Monday, January 17, 2011

Sapling Learning v1.14 Release Notes

This week we're releasing the next update to We intended to only release a couple features to help with lab courses, but we ended up rolling a few extra features into this release, including one big one.

  • Introducing the Activity Sidebar: In November, I mentioned we were working on the Activity Sidebar. The first version of the Activity Sidebar will be available in this release. The Sidebar currently contains up to three drawers (depending on your course and assignment settings): Assignment Information (always present, open by default), Subject Resources (present if enabled and present for this subject), Technical Support and Bug Reports (always present). We'll add more drawers in coming releases.
Groups (aka Sections)
  • Student Self-Enrollment in Groups: Students can now add themselves to course sections, using a special enrollment key (password) to indicate which group they should be in. This makes it much easier to manage multi-section courses.
  • Group Due Date Offsets: You can now set up a "standing extension" for a group. For example, if you have lab groups that meet on Monday and Wednesday, you can give everyone in the Wednesday section a two-day extension on every activity, automatically.
Miscellaneous Fixes
  • Grades: We shortened the length of assignment titles in the gradebook, cutting down on the need for horizontal scrolling.
  • Extensions: Better error-handling (mostly for old, mis-set extensions that were hard to edit).
  • Profile Pictures: You can now upload profile pictures again.
  • Spacing of PayPal Payment Box: The PayPal box had a big gap above it where the enrollment key box goes when needed. That space is now gone.
  • Sorting Module: A rare bug in the sorting module caused images to very occasionally fail to load. This bug has been fixed.
We also released the prototype of a new feature in this release, but that isn't quite ready for general use. I'll be back next week to tell you about it, and to let you know how you can see it while we work the kinks out.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Sapling Learning Physics

Here at Sapling, we are always looking for ways to improve not just the software that runs our homework products, but also what subjects we can support with that software. Sapling's content team was initially comprised of chemists so they did what they know - write questions for chemistry courses. Since then our content team has expanded to include many science disciplines. In that vein, we are pleased to announce our newest addition - Sapling Learning Physics.

I am the team lead for our physics project and in charge of overseeing the development of the new content as well as representing Sapling physics at conferences and in meetings with professors. While in graduate school working on my physics PhD, I was a teaching assistant for many semesters. I got started with Sapling Learning in the same way as many of our current team members - as a contract author. When Sapling decided to start their physics project they brought me on full time.

We have a team of PhD level physicists developing our physics content, each with many years of teaching experience that has given them an understanding of common misconceptions held by students and what guidance will best help them learn how to work out these questions on their own. Together we are working towards an initial goal of 1200 items intended to cover both semesters of introductory level physics for both algebra and calculus based courses. These courses will be available for use starting in the fall semester of 2011.

When we develop content for new disciplines like this at Sapling, we always go through a pilot semester first. Pilots are usually arranged with professors who have previously expressed interest in a subject that we hadn't yet developed. These professors understand that the course is still in development but they have an interest in helping to develop new tools for teaching their students. Because our content is being completed while the course is in progress, these pilots are offered for free to the students in the course. In exchange, Sapling gets valuable student testing data as well as feedback from both students and professors that we will incorporate to make the courses even better for future semesters.

We currently have pilot courses starting for the 2011 Spring semester. If you would like to try out Sapling in your class for this spring, it is not too late to get everything set up. Additionally, if you are already committed to another online homework system and would like to compare Sapling to your existing system, we can set up a trial of a few homework assignments for you and your students.

If you are interested in learning more about Sapling Learning's physics offerings, we are exhibiting at the AAPT Winter Meeting that is going on right now in Jacksonville, FL. Or you can e-mail me directly at carl.knutson[at]