The struggles of student engagement
Increasing student engagement in chemistry courses can be a constant goal and a major struggle, especially when students have a variety of STEM backgrounds. Krysta Riel Maas, a chemistry professor at The College of St. Scholastica, had been working with her department to try and find a solution that would work best for herself along with her colleagues. “Our department had been studying methods of small teaching, which is a student-centered theory to increase engagement.” For the chemistry department at The College of St. Scholastica, and for Krysta’s own GOB course, Aktiv Chemistry’s in-class and homework functionality provided the engagement they were seeking. “Aktiv Chemistry has been a way to have active learning classrooms. That’s the big idea. Students actively engage on their own, and in groups, away from what the professor is talking about in front of the class. It takes the material from the front of the lecture hall and brings it back to where the students are.”¹
Introducing active-style question types
While other online platforms primarily provide mostly generic question options like multiple-choice, Aktiv Chemistry’s question bank is populated with chemistry-specific question types and activities. The platform includes next-generation answer modules designed to help students draw Lewis Structures, solve dimensional analysis equations through drag-and-drop scaffolded templates, write chemical names and equations, construct ICE charts, and more.
Krysta has witnessed firsthand how these active-style questions ignite student engagement. In her all-inclusive GOB course, she uses Aktiv Chemistry for intermittent check-ins during class to ensure her students are on the same page before moving on. “We were working on Stoichiometry and I gave my students a more challenging problem on Aktiv Chemistry. Sometimes my early morning class is really quiet but all of a sudden my classroom just blew up with activity. There were conversations everywhere and people were getting up and moving around and discussing it. Their dimensional analysis skills were growing right before my eyes. I could see them actually start putting those pieces together. If I had given the question to them on pen and paper, I don’t think it would have clicked as well as it did with Aktiv Chemistry.”¹
Aktiv Chemistry offers an individualized experience for students by offering instant, answer-specific feedback when students make mistakes. The platform isn’t just a receptacle for student responses. Instead, Aktiv Chemistry interacts with students, steers their grasp of the material, and guides them toward success. This capability achieves Krysta’s goal for her students to have full command over all the material she must cover in her GOB course, rather than just getting the correct answers to the assignments. “I love that my students have immediate feedback. I give them multiple chances to get the answer correct to get an idea of how they’re learning and how they’re progressing through each problem.”
Increasing engagement outside of the classroom requires that any online learning platform be available on demand. Needing access to a laptop limits the possibilities for students to engage in non-traditional ways. Aktiv Chemistry’s platform can be accessed at any time via laptop, tablet, or smartphone. Krysta recognized early on that her students were taking advantage of the Aktiv Chemistry platform in a variety of situations. “Learning can happen anywhere at any time. I like the fact that they can do their chemistry homework on the bus or while they’re eating dinner or hanging out with their friends. I see devices not as a distraction but an opportunity to continue learning outside the classroom.”
In addition to providing opportunities for her students to continue their education on-the-go, Krysta appreciates that, even remotely, she is still connected to her students and monitoring their progress. Through her class roster, she is able to keep an eye on her students’ participation and their comprehension of the material. “Because Aktiv Chemistry is on their phone, iPad, and laptop, there aren’t any connectivity issues. I can still connect with them away from class because I can see how students are responding to questions.”¹
In Krysta’s GOB course, most students are taking full advantage of the fact that Aktiv Chemistry’s entire platform is available and fully functional on their smartphones. She acknowledges that some instructors may be wary about cellphones in class, but Krysta sees this as an advantage. “Their phones are always with them, so why not use it as a tool in my classroom? It didn’t make sense to have a punitive attitude towards them. Instead of fighting it, I decided to harness that amazing tool that they have to get them excited about learning chemistry.”
Engaging with students can often mean redistributing power in the classroom so students feel like an active participant in their education. Aktiv Chemistry provides instructors and students the opportunity to do that and achieve the desired results. “Aktiv Chemistry allows the students to have control in their hands. They are in charge of their own learning. It gets them to talk to each other, it gets them to talk to the professor. You can only keep a student’s attention by talking at them from the front of the room for so long.”¹
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