ALEKS - Assessment and Learning

Implementation Strategies

Our success stories encompass a wide variety of implementation models and best practices, from lecture-based to emporium labs to course redesigns. The flexibility of ALEKS made it simple and effective for these schools to improve their student success rates, and they are willing to share their strategies.

University of Arkansas at Little Rock, AR
4 Year University / Public

Scenario: I use ALEKS in a traditional course without a textbook.
Purpose: Core Curriculum
ALEKS Course: Intermediate Algebra

Marvelyn Herbert Tapp, Instructor
I appreciate that ALEKS makes the student work through their weakest areas without wasting time on skills that they already know. My experience proves that the majority of students who successfully complete our ALEKS Intermediate Algebra course are truly prepared for College Algebra.


Scenario

What challenges did your students or institution face prior to using ALEKS?
We experienced extreme inconsistencies between full-time instructors, adjunct instructors, and graduate students teaching our courses. Students who took a course with an adjunct instructor or graduate student were being awarded higher grades than their skill level indicated. As a result, the students would move on to College Algebra completely unprepared.

Was ALEKS used in your course with all students or with targeted students?
All students.

Number of students who used ALEKS for the course and term:
Number of sections: 17
Number of students per ALEKS section: 22
Total students enrolled in this ALEKS course: 374

How do you structure your course periods with ALEKS?
My course revolves entirely around lecture and questions. My students complete all of their work on ALEKS independently outside of our classroom.

How often are students encouraged or required to use ALEKS?
Hours per week: 6


Implementation

Please describe how you implement ALEKS into your course curriculum.
The use of ALEKS completely eliminates the use of a traditional textbook, paper exams, and handwritten homework. The way we use ALEKS, students purchase a set of notes from the bookstore that come with their access code. They then organize the pages in a notebook by assignment. The assignments match the way the topics will be released in ALEKS. There is no other textbook except what the students have access to in electronic form in ALEKS. The instructor lectures on each topic, and students are to complete each assignment by a specific due date. Scheduled assessments are administered approximately every two weeks. At the end of the semester, in order to pass the course, students must complete the entire pie and pass the final assessment with a score of 88 percent or better. Students are welcome to work at their own pace in order to finish the course early.

Do you cover ALEKS topics in a particular order?
Topics are grouped into assignments which match the way they are released in ALEKS. Within an assignment, the instructor is free to teach in an order that they feel is appropriate. Usually, similar topics are grouped together.

Do you integrate a textbook with your course using ALEKS Textbook Integration? Please describe how you set up your chapter completion dates.
No.

How often do you use the ALEKS Instructor Module?
I use the Instructor Module daily throughout the term.

How do you incorporate ALEKS Quizzes into your course?
In past semesters, I would schedule a quiz in ALEKS and post a practice quiz at least two days ahead of time for the students to work on. Then students took a very similar quiz while in class. I had students neatly work their problems out on paper and turn it in so that I could go back through each student's quiz and award them partial credit. This also allowed me to give students feedback on where they were making their mistakes.

How do you incorporate ALEKS scheduled Assessments into your course?
Assessments for all sections of Beginning Algebra are scheduled before the semester begins. Every student receives a copy of due dates for assignments as well as release dates for assessments with their syllabus. Assessments are scheduled approximately every two weeks or roughly after every two assignments are due.

How do you modify your regular instructional approach as a result of ALEKS?
In addition to my normal approach, I also make sure to include little anecdotes about how ALEKS works. For example, how to graph a fractional value on a coordinate axis, and how to shade a linear inequality.

How do you use information from ALEKS to focus your teaching?
I use the progress and report features frequently. I can tell if someone is falling behind or not working at all.  It also reveals if a student gets help on assessments when their scores increase too rapidly. I also use the assessment report feature to help students see where they may have made a mistake on a particular problem. Even if they see that problem back in their pie, it gives them some confidence if they know that they made a small mistake such as a negative sign or typing in the wrong variable as opposed to just knowing they got the entire problem wrong.

How do you use ALEKS in conjunction with any other learning management systems, course management programs, etc.?
I use ALEKS with Blackboard where I keep grades, post electronic notes, videos, and other course material.


Grading

What percent of a student's grade does ALEKS make up?
ALEKS makes up 100 percent of my students' grade.

How do you incorporate ALEKS into your grading system?
To pass the course, all students must complete the pie and earn 88 percent on the final assessment. Letter grades are determined by assessments, assignments and quizzes. An A student, on average, completes assignments on-time, meets or exceeds the prescribed percentage for target assessments, and earns 90 percent or better on quizzes. A B student, on average, completes assignments two days late, misses the prescribed target assessment by more than three percentage points, and scores an average of 80 percent on quizzes. A C student turns in most assignments significantly late, misses the prescribed target assessment percentage by more than six percent, and earns an average of 70 percent on quizzes. Grades of D and F are not awarded for this course.

Is ALEKS assigned to your students as all or part of their homework responsibilities?
ALEKS is assigned as all of the student's homework.

Do you require students to make regular amounts of progress in ALEKS?
We require students to make regular progress by having due dates for assignments and percentages that they should obtain on scheduled assessments.

How do you track student progress in ALEKS?
I rely on the automatic email that is generated when a student completes an assignment. I also use the progress reports to look at each individual student's progress since their initial assessment. In addition, I look at the recent target assessment to see who has completed it and what percentage they earned.

Do you notice that students who spend more time in ALEKS perform better in the course than those students who spend less time in ALEKS?
Overwhelmingly, students who spend more time working in ALEKS are more successful in the course.  There are the exceptions for a student who is already familiar with the material, but by and large, there is a positive correlation between time spent working in ALEKS and success in the course. Having said that, some students require more time than others, but regularly logging in and working on problems seems to be the ideal way to succeed.

Would you attribute any improved student performance in the course to ALEKS methodology or to some other factor?
Students who are now in Intermediate Algebra coming from Beginning Algebra have some skills down. I believe this is because ALEKS requires students to learn material until they master it.


Learning Outcomes

Please describe the learning outcomes your students have achieved using ALEKS.
I find that students who complete the ALEKS Beginning Algebra course do very well in Intermediate Algebra. In fact, of the eight students who completed Beginning Algebra with me last semester, 100 percent are current with the course material and have an A or B average in my Intermediate Algebra course. I am positive that if these students continue to work in ALEKS, they will not only be ready for College Algebra, but will pass.

In general, how do the students feel about their progress in ALEKS?
Students feel that their progress in ALEKS is an accurate reflection of what they know.


Best Practices

What challenges did you encounter when first implementing ALEKS and how can other instructors avoid these pitfalls?
When first implementing ALEKS, we let students work on their own without assignments or due dates, and we found that students did not do much work. It has been beneficial to the student to have due dates and scheduled assignments so that they know what to expect.

What will you do differently when you implement ALEKS in your future course(s)?
The decision to do something differently will be made by the department or committee that teaches these courses as a whole. What I would like to see, however, is a way to have students take at least one proctored assessment in the middle of the semester.

Which ALEKS course product(s) have you used in the past?
Beginning Algebra, Intermediate Algebra

What best practices would you like to share with other instructors who are implementing ALEKS?
Make sure students are not cheating during assessment with a cell phone, or opening other browsers on the Internet.