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.

Parkland College, IL
2 Year Community College

Scenario: I use ALEKS in an online course without a textbook.
Purpose: Online Course
ALEKS Course: Intermediate Algebra

Andrew Wilson, Associate Professor
I use ALEKS in an online course for Intermediate Algebra and am very pleased with the program. I previously taught online courses using Angel and Blackboard and there is no comparison between these programs and ALEKS. ALEKS forces me to think outside of the box and helps me focus on where a student is having the most difficulty. I personally feel more confident that the students who earn a C or better in my ALEKS online course are definitely ready for their next math course.


Scenario

What challenges did your students or institution face prior to using ALEKS?
Students have a high repeating rate and low attendance. Therefore, it is difficult to keep students engaged and on the same level of preparation; we would often overwhelm some students while boring others. Keeping the course materials fresh and dynamic, presenting the course material in a method other than lecture notes or "just read the book," and the inability to collect and assess students in a free-response way were also challenges. 

Was ALEKS used in your course with all students or with targeted students?
ALEKS was used with the entire class.

Number of students who used ALEKS for the course and term:
Number of sections: 1
Number of students per ALEKS section: 15
Total students enrolled in this ALEKS course: 15

How do you structure your course periods with ALEKS?
All work is completed within ALEKS. I also use a web page to deliver additional worksheets and course materials, such as dates, deadlines, and the syllabus.

How often are students encouraged or required to use ALEKS?
Days per week: 5
Hours per week: 5-15
Hours per term: 80

For the sections that do NOT use ALEKS during this specific term, what do they work on in place of ALEKS?
All other sections are on-campus and are traditional lecture/discussion courses. One instructor uses MathZone to supplement his courses.


Implementation

Please describe how you implement ALEKS into your course curriculum.
I use ALEKS as the primary course platform. I customize the ALEKS content and use the textbook integration feature. In ALEKS, I arrange chapter Intermediate Objectives followed by an exam the next day on the material. The course grade primarily depends on the ALEKS online exams. I also send the students progress reports with individual guidance about once every 1-2 weeks via email; I include information such as how many topics they have left in the current Intermediate Objective, how many topics they should complete per day, and their current grades.

Do you cover ALEKS topics in a particular order?
I integrate ALEKS with the textbook and cover material presented in the chapters.

Do you integrate a textbook with your course using ALEKS Textbook Integration? Please describe how you set up your chapter completion dates.
Yes. The ALEKS chapter deadlines are every 3-4 weeks, but I am lenient with the first chapter in order for students who enroll late to become familiar with the course. The final chapter must be complete 1-2 weeks prior to the end of the semester. This gives students time to review and complete any remaining topics from their ALEKS Pie that are incomplete and not yet mastered.

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

How do you incorporate ALEKS homework assignments into your course?
I do not create homework assignments. Instead I set my exams up within the homework feature to allow students to take the exams when they are ready to. The exam feature forces students to complete the exam at a specific time.

How do you incorporate ALEKS scheduled Assessments into your course?
I create three comprehensive assessments to be taken throughout the course. This method helps students retain the course material as they progress. I also create a final exam mostly within ALEKS, with the exception of some core questions that are pencil and paper problems given in all sections of the course. The ALEKS portions of the final exam consists of about 25 problems that I cherry-pick from the course. This exam is proctored and I give the students paper to show their work. I review their work on any problem that they miss and may assign partial credit.

How do you modify your regular instructional approach as a result of ALEKS?
Where to start! Everything has changed about the course except the content. The way I used Angel and Blackboard for this online course in the past were entirely conventional. There were PDF lecture notes with great detail to supplement the textbook. I assigned problems from the text and gave quizzes over every section of the text; these quizzes were multiple-choice and essay. The essay questions had to be graded and there was not a suitable math palette for math symbols. It was a challenge for the students to communicate their work and a challenge for me to interpret it.  All students progressed at the same pace and through all the same material.  The only advantage to this system was that since all students were moving uniformly, I could use discussion boards and keep the class in-touch better.  However, the advantages that ALEKS offers for individualized learning far outweigh the benefits of keeping the students in-touch with one another via discussion boards. In short, ALEKS handles the exam and the grading of the free-response questions. Students are learning proper math notation. I can answer questions in ALEKS using a math palette and students can send me ALEKS pages to ask about. I totally let ALEKS guide each student's learning rather than force students to go through the material in a linear way. Therefore, I allow students to take exams when they want as they complete the chapter objectives; I do set absolute deadlines for the exams. ALEKS forces me to think outside of the box and I try not to constrain the online course to be identical to the on-campus version.

How do you use information from ALEKS to focus your teaching?
ALEKS is the main instructional tool and performs most of the teaching. ALEKS helps me focus on where a student is having most difficulty and allows me to get an idea of how to help the student. I focus on the most recent assessment problems and topics mastered to have an idea of how to help the student. 

How do you use ALEKS in conjunction with any other learning management systems, course management programs, etc.?
Our department requires Intermediate Algebra students to know how to use a graphing calculator, so I also have a webpage with some graphing calculator videos and worksheets that the students submit to me.  This web page is where I also post course documents like the syllabus, dates and deadlines, and a few other items. I have used Angel and Blackboard in the past.


Grading

What percent of a student's grade does ALEKS make up?
85 percent.

How do you incorporate ALEKS into your grading system?
ALEKS comprises 85 percent of the students' overall grade which is made up of four ALEKS online exams which contribute 50 percent to the grade, and an ALEKS final exam that contributes 35 percent to the grade. The remaining 15 percent of the grade comes from non-ALEKS calculator worksheets.

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

Do you require students to make regular amounts of progress in ALEKS?
Yes. I require students to work a minimum of five hours per week in ALEKS. Although I do not set a fixed amount of regular progress to be made in the pie, I drop students who visibly are not making enough progress in the course. I make that determination on a student-by-student basis.

How do you track student progress in ALEKS?
I frequently use the ALEKS Learning Progress Since Latest Assessment report tool. I email students progress reports every 1-3 weeks that contain information I extract from ALEKS, such as exam scores, current grade, hours in ALEKS, and topics left in the current objective.

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?
Absolutely. With only one or two outliers, the students that spend the most time in ALEKS perform better on the exams and earn the highest grades in the class.

Would you attribute any improved student performance in the course to ALEKS methodology or to some other factor?
I think the mode of delivery being online and on a computer makes it interesting, even challenging, for some students. The methodology is really the key to why I think my students are walking away with better math skills than they would have before I used ALEKS.


Learning Outcomes

Please describe the learning outcomes your students have achieved using ALEKS.
I believe that from the work I am seeing my students complete, that they are leaving my course better prepared than they would have been before I was using ALEKS. I personally feel more confident that the students who earn a C or better in my ALEKS online course are definitely ready for their next math course. I believe it is more difficult for students to slide through the course on partial credit since ALEKS almost exclusively takes free-response answers and teaches/assesses graphing skills better than I could do in a regular class.

In general, how do the students feel about their progress in ALEKS?
Students generally enjoy using ALEKS. The ALEKS Pie gives students a visual indicator of how they are progressing and allows room for progress.


Best Practices

What challenges did you encounter when first implementing ALEKS and how can other instructors avoid these pitfalls?
Working with the system in both the Instructor and Student Modules was a challenge. It takes time to figure out how ALEKS works and how to implement the system into the course. Since I didn't fully understand how ALEKS worked, I didn't clearly set expectations and give detailed explanations about ALEKS to my students. In particular, I find it important to let the students know that they can add or lose topics from their pie following an assessment. Since the focus for the students is completing topics, I found that explaining how ALEKS thinks you have "probably mastered" a topic is vital. I also found it challenging to just spend the hours necessary to really know how ALEKS worked so that I felt competent using it to teach (or manage) a course. 

What will you do differently when you implement ALEKS in your future course(s)?
I will allow more time between the end of an Intermediate Objective and the exam. The students tend to wait until the deadline and do not leave enough time for review or practice problems. I will also consider giving a proctored midterm exam or perhaps proctoring all of the exams. Finally, I would also like to incorporate some quizzes that would fall between the exams so students don't have such long periods between deadlines. 

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

What best practices would you like to share with other instructors who are implementing ALEKS?
My advice is to set very clear expectations. In particular, other instructors should understand ALEKS before introducing it to a class. This will allow the instructor to caution students on areas in which they may find difficulties. Also, set Intermediate Objectives, whether linked to a text or not, and set exam or quiz deadlines for some period of time after the objective deadlines. Instructors should give occasional comprehensive assessments in order to provide a reality check to any students whose study habits are allowing them to proceed through the course, but that are not allowing them to retain the material in a comprehensive sense. It can be difficult to figure out how to fairly assign partial credit on quizzes or exams - don't give partial credit on practice exams or quizzes.  Tell the students that all the quiz/exam problems are in the practice quiz/exam that they can take an unlimited number of times. Tell the students that the quiz/exam will have no partial credit since they are about mastery, not partial mastery.