Vickie Williamson is a guest contributor and an Instructional Professor at Texas A&M University. Here she shares her personal experience with OWL and MindTap and the impact of both in her courses.

More than 15 years ago, I discovered how powerful an impact the OWL digital platform from Cengage could have on my college students’ General Chemistry achievement. Every year I polled my students on their satisfaction with OWL, and every year 85–95% of them claimed OWL helped them learn.

A New Contender

Fast-forward thirteen years, and MindTap enters the equation. MindTap is another innovative digital platform from Cengage that integrates the original OWL content with interactive narrative—so students read the “textbook” while doing homework. As was common practice for me, I polled my students again, this time to find out how they liked MindTap. To my surprise, they liked it even more than OWL!

While I was shocked that they could prefer a new platform after the consistent rave reviews I got with OWL, I also understood why. They were reading more and engaging more deeply with the content. We all know those are two of the biggest challenges we face as college educators. Students may have access to the text, but too often, they’re not even reading it.

What the Results Told Us

When I tried each program (OWL and MindTap) with a section, students in each section confirmed that their respective platform helped them learn. This showed me that, essentially, both “worked.” What I was really seeking from my students was their gut feedback on which program helped them learn better. I was looking for how they perceived their own learning and understanding with each program. I wanted to know which of these trusted programs kept them more engaged and empowered them with the confidence they needed to progress through my course.

My surveys to students—who after two semesters had used both programs—leveraged open-response and Likert-scaled questions to get student users of both platforms to analyze their perceived level of understanding as well as the ease-of-use and pros and cons of each. In case you’re unfamiliar, OWL assignments use links that open text in separate windows, while MindTap embeds readings right in the assessments, enabling students to first read, then answer relevant questions within the same window.

The results came in and the numbers don’t lie—MindTap was the clear winner. The survey demonstrated that the level of perceived learning by my students was much higher with MindTap. They favored the single-window functionality of MindTap, indicating that it often led them to read more.

Putting It in Print

As I mentioned in my first blog post on the subject earlier this year, these results were published and expounded upon in the June 2017 issue of the Chemistry Education Research and Practice journal. The study, titled “How Do General Chemistry Students’ Impressions, Attitudes, Perceived Learning, and Course Performance Vary with the Arrangement of Homework Questions and E-text?” explores the impact each homework system had on student learning and understanding.

Two platforms were tried and tested. Two platforms were proven effective. One platform came out on top. What’s great is that my students can have the best of both worlds, as OWL content is actually built into MindTap. The only difference is how it’s presented. MindTap offers a new and innovative product model that presents narratives in chunks, which seems to inspire greater reader engagement and more confident students. And isn’t that what we’re all after?

To get a closer look at the research results, read the study.