UGM Featured Speaker Preview: Q&A with McGraw-Hill analyst on mobile apps in education

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Amy Kallmerten, Programs Manager at PerkinElmer Informatics:

In anticipation of our upcoming Informatics User Group Meeting, which will be held October 1-2 in Waltham, Mass., we will be posting features on our speakers throughout the months of August and September. They will be in a variety of formats and will allow you to get to know the speakers before attending the event. 

I am thrilled to kick this off with a feature on someone I’ve had the pleasure of knowing for a little while now, and I am excited to share with you some of his unique know-how about the world of academia and the way mobile applications are shaping our students.

Patrick Diller has a degree in Management Marketing Information systems.  His career has moved from working in retail, to to being a pawnbroker, to being involved in the music industry, before finally moving into education.  He currently is the Digital Product Analyst for Chemistry with McGraw-Hill Education, where he was instrumental in developing ChemDraw Web, the first web-based software for ChemDraw®.  McGraw-Hill currently has over 120,000 chemistry students using its online homework and learning products, with Patrick at the forefront leading the way in the company's future software development.

His talk that he will present at our User Group Meeting is titled “Creating student-friendly learning resources for students who don’t feel they are as tech savvy as we believe.” It will focus on mobile and digital creations that bring students and teachers together. To learn more about Patrick and how he came to be an expert in innovative technology in education, I held a Q&A session with him.

AK: How did you get involved with education, science, and technology at McGraw-Hill?

PD: As the parent of two young children, when I saw a job posting for Digital Product Analyst at McGraw-Hill, I gravitated toward the position knowing I could help hundreds of thousands of students by creating learning environments that would help them succeed.  I didn’t know the position was based in the sciences until my second interview, when I talked to the chemistry PhDs on staff, which was an intimidating experience. They joked that they needed someone on the team with “common sense”, which turned out to be a joke that had some truth to it. With my limited knowledge of chemistry, I am able to look at McGraw-Hill's products from a student's point of view to help identify potential areas that might cause students to struggle.  My favorite email I have ever received was one from a student who participated in a product focus group who said I had helped her to get a better grade in her class. 

AK: How do you think mobile app technology fits into education?

PD: Mobile apps within education are a great way to measure and enhance engagement within the classroom.  This can be done by using apps as a classroom response system, or by using app technology to faciliate "flipped" teaching methods, in which students do learning exercises individually and use classroom time to apply learned knowledge to problems.

AK: How are students of today different than students of the past?

PD: The student attention span of today tends to be much short due to the fact that we have become accustomed to absorbing information in increasingly faster snippets through mediums like Twitter, Facebook and Instantgram, before moving on to the next bit of information.  While students are in lectures lasting longer than an hour, or are reading text for extended periods of time, it can be difficult for them to pick out which information is the most important.  Many times, I see students take notes of absolutely everything or of nothing at all, with not much variation in between those extremes. Neither way is efficient for them to learn.  This is where adaptive software programs can be of great assistance.

AK: What are the biggest challenges facing educators today?

PD: Especially in the sciences, retention rates are a pressing concern for educators. Nationally in the United States, the Drop/Fail/Withdraw rate for college-level General Chemistry students averages around 35 percent. As a result, one of our main focuses within all of McGraw-Hill projects is to find ways to help lower that rate.

AK: Can you explain the ChemDraw® for iPad® focus groups?

PD: McGraw-Hill often uses class tests, or focus groups, on new ideas and projects.  While we have to sell our product to the instructor for the class to use, our ultimate consumer is the student.  For the ChemDraw for iPad focus group, we identified two professors who were looking for technology to encourage student involvement and engagement during class time within their Organic Chemistry summer classes.  The students were given iPads to use during the summer class and the professor was trained on using ChemDraw for iPad with the program's novel Flick-To-Share technology.  Each professor then implemented the use of the app within the classroom in a manner that complemented each individual teaching style.  Both professors used the program directly in class to gauge students' understanding of the material at the point of lecture. By collecting that information using Flick-To-Share, they could identify and address common misconceptions or problems immediately instead of waiting for a hard assessment such as a quiz or test.  Both PerkinElmer and McGraw-Hill developers observed the classroom, talked to the professor, and held discussion with the students on the program to shape the final product.

AK: What do you hope attendees will take away from your talk at the User Group Meeting?

PD: If I can help energize professors to think creatively about using mobile products to encourage student engagement and learning, then I would be very happy.

AK: Thanks to Patrick for agreeing to participate both in this Q&A and also in our UGM. I’m looking forward to seeing him and all of you at the Westin in Waltham in October! Space is limited, so don’t forget to register, and also, don’t forget to check back here to see more features on all of the fabulous speakers we have lined up.