Guest Contributor: Dr. Steven Neal, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

As the temperatures are dropping and the leaves are changing, so too are the attitudes of the students. More and more are sending an email or asking in person ‘how can I do better?’ or ‘how can I get ready for the final?’

There is not one simple response, but a multi-faceted approach that one must take to truly be successful.

Helping students focus their study efforts

When preparing for a final exam, students often come to see me with questions and begin with “I understand (fill in topic), but why does (fill in question) happen?” This immediately tells me they don’t really understand–they are familiar with the idea. While I can easily spot this difference, it takes much more work for the student to see the difference and discover ‘what they do not know.’ If the students could work this out on their own, they would know where to focus their review efforts.

I Use OWlv2 in my Organic Chemistry courses because it is more than just online homework – it is an online learning platform. I take advantage of the many different assignment types offered by OWLv2 (Mastery, EOC, Test, Multimedia, and the Adaptive Study Plan). However, the students sometimes get lost in the difference between what they know and what they understand. To help them focus their study efforts, I like to work with them on which assignment is geared for which specific learning objectives.

The adaptive study plan (ASP) will do this and more. A chapter specific pre-test is given to assess the student’s understanding of the sections that I am covering. Next the student is presented with more than just their grade, they are provided section topics to identify the concept missed as well as a link to the specific section in the MindTap reader that cover the topics they missed so they can read up on that specific section. This takes away the work of identifying why they missed a question and helps them find the spot in the textbook they need to review. They are also often presented with practice problems to reinforce to concept after the review. One of the beautiful things about the ASP is that it is customizable to exactly which sections I am covering. This ensures I do not needlessly worry students when they see something we are not covering.

Using the OWLv2 Gradebook to guide final review sessions

Shortly before the final exam itself, I always have a review session. In the past, I would walk in to the review session with nothing other than chalk or a marker and open the floor to questions – to be met with complete silence! How could a room with ~300 18-25 year olds have nothing to say?!?! It turns out they all suffer from the same problem; ‘I don’t want to ask a question and look like an idiot in front of my peers’. As we know all to well, most of them have the same questions – they just don’t realize it. Instead, I now let the gradebook analytics in OWLv2 guide my review session. The analytics available within the gradebook allow me to look for questions in each of the homework assignments that had low averages. These questions are then used in the review session to get prompt discussion. Now instead of coming in practically empty-handed, I am armed with questions that were commonly missed along the way.

Once finals are over, grades are reported, and the students have gone home to their families, we have weeks with nothing to do, right? Wrong! The new semester will be here before we know it and a new set of students will be coming along – most struggling with the same concepts the group that just left struggled with. Why not take this time to give your assignments a tune-up?

Come join me Tuesday December 8th at 1:00 EST for more information about these ideas and many more about how OWLv2 can help you wrap up your semester!

» Register for the “Getting Ready for Course Wrap-Up with OWLv2” webinar today.

Dr. Steven Neal is a Cengage Learning Faculty Partner and Lecturer at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.