A Bumpy Start in the Classroom Leads to a Digital Breakthrough

Catherine Medrano always knew she wanted to be a teacher.

“Teachers were consistent role models in my life,” she recalls.

Catherine thought she would become an elementary school teacher, but that all changed when she got to college.

“I was fortunate enough to have professors who saw something in me.”

That something was a gift of teaching—and Catherine’s college professors inspired her to pursue a career in higher education.

She started part-time at Fresno City College teaching Sociology.

It was a bumpy start.

“I had realized my dream of becoming a professor – but my students were failing,” Catherine recalls.

She was where she wanted to be—but why were they performing so poorly?

“I was having an existential crisis,” she says.

A Desperate Situation

Catherine did everything she could think of to help her students succeed.

“I created study guides and handed them out before big exams,” she says. “Sometimes I even permitted students to use the study guides during the exam.”

Nothing worked.

She remembers the average exam score among her students remained a meager 67%.

It was a major problem—with a simple solution.

“Eventually, I realized the problem was that my students were coming to class unprepared – they weren’t completing the reading assignments,” she says.

Out of ideas, that’s when Catherine began to seriously consider the value of digital learning tools to reach her students.

Digital Options

At first, Catherine was apprehensive about diving into digital courseware.

“I didn’t rely on technology during my own learning experience,” she says. “I had to go to the library to do research, which required physically finding books!”

Still, learning was changing.

The more Catherine considered what would be best for her students, the more digital tools began to make sense.

“Many of my students were parents working full-time or young adults from low income families,” Catherine says. “They had significant barriers to their education.”

But all of them had access to the internet.

“Even if some students didn’t own a computer, almost all of them had smartphones,” Catherine says. “I realized that digital tools could help them succeed in ways that traditional learning couldn’t.”

Which meant their performance in class might improve.

A Miraculous Transformation

Three years into her teaching career, Catherine made the digital plunge.

She started using Revel, an interactive learning tool from Pearson that provides students with a platform to read course materials, complete assignments and communicate with professors.

It brought a new dimension to her teaching—and students’ learning.

“I immediately started using the quizzes, which ask students questions about the assigned materials,” Catherine says.

The effect was almost instant: her students began reading.

“They came to class having read the assigned materials and prepared to engage in meaningful discussions,” says Catherine.

“I was so thrilled that I called my Pearson representative to say, ‘It’s a miracle!’”

Within one semester, the average exam score in Catherine’s class jumped from 67 percent to 83 percent.

A Far-Reaching Impact

Looking back, Catherine says the benefits of a digital platform in her teaching approach stretches far beyond just getting her students to read.

Catherine noticed her students becoming more engaged with the subject matter.

“One day, a student came up to me after class to express how excited he was to write an essay,” she says.

“That kind of excitement comes from understanding the course material,” she adds.

“He became more interested in the subject because he could connect his reading assignments to our classroom discussions,” she says.

She added auto-scored writing assignments to her digital arsenal and her students started developing stronger writing skills.

“It’s so beneficial for my students,” Catherine says. “It takes me weeks to grade essays. This way, they can keep thinking and writing and get instant feedback—my students love it.”

Keeping Up with the Technology

“It’s our responsibility as educators to find the best ways to reach our students,” Catherine says.

She takes the time every semester to evaluate her class structure and think of new ways to use digital tools to help her students succeed.

“I feel like technology is always changing and updating,” Catherine says. “The more current and timely the course materials are, the more students feel the impact.”

She’s now a full-time professor at College of the Sequoias.

“As an educator, the ultimate benchmark is student success,” she says. “Teaching is—and always will be—a high-touch profession.”

“That’s what makes technology such a powerful tool in the classroom,” she says. “When high-tech meets high-touch, you can connect with students in the classroom and beyond.”