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.

Boise State University, ID
4 Year University / Public

Scenario: I use ALEKS in a traditional course with a textbook.
Purpose: Core Curriculum, Homework
ALEKS Course: PreCalculus

Doug Bullock, Associate Professor
Because of ALEKS, some sections of PreCalculus have abandoned all (or nearly all) written homework in favor of the ALEKS PreCalculus product. Although we are new at using ALEKS, we have had an overall positive experience thus far, and faculty are largely supportive and report positive anecdotal evidence. Additionally, several students have sought out the ALEKS sections, so a positive message about ALEKS must be spreading throughout the student community.


Scenario

What challenges did your students or institution face prior to using ALEKS?
Prior to ALEKS, our courses lacked uniformity among multiple sections. Content is controlled only by a common textbook and an overseer who makes sure that instructors have covered the appropriate sections. What was completed in these sections, the learning outcomes, and what standards were set for students are all unknown at a department level and vary from instructor to instructor. Additionally, disappointing success rates were a problem.

Was ALEKS used in your course with all students or with targeted students?
As mentioned previously, the structure for the spring 2007 implementation was a controlled experiment. There were four sections of 40 students each with two instructors, with each instructor leading one section with ALEKS as the only homework, and one section with traditional homework. Overall, ALEKS was used with 80 targeted students.

Number of students who used ALEKS for the course and term:
Number of sections: 2
Number of students per ALEKS section: 40
Total students enrolled in this ALEKS course: 80

How do you structure your course periods with ALEKS?
Both instructors ran traditional lecture style course with some time spent on desk work. Neither instructor had access to a classroom that could be used as a lab or that could seat students in front of computers for interaction directly with ALEKS. Thus, lectures or class work would cover theory and example problems, and then students would work on ALEKS as their homework. This had the effect of delivering the same instruction to both the ALEKS sections and the control sections.

How often are students encouraged or required to use ALEKS?
Days per week: 5
Hours per week: Approximately 10-15
Hours per term: 250

For the sections that do NOT use ALEKS during this specific term, what do they work on in place of ALEKS?
Students who ware not enrolled in the ALEKS section use traditional paper-and-pencil homework from the textbook.


Implementation

Please describe how you implement ALEKS into your course curriculum.
Both instructors integrate the ALEKS PreCalculus course with a textbook. Weekly or chapter-end progress assessments are set and students are instructed that they are expected to master the topics in each unit prior to the next assessment and deadline. Deadlines temporarily close off unlearned topics in completed units, although some topics are reopened quickly  if needed for more advanced work. In the last week of the term, all topics are reopened and students are encouraged to work on any unlearned topics. This insures that 100 percent completion of the pie is possible. The final percentage of all topics completed becomes the homework grade for each student. This is weighted at 30 percent of the total grade for the course.

Do you cover ALEKS topics in a particular order?
The ALEKS PreCalculus course is integrated with a textbook. Topics are covered mainly in order of the textbook, except for some reordering of topics in the first two Trigonometry chapters.

Do you integrate a textbook with your course using ALEKS Textbook Integration? Please describe how you set up your chapter completion dates.
Yes. Chapter completion dates are set at approximately one chapter per week, and more than two weeks are set for the 70 or so topics in the ALEKS PreCalculus course that are prerequisite material or covered in the review chapter of the textbook. Following those dates, deadlines are set by estimating the number of days it will take students to complete each chapter of the textbook. Some assessments are also set on days that do not have chapter deadlines.

How often do you use the ALEKS Instructor Module?
I use the Instructor Module a few times throughout the term.

How do you incorporate ALEKS Quizzes into your course?
Quizzes were not part of the courses that were delivered during spring 2007. However, we currently run other courses with ALEKS in which quizzes are given regularly.

How do you incorporate ALEKS homework assignments into your course?
The textbook integration and the use of ALEKS is considered a standing, semester-long homework assignment.

How do you incorporate ALEKS scheduled Assessments into your course?
Scheduled assessments usually coincide with the end chapters of the textbook. Occasionally, an assessment is scheduled independently of these deadlines.

How do you modify your regular instructional approach as a result of ALEKS?
In these courses, the intent is to use a traditional instructional approach. This ensures that the results of the control group and the experimental group will most likely differ solely as a result of using ALEKS. In actual practice, instruction tends to focus on the style and type of problem that students face as homework on any given day. Therefore, instruction in the ALEKS sections is more targeted to problem types and styles that appear in the ALEKS course.

How do you use information from ALEKS to focus your teaching?
There is very little adaptation or alteration in response to the ALEKS data (except as previously noted). This is partly done to maintain the control aspects of the experiment, as well as the fact that there is very little maneuverability available in the schedule.

How do you use ALEKS in conjunction with any other learning management systems, course management programs, etc.?
One instructor uses Blackboard as a place to record grades.


Grading

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

How do you incorporate ALEKS into your grading system?
Homework scores are exactly the percentage of the total list of topics completed.

Is ALEKS assigned to your students as all or part of their homework responsibilities?
ALEKS accounts for all of the homework responsibility for these sections. However, we have slightly modified this in subsequent offerings of the course.

Do you require students to make regular amounts of progress in ALEKS?
Yes, but only in that incomplete topics at each deadline may become unavailable for students until the last week of the semester. Since this can impact their total percentage at the end of the term, students have an incentive to complete all topics in a chapter by the deadline.

How do you track student progress in ALEKS?
We use the Detailed Progress Report to track student progress.

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?
Generally, this seems to be true, but again I can only report anecdotal evidence that I have heard from the instructors of these courses. Statistical analysis has not been completed at this time.

Would you attribute any improved student performance in the course to ALEKS methodology or to some other factor?
I think that that ALEKS not only improves student success on a collection of topics, but it also leads the instructor more strongly in the direction of successful pedagogy.


Learning Outcomes

Please describe the learning outcomes your students have achieved using ALEKS.
One of the two instructors who taught using ALEKS in the spring of 2007 has gone on to teach several more sections of the same course using similar methodology. DWF rates in her courses are down by over 50 percent from their historical average. Additionally, the experiment of using ALEKS as homework has clearly shown that the program works, which has made the eventual adoption of ALEKS for all or nearly all sections a possibility for my department. Furthermore, longitudinal analysis has not begun, so retention and future successes are not yet clear. However, it is known that the university as a whole has made good progress in retaining freshman, and it is possible that the spring PreCalculus course has a small role in that.

In general, how do the students feel about their progress in ALEKS?
In the spring term, two instructors ran two sections of the course each, one using ALEKS and the other using classical homework as the control. Anecdotal evidence from the instructors indicates that students mostly prefer the ALEKS sections. Several students sought out the ALEKS sections in the subsequent fall semester, so positive message must be spreading throughout the student community.

Published Papers Regarding ALEKS:
Yes. I am a minor co-author on "Enhancing PreCalculus Curricula with E-Learning: Implementation and Assessment," to appear in the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) 2008 Annual Conference proceedings. I have two more papers submitted to the 2009 Conference that are currently under review. I also have a number of studies still underway with plans to publish several more articles.


Best Practices

What challenges did you encounter when first implementing ALEKS and how can other instructors avoid these pitfalls?
Textbook integration was a huge task. This was performed by one of the two instructors during the previous Summer and it took time and experimenting to settle on a method of assigning a homework score in ALEKS.

What will you do differently when you implement ALEKS in your future course(s)?
After two semesters, we decided to abandon the textbook because of the difficultly with integration. We have used an alternative textbook in some sections since then, but the evolution is towards no textbook at all. We would also like to deliver this course in a setting where the instructor has access to a computer and display equipment to demonstrate ALEKS. Even better would be having the ability to have the students spend a portion of the week in front of computers with the instructor in the room. Essentially, this should have a lab component. This appears to produce the best results in the PreCalculus courses, although longitudinal effects are not yet studied. This is also logistically impossible with the current resource commitments from the university. Only one or two sections could have access to the appropriate level of technology.

Which ALEKS course product(s) have you used in the past?
PreCalculus, Prep for Calculus

What best practices would you like to share with other instructors who are implementing ALEKS?
I recommend teaching in a room that allows you to demonstrate ALEKS problems on a computer display so students can view the problems. Also, spend time with your students while they are working on their ALEKS homework, if possible. Furthermore, collect one written problem each week and grade it yourself. This is essential if you plan to give and grade written exams. I still believe that written exams are essential.