenty-six instructors used both the textbook and SAM.

Overall, the study found that students who used Cengage Learning’s Skills Assessment Manager (SAM) demonstrated better Microsoft application skill proficiency than students who did not use the program. Key findings:

  • Students in courses that use SAM do more application projects than students in other courses where SAM is not utilized, thus providing the students in the SAM courses with additional opportunities to practice and develop their skills.
  • Seven out of ten students attribute their increased engagement in course content to their use of SAM projects.
  • Of SAM students, 85% said that doing the online projects was a significant driver for their academic success in this course.
  • One hundred percent of SAM instructors and 76% of SAM students would recommend SAM to a colleague or friend.
  • Two thirds of SAM students said that having access to SAM in their course helped them learn how to apply course content in real-world settings, and 56% said that it helped them develop critical thinking skills.
  • SAM students in both online/blended courses as well as face-to-face courses outperformed their peers in similar non-SAM classes in overall Microsoft application skill proficiency.

»Download the white paper: Efficacy of SAM Projects in Intro to Computing Courses.