A Review of the SAM Cengage Program vs. Business&ITCenter21: Which is Better?

Every year at Applied Educational Systems we talk with hundreds of business and computer applications teachers. In speaking with these teachers, many questions arise, one of which is: “What’s the difference between the SAM Cengage program and Business&ITCenter21? Which one is better for me?”

This is a great question. We certainly understand why computer teachers ask it. If you are going to use a resource with your students and hope to save time in your classroom, you better choose the right curriculum!

In this article I will explain both options to help you make an informed decision on which is the best choice for you and your students. The comparisons will be made in terms of three common questions we hear from computer teachers regarding digital computer curriculum:

  • What topics are included in this curriculum?
  • Does this computer technology curriculum include projects?
  • What grade level are the computer lessons for?

Before comparing SAM and Business&ITCenter21 according to the three questions and how they meet the goals of educators, I’ll provide a quick overview of each.

What is the SAM Cengage Program?

What is the SAM Cengage program?

SAM (Skills Assessment Manager) from Cengage Learning is an online program designed to help students learn to use Microsoft Office and understand other computer concepts. The SAM program includes content on Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, Outlook, Windows, Internet Explorer, and also foundational computer concepts. This is how Cengage describes SAM on their website:

“SAM, an interactive online learning environment, helps students master Microsoft Office and computer concepts essential to academic and career success. Students observe, practice, and train, then apply their skills live in the application. SAM’s auto-graded assignments and flexible reporting tools save you time and energy.”

In the online system, teachers can set up customized “Sections” to include training materials they have purchased. Students do work in the SAM program by completing what Cengage calls “Trainings” where students do tasks in a simulated Microsoft Office environment. Cengage developed these Trainings to have a 3-step system for students:

  1. Observe - Students first view a short video to learn about the task they will need to complete
  2. Practice - Students are given instructions and are required to complete the tasks indicated
  3. Apply - Students complete tasks with limited instruction to reinforce what they have learned

These steps for the SAM Trainings are all completed within the simulated Microsoft Office interface, which is built to look like the live applications. Along with Trainings, students can complete SAM Exams, Projects, and Readings. These Exams and Projects allow students to further demonstrate their skills with Office applications. Similar to the Trainings, SAM Exams and Projects provide instructions for what the student must do within the simulated application.

What is Business&ITCenter21?

What is Business&ITCenter21?

Business&ITCenter21 is an interactive elearning curriculum with content for teaching computer applications, career readiness, and introductory business classes. In the LMS, teachers can set up customized courses with any module from the catalog of content. When the course is ready, students enroll to do interactive lessons and hands-on projects. While doing the projects, students follow instructions and complete work within the live applications.

Business&ITCenter21 was created to be part of a blended learning classroom. The curriculum development process and teaching model reflect this idea, with what the AES Product Team calls “The 4 Phases:”

  1. Explore - Short teacher presentation and classroom discussion to introduce new topics and get students thinking
  2. Learn & Practice - Students log in to the system and complete digital lessons, projects, and assessments.
  3. Reflect - Students reflect on what they have learned by completing additional activities that relate the content to the “real world”
  4. Reinforce - Students apply new skills and knowledge, this is sometimes integrated with projects completed during “Learn & Practice”

Along with the digital lessons and projects, students complete assessments that are automatically graded and shown in the teacher’s grade dashboard. Teachers are provided with resources such as ready-to-use lesson plans, presentations to introduce topics, and additional documents for group activities and discussions for reinforcement.

In these overviews, Business&ITCenter21 and SAM seem pretty similar, since both have students complete digital lessons and projects. But how do they compare when meeting a computer teacher’s needs in the classroom?

What Topics are Included in SAM and Business&ITCenter21?

Computer Applications Curriculum Topics

For some teachers, your main goal is to find computer curriculum that meets your content standards and includes certain topics, no matter what. Mastery of computer skills is essential in preparing your students for success later in life. So what topics do these two computer curriculum options include?

Cengage Learning is heavily focused on teaching students to use the Microsoft Office applications. As described in the overview, SAM provides in-depth content for students to learn about:

  • Computer Fundamentals
  • Microsoft Word
  • Microsoft Excel
  • Microsoft PowerPoint
  • Microsoft Access
  • Microsoft Outlook
  • Microsoft Windows
  • Internet Explorer

SAM could be just what you need for teaching a computer class focused on skills related to Microsoft. The content for the applications is in-depth and created to help your students become proficient in Microsoft Office. However, if your school or district is asking you to include other skills such as Google Applications or even career readiness topics, SAM won’t have exactly what you need.

The Business&ITCenter21 content is developed based on common standards and requirements across the United States. The AES Product Team is very aware that the needs of computer teachers vary, and many need more than just Microsoft Office.  You can see in the Business&ITCenter21 catalog that the curriculum includes content for:

  • Microsoft Office Fundamentals
  • Microsoft Word
  • Microsoft Excel
  • Microsoft PowerPoint
  • Microsoft Access
  • Microsoft Publisher
  • Google Applications
  • Computer Fundamentals
  • Career Readiness
  • Digital Literacy
  • Business Fundamentals

When computer course standards started adding requirements for “soft skills” like communication, the AES Team made sure to go in the same direction. Standards and courses are also changing as more technology options become popular. One example of this is the rise of Google Applications as a requirement. As Google Applications started being taught, AES began developing Google Applications lessons along with the content for Microsoft Office.

Final Thoughts: In terms of content provided, SAM and Business&ITCenter21 differ quite a bit. If your courses are strictly focused on Microsoft applications and software, SAM could be everything you need. If you need a more rounded curriculum that you can mix-and-match to meet the needs of varying courses, Business&ITCenter21 would have more of the topics you need to teach.

What are the Hands-On Projects Like?

In talking with computer teachers, we often hear that having a technology curriculum that includes projects and hands-on activities is a must. While both Business&ITCenter21 and SAM are very focused on project-based assignments, the base of each is fundamentally different. How so?

SAM Cengage Example Simulation Screen Example simulation screen from SAM
 

In SAM, students complete work in simulated Microsoft Office applications. The screens look just like the live applications, but they are accessed from within the SAM system. Where this can make a big difference is in the SAM Exams and Projects. Because students complete tasks in a simulated application, SAM can track mouse clicks and automatically grade every piece of work students complete. This can be a big time-saver for an instructor.

However, because the system is tracking the details of what a student completes, they are strictly bound to reading an instruction and doing exactly what it says. The students don’t use creativity to make the documents their own.

Business&ITCenter21 was developed in a different way. Students do all of the work within the actual Microsoft Office applications. At AES, the Product Team wants students to apply what they have learned in the lessons and be creative to complete tasks in their own way. The projects are not automatically graded because we want students to hand in their version of the assignment - not a replica of the sample answer.

You can learn more about why the AES Product Team does not have projects graded automatically in this video by the Product Manager, Ken Richard:

 

 

Final Thoughts: While both Business&ITCenter21 and SAM have an abundance of hands-on projects for students to complete, the philosophy behind the projects differs. Cengage took a more rigid approach with SAM, which allows for automatic grading, but students don’t use as much creativity or critical thinking skills. Business&ITCenter21 does not have projects that are automatically graded, but encourages students to think creatively and use the skills they learned to complete the projects in their own way.

What Grade Level are the Computer Lessons for?

One of the biggest struggles we hear from computer applications teachers is how difficult it is to find age-appropriate curriculum. Because of this, a common question from teachers when asking about new computer curriculum is: “What grade level are these lessons for?”

If you take a few minutes to explore Cengage’s web page for SAM, you will quickly see that all of their testimonials are from college-age students or college instructors. I think that gives a pretty good idea of what age the content is geared towards. By using the word Trainings to describe the lessons students work through, they are appealing to an older audience of students.

That’s not to say SAM can only be used in post-secondary courses. I have heard that middle and high school teachers successfully use the SAM program in their classes. However, because it is more geared towards older students, the scenarios may not be relevant and engaging to middle or early high school students.

Business&ITCenter21 was developed for middle school and early high school students. The lessons and projects are created with scenarios that are relevant and age-appropriate for middle and high school students. While older student can learn by using Business&ITCenter21, they may find the scenarios to be too “young,” since the lessons are created for a slightly younger audience.

Final Thoughts: Saying one curriculum option is better than the other in terms of grade level doesn’t make much sense. It really depends on what grade you are teaching that will determine which will work best. The Cengage SAM Program is more slanted towards college age students, and will be a better fit for older students. On the other end of the spectrum, Business&ITCenter21 is developed for middle and early high school classes, and would be the better fit for that age of students.

Business&ITCenter21 vs. SAM - Which is Better?

So which digital curriculum is better for a computer class? Honestly, one isn’t better than the other since they have different focuses. Depending on the grade of your students and what type of course you teach, you would be better off with one or the other. Business&ITCenter21 is developed as a foundational curriculum for middle and high school courses and covers a wide array of topics such as Microsoft Office, Google Applications, and Career Readiness. Cengage’s SAM Program is more strictly focused on Microsoft Office applications and software and would work better for college-age students.

If you’re still reviewing the many computer curriculum options out there, these articles could be helpful to you:

6 Challenges in Computer Apps Programs

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December 01, 2016