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Smartworks Organic Online Homework System

In one of my previous posts, I described how happy I was to implement Norton’s online homework system, Smartwork, for my organic courses. For my students’ learning, nothing beats the instant feedback they get when they click “Check Answer,” which immediately helps them assess whether or not they understand the problem at hand (it’s hard to describe the exuberance in my students’ faces when they see the green check marks appear shortly after they submit). And Smartwork does a very nice job with mechanism and arrow-pushing types of problems, having students build their own molecules and add their own curved arrows. Smartwork, however, is not perfect. No online homework system is. The authors of the Smartwork problems have done an admirable job coding for multiple correct answers and anticipating numerous wrong answers students might submit. But it is next to impossible to code for EVERY variation of an answer a student might conjure up, particularly for a mechanism problem. Therefore, on occasion, a student will run into a situation where Smartwork did not anticipate the answer they submitted, which can cause frustration. As an instructor, I have to be concerned about that frustration level because it has the tendency to get in the way of the student seeing online homework for its true worth: as a means by which to learn the material. How, then, can we prevent students from getting frustrated in situations like that? I found a way that works in my classroom.

In most cases, students are frustrated because of the points they will miss from their Smartwork grade, and the impact they think it might have on their course grade as a result. I make Smartwork worth 4% of the course grade, so I know that a few Smartwork points missed will be negligible, but students have a very difficult time believing that—at least to the extent where they stop worrying about those few points. The bottom line is that a large percentage of my students believe that every hundredth of a percentage point on their course grade matters, and nothing will convince them otherwise. One way to address the problem, then, is to assure students that an adjustment will be made to their Smartwork grade at the end of the semester to account for points that might have been lost undeservedly. I did this a few years ago on an individual basis for each student, but it could be an across-the-board adjustment instead. Certainly, this adjustment allowed my students, at the end of the semester, to see their Smartwork grade as being “fair.” But it did little to address the larger problem, which is that, throughout the semester, students remained overly focused on each point they missed out on.

To fix the problem, here’s what I did the last time I taught organic. Each Smartwork assignment was worth five points, independent of the number of problems I added to the assignment. To earn the five points, students needed to receive an 80% grade from Smartwork. Anything less than 80% would result in a zero for that assignment. I told students on the very first day of class that this all-or-nothing stipulation was my way of adjusting for anything they perceived to be unjust from Smartwork. At the same time, I told them that it’s not okay to shoot for an 80% grade and quit. Rather, their job was to aim for 100%, and to ask questions when there was something they got wrong or didn’t understand. But I stressed that they shouldn’t sweat a few missed points, because a grade of 97% or 89% would earn them the same five points.

This seemed to do the trick. In fact, it did wonders. Throughout the semester I still had a large number of visits to my office from students to get help with Smartwork problems, but the frustration with Smartwork remained very low, almost nonexistent. I noticed that it was not too challenging for students to earn an 80% grade, at which point they could breathe easier, maintaining focus on learning the take-home lessons from each problem. This was evident from the fact that the vast majority of Smartwork grades exceeded 90%, and many exceeded 97%.

I am implementing this same all-or-nothing grading policy for Smartwork this year, but I am increasing the threshold grade to 85%. I am encouraged to increase the threshold for two reasons. One is that, as I look back at the Smartwork grades from last time, most students surpassed 85% on each assignment. The other reason is that, over the past year, the folks at Smartwork spent considerable time and effort going through every problem to ensure accuracy, enhance user-friendliness, and yes, predict the myriad of student responses. Because of their efforts, there should be far fewer triggers for student frustration this year. Smartwork continues to improve, as well as my students’ performance, and that’s what it’s all about in the end.

-Joel Karty

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Published by teachthemechanism

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Your instructor's Smartwork5 section is called a Student Set. Student Sets allow your instructor to track your progress in Smartwork5.

If you are accessing Smartwork5 via your campus’s Learning Management System (such as Blackboard, Moodle, Canvas, etc.), you will automatically join your instructor’s Student Set when you first log in.

If you are accessing Smartwork5 via the Norton Digital Landing Page, you will have to enter in the student set ID that your instructor provides to you.

How do I check that I joined the correct student set?

If you have already joined a Student Set and you would like to confirm which Student Set you joined, click on the gear icon in the upper right corner and select "Add Yourself to a Student Set" from the menu.

Any Student Sets of which you are currently are a member will displayed near the top of the window.

What if I accidentally enrolled in the wrong student set?

If you enrolled in the wrong Student Set, enroll in the correct one and notify your instructor of the mistake. Your instructor can then remove you from the incorrect Student Set.

If you joined a Student Set that is not accessible to your instructor, please contact W. W. Norton Customer Support to be removed from the incorrect Student Set.

You can add yourself to as many Student Sets as you would like. However, you cannot remove yourself from a Student Set; only your instructor can perform that action.

What if my instructor doesn't give me a student set ID?

This is due to the fact that Smartwork5 is integrated with your campus learning management system (Blackboard, Moodle, etc.). In this case you don’t need a Student Set ID; your grades will automatically report to your instructor.

How do I change the email address I use to access Smartwork5?

If you registered or purchased access to Smartwork5 and you used the wrong email address, click on the "Need to change your email?" link found on the Sign In window.

Provide the required information on the "Change Your Registered Email Address" window and click the "Submit" button.

Please note, you can update your email address any time within 14 days of creating your account. After 14 days, please contact W. W. Norton Customer Support for assistance.

What devices and browsers are best for accessing Smartwork5?

Smartwork5 works on desktop and laptop computers and tablets. Smartwork5 is not supported on smartphones.

Smartwork5 is compatible with the following OS and Browsers:

  • Chrome version 39 or higher
  • Firefox version 40 or higher
  • Safari version 9 or higher
  • Internet Explorer version 10 or higher
  • Opera 39 or higher 

Tablet Android:

  • Mozilla Firefox (Firefox 40 or higher)
  • Google Chrome (Chrome 39)

Do you know your Operating system version? Here's how to find it: Mac /Windows

Is there someone I can contact for further assistance?

If you need further assistance with Smartwork5, please contact W. W. Norton Customer Support.

Please provide us with the following information:

  • Your school
  • Your instructor's name
  • Your section name
  • Your Student Set ID number, if you have one

Live chat representatives may be available during the hours listed below. In the event no representatives are available, requests will be handled via email.

  • Monday–Saturday: 10:00am–10:00pm, US Eastern Time
  • Sunday: Noon–Midnight, US Eastern Time