Contributor: Kimberly Benien, Wharton County Junior College (Wharton, Texas).
Whether I am designing a face-to-face course or an online course, student engagement is a top priority. Experience and reflection has shown me that students who are engaged in class and in the content are more likely to develop their own understanding and successfully transfer the learning to a more difficult concept, and eventually the next course. Technology helps me achieve my goal: to engage students where they are with technologies that they will use. Remember, only when students find value in it will they use it.

Technology is like a vine that intertwines a fence. The vine climbs to incredible heights and knows no limit. Like the vine, technology knows no bounds and can be used by students as a springboard to greater exploration and deeper understanding. Instructors can intertwine technology into their course and curriculum to affect engagement, providing tools and resources that address multiple learning modalities. Whether my student is a visual, kinesthetic, or auditory learner, technology lets me engage them where they are, in multiple ways, and without limit.

Five Ways to Increase Learning Through Enhanced WebAssign

1. Embed videos and screencasts
Embedding a video.Because students see the announcements on the WebAssign home page, I embed YouTube and KhanAcademy videos in the announcements, using the embed codes from their respective sites, to grab the students’ attention. I use Jing® software to create screencasts, where I explain and demonstrate how to use the Cengage Learning eBook (a.k.a. the YouBook), where to find the embedded media, and more about the types of media that students have available to them within the YouBook. I believe I need to help students find the value in the technologies that I have intertwined into the curriculum.

2. Interact via Twitter
Although our college uses a learning management system (LMS) integrated with Enhanced WebAssign, often students will not fully use tools within the LMS, and so I chose to use Twitter; students are familiar with and will use Twitter. I post a QR code that guides students to the class Twitter page and there they “Follow.” I post critical-thinking math problems and ask students to respond. Sometimes I ask them to search for and post videos on a specific concept and then rate or respond to at least two posts.
An interesting note: the first semester I tried this, I received a note from a student declaring that this really helped her, because the more videos she watched, each with a slightly different approach or presentation, the more they helped her to understand this particular concept. I remember thinking, “Wow, it worked!” And even more exciting was that someone recognized it!

3. Utilize simulations and interactives
Having seen that students are less likely to use resources if they have to search for them, I began embedding them directly into assignments. If a simulation or an interactive will help students build understanding for an abstract concept, such as “Taking the Derivative,” then embedding the Tools for Enriching Calculus, developed by James Stewart, the author of our Calculus text, puts it right where the students are.
Simulations help students build understanding for an abstract concept.
4. Add in-class assignments and group work
A typical lesson begins with questions from homework, then a recap of the assigned reading, and possibly a demonstration using technology. Students take notes and ask questions in preparation for the collaborative/active learning portion of class. They break into groups of 3 or 4 and access the “InClass” assignment in Enhanced WebAssign. Embedded in the assignment is the same demonstration. Engaging students in the content with technology and active learning builds a stronger foundation and a deeper conceptual understanding. A student expressed it best: “[WebAssign] really helped me have a better understanding of how to do a problem, so I could think through similar and harder problems.” My students have accredited this portion of the class, using Enhanced WebAssign and working together, as being very beneficial. Another student said, “We would do these in class…it was useful because it allowed us to help each other and learn new ways of solving the problem.”

5. Provide real-time feedback
Some think of Enhanced WebAssign as a homework grading tool, and while that is a big positive, it’s not the main reason why I use it. First and foremost, it is the multimedia that I can employ to bring calculus to life, but equally important is the immediate feedback my students receive. Time is not wasted on problems they have mastered AND they can move forward with confidence that they understand what they are doing. In the event their answer is incorrect, Enhanced WebAssign as the primary technology provides video, tutorials, “Watch-its,” and much more to assist in re-teaching and to fine tune their understanding.
A combination of student surveys and my own reflections have helped me decide what worked or what did not. When students provide feedback such as, “It has helped me do better problem solving… makes you think about the problems more… Enhanced WebAssign helps me understand the material more,” I know that using technology is both engaging and beneficial.

Kimberly Benien is a mathematics instructor; course builder of all distance education courses and coordinator of course management systems for the department at Wharton County Junior College. She received her B.A. in Educational Studies and in Mathematics and her M.A. in Mathematics Education from Western Governors University in Salt Lake City, Utah. Kimberly’s experience includes Secondary Mathematics, Intermediate Algebra, College Algebra, Trigonometry, Finite Mathematics, Business Calculus, Elementary Statistics, Precalculus, and Calculus. Her experience with technology integration and six different course management systems made Kimberly the choice to pilot Enhanced WebAssign in her online course. Due to its ease of use, innovative platform, and unique options that encourage freedom of instruction, she now trains instructors to integrate Enhanced WebAssign into their courses. Kimberly has also integrated Aplia into her Elementary Statistics course because it was intuitive to use and provided unique feedback in the form of thought-provoking explanations.