Teresa Bear has been teaching chemistry since 2007 at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, California. While conducting research for her dissertation in 2011 (on the use of interactive technology to improve student success), Teresa found that students who used technology performed better than those who didn’t use it. Not surprisingly, she forged the path for teaching with technology at the college. Today, that means using OWLv2 (Online Web Learning), the only online learning and assessment system developed by chemistry instructors specifically for teaching chemistry.
The majority of Teresa’s students are engineering, math, or science majors who are motivated and of high academic caliber. Still, every teacher faces challenges, and Teresa’s is getting students to truly engage with the subject matter.
To test OWLv2’s suitability, Teresa conducted a non-graded pilot. About 45 out of 60 students participated; the majority loved it. Teresa noted: “OWL became our focal point for higher-order thinking versus regurgitation of lecture material. It forced students to get into the material and dig a little deeper. In the end-of-semester evaluations, students said they thought OWL really helped them learn. I thought so, too. Now all of our full-time faculty is on board and using OWL.”
OWLv2 now counts for about 10% of the course grade. Students work at their own pace until they master concepts. Along the way, they can visualize chemistry, get problem-specific feedback, and improve their problem-solving skills. Teresa assigns the Introductory Assignments and Mastery questions, and makes the Introductory Assignments a prerequisite so students learn how to use the system from the start and won’t get frustrated using OWL for later assignments. Students can’t even begin the first chapter until they work through the first assignment. To encourage persistence, she sets up multiple attempts.
Teresa appreciates the way OWLv2 encourages critical thinking, with elements such as the Mastery Learning problems, which force students to go beyond the foundational concepts and engage in higher-level thinking. Mastery Learning problems contain questions associated with specific concepts or skills. The chemistry, the wording of the questions, and the numerical values changing ensures student mastery. This three-way randomization allows students to practice and understand the underlying chemical concepts before they gain mastery and move on.
She also appreciates the real-time simulations that engage students in learning course concepts, as well as the interactive ebook, which integrates relevant sections of chapter material from the chapter as students are working on a question.
The OWLv2 experience has been even better than Teresa expected, and she has no qualms about recommending the program to others. “OWL has created more of a partnership between my students and me. So many students don’t take ownership of their learning, and that’s what has been most valuable about OWL. It has transferred the baton back to the students to really manage their own learning and take ownership of how and what they want to learn.”