Making the Grade: Pilot Program Test-Drives GradeSummit

Will students put more time into studying for a course if it means they're more likely to get a better grade? D'es a Web-based format and immediate feedback encourage students to use a study tool more than they would use a printed workbook? What is the benefit to instructors of online study tools? These products seem handy, but do they really work?

These are fundamental questions one could ask of any online study guide, workbook, or quiz package. Until they are tested, no one knows how effective such tools are. Last fall, instructors from several universities piloted a new product called GradeSummit to determine its usefulness as a study tool for courses in history, life sciences, chemistry, economics, and psychology.

One of the pilots was conducted at the University of Mississippi, where professor Michael Namorato tried GradeSummit in his American history survey, which enrolls 180 students. Says Namorato, "I was surprised how many students participated in the pilot. I offered extra credit for students who completed a series of assignments, which included at least 40 minutes on the 15 topics and passing an exam. Over half of the course completed the extra credit work."

Students also completed an evaluation of the product, calling it useful practice, helpful review, and good use of technology. Most students found the quizzes helpful study aids and appreciated the benefits of repetition from the lectures and textbook. Notes Namorato, "The biggest asset of the product is repetition. History is full of so many details that getting the material again and again really helps."

There were a few bugs, notably answers that didn't seem to fit the question and a couple of technical glitches. Still, students were able to navigate through the online material easily. Based on their feedback, Namorato is assigning GradeSummit to his American history survey course in the spring.

Although Namorato used the product as a study and diagnostic tool, GradeSummit can be used in a variety of ways. The product is primarily a diagnostic tool and includes thousands of questions written and peer-reviewed by professors in those fields. Students get immediate feedback on the quizzes. Instructors can also use the results of student work to tailor upcoming lectures, conduct student assessments, or even test students. By using the online tool, instructors could presumably save time they would otherwise spend on exams.

The online content is generic but parallels the information found in major texts for the courses covered. Because GradeSummit is a product of a collaboration between the GradeSummit company and McGraw-Hill Publishing Co., it is no surprise that the books GradeSummit links to are McGraw-Hill publications. However, both companies insist that the product is usable with any core textbook. McGraw-Hill offers the product as a bundled item with one of its texts or as a stand-alone item. Within a year, GradeSummit plans to release additional products for courses in accounting as well as geology, sociology, political science, business, and upper-division chemistry and economics.

For more information on the GradeSummit pilot program, contact Mike Namorato at hsmvn@olemiss.edu.

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