Case Study: Anthropology - California State University, Sacramento

Digital Product in Use:

Connect® Anthropology

Course Name:

Anthropology 2 Introduction to Cultural Anthropology

Course Type:

Lecture and Hybrid

Credit Hours:


Textbook in Use:

Cultural Anthropology: Appreciating Cultural Diversity, 15th ed.,by Conrad Phillip Kottak

Instructor Name:

Terri Castaneda


55 students/section

500 students/year (university total)

Case Study Term:

Spring 2013 (without Connect/LearnSmart)

Spring 2014 (with Connect/LearnSmart)

I can run through the LearnSmart module for the chapter and identify areas I need to modify, amplify, and adjust to my own interests.

-Professor Terry Castaneda

Connect Improves Student Study Skills and Grades While Reducing Instructor Workload

Connect/LearnSmart impacted Professor Castaneda’s students’ study skills positively: “I am always interested in higher pass rates and a higher percentage of students in the A and B range. Connect helped my students learn and that translated into higher scores across the board.” When students had the opportunity to use Connect/ LearnSmart in the course, six more students earned As and 9 more students earned Bs – a 17% increase over the previous semester.

Castaneda attributes the success of her students to Connect/ LearnSmart: “There is a clear correlation between the higher exam scores and final grade distributions and weekly LearnSmart modules and chapter quizzes.” Moreover, final exam scores improved by at least 4.5 points and pass rates increased by 5%, while the demands of grading, reviewing homework, and giving quizzes decreased. Castaneda especially appreciates Connect/LearnSmart because she was able to provide the students with weekly assignments that have a measured impact on student learning and she was able to increase those assignments 10-fold with virtually no increase in time dedicated to scoring assignments.

Institution Profile

Sacramento State offers 58 undergraduate majors and 41 master’s degrees to approximately 28,500 students on a “green” campus. The California Smart Grid Center, devoted to developing technological solutions to help utility companies respond to peak electrical power demands, makes Sac State its home. Miles of pedestrian and biking trails link the campus, student housing, and recreational areas together across its 300-acre campus.


Course Description:

This course is an introduction to anthropological approaches to the study of people and cultures. Using ethnographic case studies, the course contributes to a critical understanding of continuity and diversity in peoples’ lifestyles, social institutions, and cultural practices in different societies around the world. The course also examines the impact of political, economic, and social changes, such as colonization, decolonization, and globalization on people and cultures over the last century..

Course Grade:

The grade is determined by: Exams (3 exams worth 200 points each); Chapter Connect quizzes (12 quizzes worth 10 points each); LearnSmart modules (12 assignments worth 20 points each); Kinship diagram (20 points); and a Writing assignment (20 points).

Castaneda says, “Prior to using Connect, I had to curve exam scores (often by 10%). This semester, after using Connect, raw exam scores were dramatically higher, equaling and exceeding in many instances, the curved exam scores from the pre-Connect semester. This is directly attributable to the LearnSmart and Connect quiz assignments.”

Implementation of McGraw-Hill Connect/SmartBook/LearnSmart:

Professor Castaneda adopted Connect for SmartBook and LearnSmart. “The LearnSmart modules help students develop reading and comprehension skills, learn to identify key concepts, recognize which parts of a chapter they understand and which areas they need to re-read and to pay particular attention to for in-class lecture and discussion.”

Castaneda uses Connect in conjunction with Blackboard because Connect syncs with Blackboard easily. Grades transfer directly from Connect to Blackboard.

She covers about one chapter per week – an average of two assignments per week. Each week students must complete the LearnSmart module before the last date of the lecture on that topic. Following the lecture, the students have a 24-hour window to complete a 20-question Connect quiz on that chapter. “Using the Connect quiz system is a vast improvement over having to manually enter quiz questions on Blackboard. It is hard to exaggerate the value of this tool for me.”

Castaneda is making plans to move the completion date for the LearnSmart chapter modules to prior to the first class in which the material will be discussed. “It’s such a pleasure to come into class knowing that the majority of students have actually `opened’ and at least `inspected’ the chapter we are about to discuss.” She is able to address LearnSmart questions the students find particularly challenging in class. “Students who aren’t keeping up with the assignments sit quietly by but are also recognizing that some of their classmates are leagues and miles beyond them in the chapter and the course. This kind of student-led engagement with the textbook is more valuable than any approach I might take in convincing students that they should read the assigned material.”

Castaneda is confident that Connect will help her wean students away from their dependence on lecture as a way to avoid reading and learning concepts on their own. “Independent reading and studying of concepts introduced in the text is absolutely critical to in-class discussion, debate, and application of concepts. The LearnSmart modules allow me to minimize in-class review of materials already covered in the text.”

Castaneda uses Connect reports -- Assignment Results; Student Performance; Assignment Statistics; and Item Analysis – to gauge student performance. She uses LearnSmart reports – Student Details, Module Details; Practice Quiz; and Missed Questions -- for the same purpose: to help students recognize and correct their weak study skills. She also uses the practice quiz and required weekly quizzes to identify concepts that are proving difficult for a majority of the students to master and then she focuses additional in-class lecture and discussion to these concepts.

She especially appreciates that, when a student is disappointed with his or her performance on an exam or an open book weekly quiz, she can use LearnSmart’s time statistics that show the student the amount of time he or she dedicated to the LearnSmart modules: “I have yet to encounter a student who, when confronted with the fact that he or she spent only 5-8 minutes working on a 25-40 minute chapter assignment, continues to claim that he or she `worked hard’ on the materials.” Castaneda also notes that the reports demonstrate that those students who fail exams are usually the same students who failed to take their weekly online quizzes. “Connect provides another layer of evidence and explanation for poor performances.”

Castaneda credits SmartBook and LearnSmart for making a huge difference in comprehension because students are learning how to read the text for critical concepts in a way they simply did not previously. “Students earn 20 points a week for completing the LearnSmart modules and this impacts their exam scores in a very positive way. I also weight Connect-based chapter quizzes at only 10 points a week, to demonstrate that reading and engaging with the material in the text is more important to me than their quiz score. It is worth noting that student quiz scores improved as the semester progressed, since most students eventually grasped the correlation between the two (LearnSmart and Connect quizzes) and invested more time completing the LearnSmart exercises.”

Castaneda will stay dedicated to using Connect/SmartBook/LearnSmart in her classes because “I’m very interested in shifting much more responsibility for class preparedness to students with less lecture from me and more in-class discussion/group exercise from them. Most of my students are freshmen with no college experience and very few study skills, so I am particularly pleased with LearnSmart. It is the shiny new tool in my teaching kit; I cannot imagine ever giving it up.”

Results Achieved

Fifteen additional students (an increase of 17%) earned As and Bs in her classes using Connect than in previous semesters. Castaneda credits Connect and LearnSmart. “Grade distribution pre and post Connect offer direct evidence of the value of LearnSmart and ConnectPlus ebook features.”

Two sections of combined scores prior to Connect yielded the following student percentages: 17% of the students earned As, 25% earned Bs, 23% earned Cs, 25% earned Ds, and 11% earned Fs. After/with Connect, with two sections of combined scores calculated 24% of the students earned As, 36% earned Bs, 22% earned Cs, 6.5% earned Ds, and 11% earned Fs. Castaneda notes: “The latter count includes students who withdrew by default and are counted as unauthorized withdrawals” (Figure 1).

Although retention rates have remained largely the same, pass rates have also improved by 5%. Pass rates averaged 87% (84% and 90% for two comparative sections) prior to using Connect. With Connect, pass rates were 92% each for two comparative sections (Figure 2).

Final exams scores also improved by at least 4.5 points (see Figure 3); previously, Castaneda had curved exam scores. “The without Connect exams score (all scantron-based in all instances) are curved. I did not curve with Connect exams (also all scantron-based). Clearly these data demonstrate the value of LearnSmart and Connect to student reading comprehension and learning.” Castaneda estimates that “in some instances we are seeing as high as a 15 point increase.”

Fortunately, all of the grade distribution, pass rate, and exam score improvements were accomplished with a decrease in time dedicated to reviewing homework, giving quizzes, and grading and an increase in time spent applying concepts and providing opportunities for a more engaging classroom. Castaneda says, “Weekly Connect quizzes and LearnSmart exercises allow me to spend more time engaging the class in critical thinking and exercises related to current events and the like.”

The amount of time spent grading, giving quizzes, and reviewing homework without Connect (Figure 4) is an estimated average because the due dates for assignments without Connect were not weekly. With Connect, Castaneda is able to assign more homework on a weekly basis: “Had I actually assigned homework (equivalent to the completion of LearnSmart modules) as I now do, the difference would be more like 3 hours without Connect and 15 minutes with Connect.”

“Many students have told me how much they love SmartBook/Connect Plus with eBook (the cost-savings, as well as convenience of not having to haul a textbook around). Most students also recognize that Connect exercises are low-risk means of gauging their reading comprehension.”


Castaneda appreciates Connect/LearnSmart because “Connect frees faculty from the tedious aspects of developing and grading quizzes and reading assignments. LearnSmart meets students on their own ground, helps them learn to read and retain critical content, to develop good study habits, and to evaluate their own progress throughout the course of the semester.”

Further, Castaneda notes: “SmartBook/ConnectPlus with eBook is the future of the textbook industry. Faculty are constantly under pressure to eliminate or create their own textbooks as a means to lower the cost of student education, while students imagine that textbooks are absolutely superfluous instead of foundational to their course work. Connect and LearnSmart offer an alternative means of reducing textbook costs without cutting critical content.”