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Lecturer Rebecca Shapiro

Lecturer Rebecca Shapiro

UC Irvine

Lecturer Rebecca Shapiro's general chemistry students achieve superior results with Sapling Learning. 

The Challenge

When she started teaching general chemistry and the University of California, Irvine, lecturer Rebecca Shapiro inherited an online homework system without the flexibility she needed to produce optimal learning outcomes among her students. “I wanted something I could customize, something that fit my interactive teaching style, so the old system wasn’t up to snuff,” she says. “It only let students answer questions once, making it difficult for them to try out different approaches and really learn the material. And I was spending 90 percent of office hours troubleshooting the homework technology rather than on the actual chemistry problems.

The Solution

Shapiro turned to Sapling Learning for a variety of reasons. The targeted instructional content meant that her students would receive hints and insight into the problems as they did their homework. The ability to answer questions multiple times meant her students could approach homework as a true learning experience, rather than as a binary, right-or-wrong experience. “I can track student performance on the homework with Sapling,” she says. “I can tell who’s doing the homework and who’s not.” Sapling’s textbook independence meant she could customize her students’ homework to match the lessons she wanted them to focus on. And Sapling was simple to use for her and her students. “It’s extremely easy to rearrange homework problems with Sapling, to pull what I need from other courses,” she says. “And students register online and pay with PayPal, meaning I don’t have to deal with any of that side of it.”

"Sapling is the next best thing to having a live chemistry tutor."

The Results

From the start, Shapiro’s experience with Sapling Learning was positive. “When I first contacted Sapling, they got back to me within an hour,” she says. With the help of her Tech TA, she was able to implement the system in just one week. “The Tech TA does all the work you don’t have time to do yourself,” she says. “You never talk to anyone at Sapling who doesn’t know the subject matter and the software.” With Sapling, it’s easier for Shapiro to help her students. “Previously, if students were having a hard time learning the material, I wouldn’t know until it was too late. Now I can intervene and walk them through the material,” she says, adding, “The color-coded class-performance dashboard helps me understand what parts of the homework are causing students problem — and what topics I need to cover in more detail in class.” In terms of learning outcomes, the payoff is clear. Students who used Sapling liked the experience, learned more in Shapiro’s class, and moved on better prepared for future chemistry classes. “I surveyed my class at the end of the semester, and Sapling was universally appreciated,” she says. “Students did better because Sapling was the next best thing to having a live chemistry tutor. And they did better in class once they moved on to the next level of chemistry — where some of them even referred back to the Sapling problems from our class!” Sapling also helps Shapiro help students on a tight budget. “Because I knew Sapling problems would always present students with the latest chemistry knowledge, I let them use any edition of the textbook they want,” she says. “Instead of having to pay $250 for the newest edition, they can pay $50 for a used book.” Shapiro liked Sapling so much that she became a campus evangelist of sorts, eventually convincing other educators at UC-Irvine to give it a try. “I’ll definitely use it in the future,” she concludes. “Competing technologies just can’t keep up with Sapling.”

"Competing technologies just can’t keep up with Sapling."

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