Guest Contributor: Eric J. Schmieder, Johnston Community College (Smithfield, North Carolina).

We had thought that we did everything right this time. Well, as much as you can, knowing that there is always room for improvement. So imagine the shock for three full-time and four adjunct instructors teaching a collective twenty-five sections of CIS 110, Introduction to Computers, when the average grade across all sections on the first exam covering Microsoft Word 2010 was in the upper 40s!

One of the major goals as we redesigned the fall 2012 offering of CIS 110 at Johnston Community College was to develop course requirements and resources that would produce consistent results across all sections, regardless of instructor. To this end, we adopted SAM 2010 for the delivery and grading of assignments and exams in the applications part of the introductory course, excited about the ability to test students not only on the conceptual elements of the applications, but their actual ability to demonstrate the skills required for using those applications effectively.

We supplemented our traditional instruction approach with video resources, flashcards, and tutorial documents in our LMS, as well as training activities in SAM, so there is no reason students shouldn’t have been well-prepared for the exam. Collectively, we all compared notes and asked “What happened?”

What happened was, quite frankly, that students didn’t know what to expect of this type of exam and didn’t know what to do when they got there. They were accustomed to the traditional exam structure focused on conceptual questions of the multiple choice or true/false variety and being asked to demonstrate skills they were expected to learn, rather than regurgitate bits of knowledge from the chapter material, was unheard of at that point. To make matters worse for them, SAM doesn’t allow for searching around in the exam session to find the right command or place in the application for completing the task.

As we explored the issue further that first semester, we realized that the majority of students did not complete the training activities available to them in SAM. As a result, they had not practiced the skills on the exam in the way that SAM expected them to be done. With encouragement, many students learned to take advantage of the training resources and showed improvement on the remaining exams that semester, but we needed a way to avoid the same issues for semesters to come. That answer, as we found, was SAM Path.

SAM Path is an assignment type that combines an exam with an associated training and can be used to require training to be completed before releasing the exam content to students. The training used by SAM Path is directly associated with the exam, so students receive training in an Observe, Practice, and Apply format on each of the skills that will appear on the exam. By incorporating the training into the path, we could be confident that students had successfully performed each skill at least once in the way that SAM expected it to be done for the exam, and as a result, performance on the exams in future semesters rose dramatically.

Two years later, as we are now teaching Office 2013 using SAM 2013, SAM Path is still an essential component of our course structure designed to meet consistent student learning outcomes across multiple sections of Introduction to Computers and is being adopted by other courses in our Business department curriculum as well.


Eric J. Schmieder is a full-time Computer Technology faculty member at Johnston Community College, located in Smithfield, North Carolina. He serves as a Technology Power User for Cengage Learning. Connect with him on LinkedIn at


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