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How do you answer/guide students when they say SAM isn't working?


I don't make excuses; I don't brush their concerns under the table; I "try" to not give them a "canned" response; I KNOW the material/products I use.  As a professor and program manager, I make sure that I (and my adjuncts) know the material/products inside out so we can provide the right help and answers to our students. 


We're in a new school year with new students and new class materials (new book version, new SAM assignments, etc).  I hate to say we're the guinea pigs, because everything has been reviewed and tested multiple times, but there is always a "chance" we may find some errors or mistakes.  Make sure your students have all the tools in place to be successful.  The Cengage Training site provides instructors and students with manuals, one pagers, power points, videos and webinars that will set us up for success.


The first thing I do when a student tells me that something isn't "working" is to go to and verify that everything is up and running!  Here's a snapshot from just this morning:

9-27-2019 10-00-19 AM.png


Once I confirm that all systems are "go", we discuss what browser they are using and what it is they have attempted to do (assignment name or link they tried to access). I suggest they send me a screenshot of their screen/error if we are not meeting in person.  99% of the time, I can see what the issue is or what they have done wrong, but if I cannot help them, I definitely guide them to Cengage Support.


System issues are sometimes hard to diagnose/resolve with my online students, but Cengage Support folks will take over their screens and go through all settings with them.  Believe it or not, clearing cache, history, temp files and rebooting helps tremendously or simply trying a different browser.  Flash, Adobe, Resolution, Screensize, and/or Popups can cause minor issues, but are easily fixed. Sometimes they cannot see images in the book or items are cutoff or missing from the exam screen; all of these problems have been resolved by changing browsers or a few of their settings, with a little help from tech support!  


Don't "write off" tasks as bad without checking with tech support.  It could be an issue they can resolve or it may truly be a bad task that needs to be re-programmed, and they can send it up to the developers for a fix if needed.  This helps all of us in the end!


Besides making sure their systems and browsers are in good working order for training and exams, students need to be able to install and use Office 365 (not use Web Apps or Chrome Books) or they won't be able to do the projects successfully.  Next, I spend a solid week on SAM reports so students understand how to get to them, read them and see how valuable they are (Study Guide and Graded Project Reports). 


Having our students understand the reports they are provided resolves 99% of their questions!  If they need more help, I will check their individual performance reports or review their graded project reports to help them understand and correct their errors.  A little textbook remediation and SAM training sometimes helps as well.  If I cannot figure out why something was marked wrong, I DO NOT simply curve their score, I check with tech support.  Again, it could be a bad task that needs a fix or more likely a simple mistake that triggered the error.  Sending this to tech support will move the issue up the chain to development if needed.


Have you found that some of the error messages don't exactly align with what students did wrong? Due to the order in which the grading engine checks the tasks, other tasks may be marked as incomplete or not found because the first item had an error.  By working through the assignments before the students, you will be more familiar with some of the common mistakes and error messages and better able to assist your students.  Not everything is a tech support issue!  And one more point about tech support; I have found that submitting a ticket and then following up with a phone call (if the issue needs a quick resolution) is the best way to handle tech support issues.


I hope this helps some of you and I look forward to your thoughts, best practices and discussion on this!

Valued Contributor

Great ways to help your students!! Along with educators we are also detectives at times....